TOPICS > Nation

President Bush in Europe

July 24, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: To assess President Bush’s trip to Europe, we turn to: Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International; Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation magazine; David Brooks, a senior editor for the Weekly Standard; and Tom Oliphant, a columnist for The Boston Globe.

Welcome to you all. David, starting with you, how well did the president do on this trip; on balance how do you assess it?

DAVID BROOKS: On balance, it was an excellent trip. When you look at the G-8 and you see how he handled all the other world leaders you think it must be wonderful to be charming. He seems to have traipsed through this meeting where there were lots of land mines, little Mary Sunshine, diffused all the negative passions that could have arisen out of the disagreements and then gotten through them.

And then he had a major agreement with Vladimir Putin, which was to really solidify the missile defense program. What he did with Putin was he said we can have missile defense and we can have it in a world in which there’s arms reduction; we can have it in a world in which our relations with Russia are still stable. That undermines the two essential disagreements people had with missile defense. So it was a good trip.

MARGARET WARNER: Katrina vanden Heuvel, do you see it that way?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: I don’t. I think the discussion of how Bush did obscures the larger issues. We’re at the beginning of the 21st century, the world is changing in fundamental ways. There’s a poverty of leadership in world. But this is an administration that is politically, philosophically, ideologically unilateralist at a time when internationalism, interconnectedness is the mantra. And our allies wake up every morning wondering what slap this administration is going to give them. And that is what Kyoto was about today, some 180-plus nations’ work of eight years or more was spurned.

We don’t know what will come of the Putin-Bush discussion. They agreed to agree to agree to have intensive consultations. Deep cuts in offensive missiles would be terrific, but the national missile defense program is just another example of unilateralism. Bush says he will talk. Our allies are opposed to it. And it shows the U.S. going it alone and finally, you know, how is the U.S. Going to be perceived in the world in the coming years? Our allies, others, begin to talk about the United States as a rogue nation, particularly on arms issues. And that is very dangerous in these coming years.

MARGARET WARNER: Tom Oliphant, you’ve got David Brooks saying a lot was accomplished, Katrina vanden Heuvel saying little or nothing.

TOM OLIPHANT: Well, I prefer some. Bush…. Bush is a tough guy to analyze sometimes because I find him resisting our attempts to pigeon hole him as he works. A perfect bookend for the trip was his appearance before the troops in Kosovo today. I think it completes his transition from somebody who in the campaign raised doubts about whether he’d keep this up to somebody who is almost a nation builder, embracing a collective action by NATO.

And I think that gets to a larger point that when Bush is seen as engaged with his colleagues abroad or at home, for that matter, working on problems, maybe making progress an inch at a time, a la Putin agreement on Sunday or whatever… maybe it’s not an agreement but whatever it is, then he’s seen as doing well because he is doing well. The flip side is what is happening with global warming. Here the isolation, I think, continues. It was worsened by what happened over the weekend in Bonn. And when he’s seen in… in a unilateral position, he is seen as having done less well.

MARGARET WARNER: Fareed Zakaria, your assessment.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Margaret, I think that the interesting thing is the trajectory of the administration. It started out on missile defense, for example, saying we’re going to do this and we don’t care what the Russians think. Russia is not somebody we need to worry about: two-bit power, sells arms to anyone it can find. It has moved to a position of really seriously engaging with Russia, trying to make this thing happen with Russia, if that means some concessions to it, yes.

Obviously they stand firm on the basics, but there is a much more engaged internationalist approach to it. And I think what’s happening is they’re realizing that the realities of the world are, you can’t get things done without international cooperation, without treaties, et cetera. And I think that this is happening on a whole host of issues. Missile defense is one of them. Kosovo, of course, is another, where they start out essentially opposed to the operation and not calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops and move to a position that now that the speech Bush made was a speech frankly that Clinton could have made in Kosovo.

