As Bush launches farewell tour, Europe warms up
The US-German relationship is perhaps the clearest example of improving ties since the Iraq war began.
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During Mr. Bush's presidency, attitudes among America's main allies swung sharply pro then con – though now show some signs of a return to normalcy and a renewed recognition of the role the US plays in Europe and the West, many experts here say.
The trip takes place amid what one German official calls an "astounding" interest in the US presidential elections, and a palpable readiness for change at the top in Washington.
Goodbyes to Angela Merkel in Berlin, Silvio Berlusconi in Rome, and Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, where Bush will push hard for help at a June 12 Afghan donor conference – will showcase Bush's newly affirmative relations with key heads of state here.
"The likelihood of major progress on any significant issue in play is pretty low," says Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. "But US-European relations are coming around. If you told me three or even two years ago that Bush would go to Germany in 2008 and get a positive response, I wouldn't have believed it."
Bush touches down Tuesday in Germany, where Chancellor Merkel will host him for dinner at a small castle outside Berlin. For much of the past six years, nearly sacrosanct US-German relations were in low ebb. Though some 200,000 Germans rallied in support of the US at the famed Brandenburg Gate after 9/11, goodwill turned to disdain after the Iraq invasion. The problem went far past the image of America, to serious and widespread disagreement with US policy on the Continent.
It was what author and longtime Europe-watcher Elizabeth Pond termed the "near death" of the transatlantic alliance in her 2003 book.
Today, however, what appeared to be an "unbridgeable gap" has been replaced by "a spirit of calm, pragmatic cooperation," says Constanze Stelzenmuller of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. In Europe there's a "rational realization that the areas of agreement are substantial, and that the Europeans and the Americans will often, but not always, need each other."