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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Bush is seen as the least popular US president in modern Germany. US presidents from John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan to George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton are remembered for giving stirring speeches amid cheering throngs and flinging themselves into crowds to shake hands.Skip to next paragraph
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Bush has, partly due to increased security after 9/11, been in an isolated bubble, and his visits are discussed more in terms of interrupted traffic in large towns. In coverage of a 2006 speech in Stralsund, Germany, local media pointed out that the audience was preselected from out of town, and that locals were excluded. "It was a show like something out of the old East Germany," says one source.
One little-mentioned credit given here to the Bush policy on Europe is the friendly interest shown by the State Department to the new democracies of Eastern Europe. Initially, the issue got botched in Washington. Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's terming of a "new Europe" (Poland, the Baltics, former Warsaw Pact states aiding in the war on terror) and an "old Europe" (mainly France and Germany, which questioned Washington on Iraq) was divisive.
"Rumsfeld's phrasing, playing off new and old, was absolutely divisive here," says Bastian Hermisson of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a Green Party think tank. "But over time, the US valuing of Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltics, made those states feel self-confident. It had the effect of shaking us up and making us aware that new states had their own interests and importance."
Europeans embrace Obama's hope
There's a widespread fascination here with the US presidential race – particularly the candidacy of Barack Obama, whose persona Europeans appear to adore. European foreign ministries are in touch with both McCain and Obama camps, sources say.
At a speech at Harvard, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier asked the audience rhetorically if the US and Europe can have better transatlantic relations, and then said, reiterating the Obama campaign mantra, "Yes, we can!"
"The interest in the US election is overwhelming," says Mr. Hermission. "And if it is a program on Obama, there are no empty seats. It makes me believe there is a desire in the public for a resurgence of what we call the 'good America.' There's hope in the response I see."