Analysis: Bush making grand promises in Europe

By: AP
By: AP

PARIS (AP) -- Roaming across Europe on a glamorous weeklong goodbye, President Bush does not sound like a man with dismal poll ratings, dwindling influence and just seven months left in office.

At stop after stop, from Slovenia to France, he is throwing out bold declarations about all that he believes can be accomplished before he exits the world stage come January.

Outlining grand goals on the international front, Bush appears to have forgotten how little he has been able to accomplish at home. His rhetoric often has exceeded his reach.

When he won re-election in 2004, Bush declared that his victory, despite its small margin of just 2.4 percentage points, gave him political capital to achieve big goals.

But the biggest plans of his second term - partially privatize Social Security, overhaul tax laws, extend expiring tax cuts, legalize millions of illegal immigrants - went nowhere.

That was the case even when Bush's fellow Republicans controlled Congress for the first two years of his second term.

Now, with the clock running down, he has a foreign-policy wish-list that is not small stuff, either.

It is heavy with problems that have defied solution: Middle East peace; a global free-trade agreement; an international emissions-reduction treaty; stopping Iran from its suspected plan to build a nuclear bomb; a long-term deal with Iraq to govern the large continuing U.S. presence there.

Bush is talking in Europe as if these things are will-dos, not might-dos.

Never mind that most of the world, including the Europeans whose help he dearly needs, have a history of disagreeing with Bush and are focused beyond him on the campaign for his successor.

"I don't think most of it is very realistic," said Reginald Dale, Europe program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "Most of those problems remain very difficult and there's been no sign of a breakthrough, from example, on Middle East peace."

He said the global trade talks, to take another example, were in big trouble, made more difficult by a new farm bill that increases subsidies for U.S. farmers.

Despite the long odds and many doubters, Bush appears undeterred.

-"We're determined to help make this the year the world completes an ambitious Doha Round," he said Friday during a speech in Paris. He was referring to world negotiations to lower or eliminate trade tariffs. The talks long have been at an impasse because of battles between wealthy countries and developing nations over such issues as farm subsidies.

-"I firmly believe that with leadership and courage, a peace agreement is possible this year," Bush also said in Paris. He was referring to his desire to forge a deal between Israelis and Palestinians, who are locked in one the world's longest-running and most intractable disputes.

-"I think we'll end up with a strategic agreement with Iraq," Bush said Wednesday at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He disputed talk that stiff opposition from some Iraqis and doubts in the United States were scuttling chances for an agreement with Baghdad to provide for a normal, permanent American military and diplomatic presence in Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the opening U.S. proposals were a "dead end" because they would give Washington too much leverage over Iraqi affairs, but that negotiations would continue.

-"I think we can actually get an agreement on global climate change during my presidency," Bush said at the opening of his trip, at a U.S.-European Union summit in Kranj, Slovenia. His timetable is faster than that of the U.N.-sponsored process, which involves 172 countries aiming to arrive at a global agreement to curb carbon emissions by sometime in 2009. Barriers include how to include energy-guzzling but poor countries such as China and India, raise the billions of dollars needed and determine what requirements to impose, or even whether they will be binding.

In his Paris speech, Bush confidently pronounced U.S.-Europe relations the "broadest and most vibrant" ever and said this "new era" of unity is already being used to more aggressively look outward to solve problems, and will only be more so in the future.

This best-ever characterization seemed a stretch. But there is no doubt that the election of new leadership in Europe and the passing of most Iraq war disagreements have produced much better cooperation on many more issues than earlier in Bush's presidency.

It must be understood that Bush takes the approach that public confidence from a president - even if not always privately held to the degree he suggests - can actually breed success.

He also believes strongly in never-say-die optimism. Why discuss defeat until absolutely necessary, goes the thinking, and maybe not even then?

Still, there is something about Europe and bold declarations that have bombed for Bush.

As he concluded a trip to the continent almost exactly a year ago, Bush made a cowboy promise about the immigration overhaul that he badly wanted from Capitol Hill.

"See you at the bill signing," he said, somewhat testily, in Sofia, Bulgaria, last June, despite a derailing of the legislation in the Senate.

Just 17 days later, an uncharacteristically morose-looking Bush conceded the effort was dead.

"A lot of us worked hard to see if we couldn't find common ground," a glum president said in Newport, R.I., the day Congress drove a stake through his proposal. "It didn't work."

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EDITOR'S NOTE - Jennifer Loven covers the White House for The Associated Press.

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