Much of the world celebrated President Obama’s election and subsequent inauguration. For years, Americans have been reminded that President Bush was a reviled and loathed figure all over the globe. Friends and foes alike held particular distaste and contempt for the Texan; or, put more accurately, Bush’s sometimes cocky persona and in-your-face style turned friends into foes. By this logic, Bush was the anti-Midas: everything he touched turned into an unmitigated disaster.
Yet was it ever really this bad? How much of the criticism was accurate, and how much was politically driven and psychological? Certainly President Bush had his fair share of foreign policy blunders. Sure, he could have been more, shall we say, smooth, on a whole host of international issues. But after an open-minded and objective assessment, if one were to take a look at the contemporary state of the world, one would find that not all is wrong with it. And, in fact, George Bush deserves a large deal of credit for this reality.
Americans who routinely travel to their European ancestral homelands have grown accustomed to the anti-Bush graffiti and paraphernalia across the Old Continent. “War Monger” and “World’s Worst Terrorist” Bush t-shirts adorn European youth. How easily we forget that it was under President Clinton that we militarily intervened on European soil to prevent genocide — and didn’t appeal to Congress, or the UN, or European sensitivities beforehand. It was also under Clinton that the Europeans coined the United States a “hyper-power” to be thwarted. And, of course, it was under Clinton that Europe’s cherished Kyoto Protocol climate treaty was rejected unanimously 95-0 by the U.S. Senate.
Despite the caricatures of Bush as a twangy cowboy, our relationship with Europe today remains strong and steadfast. As we know, the initial trans-Atlantic problems arose during the buildup to the Iraq war in late 2002. But those days are long over. The two most anti-American statesmen of that era — Jacques Chirac of France and Gerhard Schroeder of Germany — are now gone, their corrupt financial ties to Saddam’s regime exposed for all to see. They were replaced by staunchly pro-American leaders like Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel.
Having suffered and survived Soviet tyranny, Eastern Europe is a bastion of pro-American sentiment — as evident in Bush’s 2007 trip to Albania, as well as new missile defense agreements with the Poles and Czechs. U.S.-EU economic ties are sturdy and the military alliance between the two continents has never been better. NATO is larger than ever and its signatories — hiking and hunting the Afghan-Pakistani tribal lands — have deployed further from European shores than at any other time in their history. On other international problems, the Bush administration followed the much-requested multilateral diplomacy, outsourcing talks with Iran to the EU-3. While I personally opposed the Bush administration’s reflexive and inadequate Iran policy, no European can in retrospect claim with a serious face, Sy Hersh-style, that Bush intended on invading or bombing the Iranians. In their lust for conspiracy, many forgot who the good guys actually were.
As for disagreements on Iraq, American protection from an increasingly belligerent Putinist Russia, not American withdrawal from an increasingly stable Iraq, is now the concern of Europe’s top billing.