International Papers

Bush’s European Listening Tour

As George Bush visits Germany, Russia, France, and Italy, the European papers are surprisingly united in their hopes for the president’s visit. According to the Independent, Guardian, Financial Times, and Le Figaro—among others—what Bush really needs to do is listen.

The Independent fretted that “for all the platitudes we hear about how shared values, heritage and interests make Europe and America partners for all eternity, the glue that binds them has rarely been thinner.” The editorial wondered how the United States could have squandered post-Sept.-11 sympathy so quickly and concluded Europeans have been turned off by America’s tendency “to interpret the verb ‘consult’ to mean making a weary pretence of listening to the views of others before doing exactly what it intended to do anyway.” During his time in the Old World, Bush “should relearn the traditional sense of ‘consult’—to listen to the views of others, and take them into account—and admit that sometimes they may have a point.”

The Guardian said Bush had a “crucial opportunity … to listen as well as lecture” on his tour. After enumerating what it conceded was “a fantasy wish-list” of issues on which the United States and Europe are divided, the paper continued: “In recent months, transatlantic stereotypes of ugly, arrogant Americans and spineless, racist Europeans have increasingly been allowed to obscure the ties that bind, to exaggerate or distort mutual differences. It is time to call a halt to the name-calling and make common cause.” In an editorial headlined, “A time to talk—and listen,” the Financial Times counseled the president not to “dismiss the European concerns as mere carping from allies who are not prepared to shoulder their share of the defence burden.” It said the United States and Europe should endeavor to close the widening security gap because “a strong Europe will be much better able to make itself heard.”

In an editorial titled “What Bush Must Understand,” France’s Le Figaro declared, “[R]arely has there been so much mistrust on both sides of the Atlantic.” Longstanding disagreements over the death penalty, international justice, global warming, the situation in the Middle East, and trade still exist, but since Sept. 11, when the war on terrorism became America’s No. 1 priority, the misunderstandings have worsened. “It is good that George W. Bush has left his home to meet with a larger audience. Europeans must take full advantage of his ability to listen, weak as it is. … Perhaps he will understand that it isn’t enough to have a common enemy for disagreements to be erased by charm. Sept. 11 undoubtedly changed America; it did not completely change the world.”