I think that on global warming, the mistake has not been in the position the Bush administration has taken, which I broadly speaking agree with, which is that Kyoto is fatally flawed because it does not include developing countries and because it has too strong an onus on the developed world. However, the answer is to get in there and engage. In fact, if you notice the agreement that was signed yesterday had in it many of the concessions that the Bush administration was looking for. So if they had been in there shaping the final treaty, they probably would have gotten a lot of what they wanted. I hope that they will take from this whole process the lesson that you can get… you can serve American national interests and at the same time be a good citizen in the world.

MARGARET WARNER: David, do you see that kind of trajectory in the administration’s… an evolution here?

DAVID BROOKS: Absolutely. When the Republicans came to power, they had two principles dealing with Russia. First of all there would be no arms control talks because we will decide what sort of missiles we want — what sort of defense strategy we want. Second, we won’t fall in love with any particular Russian leader the way past presidents did with Gorbachev or with Yeltsin. What just happened? We have an arms control treaty or at least negotiations in that way. We’re involved in a process.

So we now may be looking at China as our primary adversary but we’re still negotiating with Russia. The second thing is, you know, Bush has fallen in love with Putin. He has a good soul. You know, he’s got Putin tattooed on his arm he’s so in love with the guy. And so what we’ve got is an evolution some would call it. What you’re beginning to hear and what I heard from defense sources today was what price arms control? Are we really sacrificing all sorts of other things just to make what price missile defense, just to make missile defense possible? What else are we sacrificing? That’s the risk the administration has taken.

TOM OLIPHANT: It was very interesting, wasn’t it, David, that one day after this love fest on Sunday, Putin goes home and obviously he’s getting some considerable guff not only in the opposition press but from within his own military that is wondering what he gave away. It was interesting, I thought, that President Bush felt the need to toughen his rhetoric the day after, meaning yesterday, in a way that I thought was designed to introduce an element of time pressure on the Russians.

I think also in talking with White House officials it’s been interesting to me that the word “negotiation” is not a word they prefer to use about all this. It’s kind of like, I’ll tell you what I’m doing and you tell me what you’re doing and then… so that there’s a tremendous amount of vagueness associated with it.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: This is folly, this notion that Putin is Bush’s new friend. If you look at the language basically there is an agreement to agree to continue intensive consultations on this. But the administration, the Bush administration, plans to proceed as it has wired off to diplomatic embassies to proceed with national missile defense, whatever the Russians do. And I think you have to look at this from two other points of view. Putin, a week before coming to meet with Bush, met with Jiang Zemin of China.

They signed perhaps one of the most important international agreements in recent years, which has to do with both agreeing to oppose national missile defense. What is he going to say to Jiang Zemin? Also, the European allies are deeply opposed to national missile defense. Perhaps Putin thinks he will be reasonable in an open exterior way, and he is getting guff at home, but that when this falls apart, he will be reasonable in Europe’s eyes. Whereas the Bush administration, which hasn’t seen a treaty it likes, it treats diplomacy as an exotic ritual — unlike Bush’s father, will just continue with what it wants to do.

FAREED ZAKARIA: If I may just say one thing. On national missile defense, Margaret, the issue is right now is very simply can we do certain tests that would violate the ABM Treaty and can we agree to a kind of loose interpretation of the ABM Treaty while that’s going on? There isn’t a system to deploy. I mean we’ve managed to unite the world against a research program that right now doesn’t work.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me move on beyond though the Russia account because there were so many other things that happened and saying with you, Fareed Zakaria. Kyoto; we’ve all made the point that the U.S. is isolated but what difference does it make? Is this a big deal? Is this so terrible?

FAREED ZAKARIA: I think it makes… it’s important symbolically in this sense: The United States is in this extraordinary position. It’s the most powerful country in the world and yet for the last ten or fifteen years, nobody has really opposed it. Nobody has done what history tells us always happens. You know, people gang up against the most powerful country. Why? Because the United States has been perceived as basically a good citizen on the international stage.

