Greeting Bush with A Yawn

Article excerpt

Long before Bush arrived for his last visit to Europe, its leaders were cultivating Obama and McCain.

ON HIS FINAL TRIP THROUGH EUROPE LAST WEEK, U.S. PRESIDENT George W. Bush visited with all the most important people: Angela Merkel at Meseberg Castle, Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace, Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street. He dealt with the weightiest issues: Merkel supported Bush on enforcing sanctions in Iran; Silvio Berlusconi promised to keep supplying troops to Afghanistan.

But even Bush, long the bete noire of Europe, seemed to recognize that the days when he had the power to provoke awe or anger are already over. At the European Union summit, he praised the host nation Slovenia as "a slice of heaven" and

joked that he was going to return as a tourist. "As you know, I'm close to retirement," said Bush, who leaves office in January.

Europe was looking past Bush even before he arrived. Gone were the scathing editorials and bitter antiwar protests that once drew 1 million people to the piazzas of Rome and 100,000 to the streets of London. Italian officials said there were no more than a 1,000 or so this time; British organizers expected less than 10,000. In Germany, there were only two dozen angry demonstrators in a village near the castle, their protest for higher farm subsidies aimed at Merkel, not Bush. "Even the demonstrators have lost interest in Bush," wrote Handelsblatt, a German business daily. "The overall mood will be one of good riddance," said The Guardian just before Bush arrived in London. Le Monde put it more gently: "Tourner la page Bush."

Now, it's all eyes on Barack Obama and John McCain. In February, as it became clear that Obama would be the Democratic front runner, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown reportedly asked the British ambassador to the United States to launch a charm offensive with the likely nominee. Labour Minister David Lammy--like Obama, a black Harvard alumnus--visited Wisconsin to observe the senator's campaign. Lammy speaks on the phone regularly with Obama and has since been described as his "point man in London." Both Brown and Tory leader David Cameron met with GOP nominee McCain, in London in March. A month later Brown met with both nominees in Washington. In Germany, Kurt Beck--the leader of the Social Democrats, the junior partner in the ruling coalition--even took the highly unusual step of endorsing Obama.

For his part, Berlusconi wanted Bush to help Italy secure a spot on the so-called five-plus-one--the group comprising the five permanent U.N. Security Council members, plus Germany--in exchange for more support in Afghanistan and Iraq and allowing the Americans to push ahead with plans to expand a military base in Vicenza, near Venice. But political analysts say the Italian prime minister--who frequently refers to himself as "George Bush's best friend"--is hoping this friendship will also signal to McCain and Obama that he is very pro-American. Perhaps neither will appreciate Berlusconi's unusual sense of humor quite the way Bush has, but analysts say Berlusconi is hoping his America-friendly policies on Iran and Afghanistan will put him on the next U.S. president's radar. "This will enhance Italy's stature once again," says Dennis Redmont of the Council for the United States and Italy. "That's something very dear to Berlusconi."

Nowhere is this shift past Bush more apparent than in Spain, conspicuously the one big west European nation that Bush failed to visit on his tour. …