How much has Bush repaired US image?

While recent events such as the G-8 summit have won him points, views of America abroad will not change easily.

As part of his quest to show the American people his world-embracing side, President Bush Friday travels for the second time in less than a month to Europe, that hotbed of anti-Bush sentiment.

After a string of recent high-profile and generally well-regarded appearances on the global stage, from commemorating D-Day at Normandy to hosting a G-8 summit and winning a new resolution on Iraq at the United Nations, the president might reasonably anticipate a better response than the adamant thumbs down he received earlier this month on the streets of Rome.

But as Mr. Bush visits Ireland to meet with European Union leaders Saturday before heading to a NATO summit in Istanbul, he shouldn't expect much newfound affection from the people, experts here and overseas say. While images of Bush swaying shoulder to shoulder around the multilateralist campfire with world leaders like Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder have won the US and Bush points in some places, the president's global plummet since the war in Iraq to near-pariah status won't be easily reversed, they say.

Moreover, some experts add that what has increasingly taken hold is a divorce in the minds of many people overseas between Bush and America - between an America many foreigners profess to admire and emulate, and a president they sometimes abhor. As a case in point, protests of the Bush attendance at the EU meeting are planned by the historically pro-American Irish.

"Europeans generally have a deep appreciation of America, and it is that America they think should come back, but not Bush's America," says Guillaume Parmentier, director of the French Center on the United States in Paris.

"But the European public is not going to budge on Bush," he adds. "Perhaps a second term with different priorities would soften the rejection, but the nice words of the last weeks won't change the perceptions."

Hints of a thaw

Still, others say Bush's efforts to show his administration's cooperative side are beginning to assuage fears about a go-it-alone superpower, even if erasing global suspicions of US motives remains an uphill task.

"We can see some uptick [in positive views of the US], but there's still an overarching condition that gives us a long way to go to get out of this hole," says Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes in Washington. "Despite some positive signs, there's still a widespread concern about the US under Bush using its military heft to its advantage."

On the positive side, Mr. Kull points to a recent survey he helped conduct with the international Globescan Inc. research firm that found a positive attitude toward America's influence in the world in a wide range of African countries. Though the survey did not delve into opinions of Bush, it found Africans giving generally positive marks for America's role in their countries, especially in the economic arena.

But it is the Iraq war that remains the prism through which much of the world is viewing the US - and viewing it negatively. That is not simply because much of Europe, for example, is antiwar, experts say, but because of the way the Bush administration decided to proceed on the war without global backing. That cemented fears that the US, as the only superpower, would now use its power as it pleased.

"Having lost the leverage they had with the superpowers during the cold war, countries went looking for signs the US would be constrained by the same international rules largely set up by the US," says Kull. "But the consensus, particularly among Europeans, is that America under Bush is not constrained."

Not only is America seen as more militaristic under Bush, but as "dismissive of its allies," says Mr. Parmentier of the French Center on the United States. "There's really a structural issue here. This is no longer the traditional alliance against a single threat, so there will be more occasion to disagree - as over Iraq."

Indeed, with the Iraq war now seen by many foreigners as going poorly - Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has called it a "fiasco" and suggested US voters defeat Bush over it - Europeans are adding disdain to their earlier criticisms.

"The Europeans are indulging in 'schadenfreude,' the German notion that you take pleasure in someone else's misfortune," says John Hulsman, an expert in US-Europe relations at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

Just back from a month-long visit to Europe, he adds, "Their attitude is, 'This is your war, you deal with it.' "

Looking ahead

As for the impact of what is being called the "month of summits," Mr. Hulsman says that "there is absolutely no afterglow at all" for the European public. About the best that Bush's two-hour meeting Saturday with EU leaders at Dromoland Castle in Ireland's County Clare might do is win some points with Irish-American voters, observers say. (The president will miss Ireland's County Kerry by about 100 miles.)

Yet one improvement in recent weeks is the atmosphere in which multilateral relations are carried out, some officials report. "We're on the road back to normal relations between Europe and America, while agreeing to disagree on Iraq," says one EU official in Washington who asked not to be named. "And although that improvement hasn't seemed to reach public opinion yet, there is a sense of an opportunity over this month for it to filter through."

One place where the better atmospherics may be filtering through is Canada, where attacks on Bush have recently lost some of their appeal, several experts say.

"It started with Bush at Normandy and flowed over to the G-8 summit, where Canadians saw him taking up issues they care about," says John Kirton, a professor of international relations at the University of Toronto. "If you get George Bush doing public health for Africa, it looks like the American president taking up our values here at home."

A positive rub-off on Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, who attended the G-8 summit, may have even arrested his decline in polls before next week's national elections, Mr. Kirton says.

But so far the Bush embrace is not summoning the same response in a suspicious Europe. "The problem is that we don't really know if this is a genuine conversion of the Bush administration to some sort of internationalism," says Parmentier. "The feeling is it may be purely tactical."

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