President Bush has wrapped up his whirlwind European trip to mark the passing of the 60th anniversary of the WWII ceasefire. It was a tour of firsts, and not without historical meaning.
Bush has been a big face in Europe these past days
Bush has rarely shown such a relaxed face on official overseas visits as on this trip to Europe. In Georgia, national dancers wooed him into the small hours, causing him to swing his hips with a vigour more reminiscent of Texas than Tbilisi. But then again, the latest developments in the region are worth celebration. With the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the shores of the Caspian Sea have been washed free of tyranny. In the past 18 months, the democratic desires of both countries' populations propelled Mikhail Saakashvili and Victor Yushchenko to the helms of their national ships. And America approves.
Six decades after the end of WWII, the divisions on the continent appear to have been overcome and the Yalta Pact consigned to the annals of time. In part, at least, Bush's visit was designed to celebrate the historic progress and lavish praise upon the democratic will of the European people.
His gesture was as well-received in the Baltics as in Tbilisi. And in Moscow, recognizing the need to appease the Russian leadership which was silently smouldering at a further dent in its sphere of influence, Bush took part in a victory celebration which was not devoid of the pomp, ceremony and glorification of the Soviet Union.
US President George Bush and Russian Premier Vladimir Putin
Wearing his American light-heartedness on his sleeve, Bush sailed through the difficulties, sticking to his pedantically detailed schedule. He made gestures big and small, embracing a Soviet war veteran and accompanying President Vladimir Putin for a friendly spin in his Soviet old-timer. It was a statement which seemed to recognize Russian pride and the suffering of America's war-time allies.
Besides all this, Bush managed to pay a visit to the Netherlands, as if he were trying to say he hasn't forgotten about "old Europe" either. And it was a smart move, because Bush needs them all. In the fight against terror, the ports of Rotterdam and Riga are almost as important as adequately securing what's left of the Soviet nuclear arsenal in Russia or Ukraine. Despite the satisfaction over securing a place for the Baltic States in the Atlantic alliance, the security partnership with Moscow must remain intact. And this exchange of interests was the unwritten motto of Bush's trip to Europe.
President Bush received an ecstatic welcome from Georgians
Whether the enthusiasm of the new democracies for "freedom man" Bush can hold, will depend upon the success of the local reform powers. Under the protective influence of the EU, the economies in the Baltic States is growing with ease. But in Georgia and Ukraine the reform process will need a good deal of western help in order to bring about any long-term stability. But there is no sign of a new Marshall plan for the region, and whether the universal push for freedom and the striving for democracy are enough to bring about historical change, remains to be seen.
What should therefore follow grand gestures such as the US presidential tour, are international efforts to turn peaceful revolutions into economic success stories, thus permanently ruling out any return to authoritarian structures. President Bush's trip was to a great extent merely symbolic, leaving it up to the former Soviet countries to see how they fare in the democratic world.