I think there’s an enormous value to that. And I think it’s hurt by the United States opting out of things. I strongly believe that we can pursue our interests and still be engaged. So I think the symbolism of 180 nations saying that they’re going to go ahead without the United States’ leadership is terrible, if you believe, as I do, that the United States should be the active world hegemon.


DAVID BROOKS: I wouldn’t go in for engagement for engagement’s sake. The U.S. has stood alone all sorts of times in U.N. resolutions having to do with Zionism and everything else. The fact remains there are U.S. interests, which are different from European interests, different from a lot of world interests. We have an incredibly energy intensive economy; we have low gasoline prices; we have a mobile country. We use a lot of power.

We just went through six months where when prices spiked in California half the country was calling for price caps. People went ballistic when gas went to $2 a gallon. What happens if it goes to $4-$5 a gallon as it might under some of the environmental treaties that are being negotiated? Bush, if anything, his position was hardened I would think by the last six months and by… how we respond to an energy crisis and the desire not to hamstring our economy in this way. Part of it is Bush but part of it is simple, straight American national interest that Clinton was involved in too.

MARGARET WARNER: Ms. vanden Heuvel….

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Could I just say who is America? I think that if you look at American public opinion, the majority of Americans would support what Europeans are supporting in terms of more conservation, cuts in global warming, no missile defense because they know it’s unworkable and unaffordable and that pulling out of the ABM will fuel an arms race. So I think what we’re seeing on the one hand is a rift between Europe and the United States, which may be healthy because it may lead to Europe being more a power center.

But also this administration not representing the United States, not representing opinion, or a Republican Party losing the moderate… modest internationalist wing it had and claimed to have for years, which was important to the democracy in this country.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Tom, do you think the reason the president isn’t able to bring anyone around on Kyoto is as David says because essentially our interests are so different from everyone else’s?

TOM OLIPHANT: Not yet I don’t. Again I use… something is happening on missile defense, this link between offense and defense. It suggests an ongoing process. I think where Kyoto is concerned, however, the real problem right now is that the Bush administration does not have a policy. It doesn’t have an alternative. There is an agreement now, because of Bonn. The world, 178 nations want to move to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions hopefully down to the levels of 1990.

What is going to happen now is that the protocol is going to move through the ratification process. If they get to the magic number of 55 — and they have Japan aboard now — that further isolates the United States. But I think in addition this weekend, we saw President Bush badly served by his own people who thought the process in Bonn would fail and who thought Japan was more of an ally on our position than it really turned out to be.

DAVID BROOKS: It’s interesting that you mention the need to have an alternative because there was an interesting thing that happened in the appropriations bill this week which was that some anti-Kyoto language mysteriously disappeared. And presumably that was because somebody in the Republican Party said, stop stomping on this. We need to come up with some sort of positive alternative.

TOM OLIPHANT: Our word is cap emissions. The world’s word is cut them.


FAREED ZAKARIA: Margaret, if I can just add, two of the crucial things that ended up in this treaty, which are tradable emissions and the use of sinks were part of the Bush negotiating position at the Hague which by the way was part of the Clinton negotiating position beforehand. Again my point is I don’t disagree with David that we have a specific national interest, but the point is, are you approaching this by saying we’re going to get in there, fight for them and try to shape the treaty? Or are you going to opt out and say to the rest of the world, we don’t need you?

MARGARET WARNER: Brief final question to Tom and David. The meeting… The president’s meeting with the Pope, did that make it easier or harder for him to sell whatever his final decision is going to be on stem cell research?

DAVID BROOKS: I would think it made it easier. If he saw Putin’s soul and thought it was wonderful, imagine the Pope’s soul. He goes in I think leaning toward approving the federal funding. Nothing would’ve stopped that.


TOM OLIPHANT: I think it makes it harder because the church’s opposition is quite clear and the segment of American opinion that goes with it is quite clear.

MARGARET WARNER: We have to leave it there. Thank you all four very much.