The American Prospect
Thursday 3 April 2003
George W. Bush is under an international quarantine. It is not security concerns that prevent him from going overseas, nor is it the unseemly appearance of leaving the White House while our troops fight along the Euphrates. Rather, Bush can't leave America because his policies are intensely unpopular in almost every country on earth.
What country could this president visit that wouldn't immediately erupt into massive civil unrest? A Bush visit to Western Europe would make 2001's violent anti-globalization demonstrations in Genoa look like a tea party.
This explains why British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's only real ally in this war, came to Washington instead of hosting Bush in London. It also explains why a few weeks ago Bush met with Blair and the leaders of Spain and Portugal in the Azores. By meeting at a U.S. airbase on an isolated archipelago with a population roughly equal to that of Akron, Ohio, Bush avoided the anger in the European streets. Although the Portuguese prime minister welcomed our president to "Europe," the sad truth is that Bush will not be welcome in the real Western Europe for months, if not years.
Some might say that the effective quarantine of an American president does not matter. After all, it has happened before, and with little apparent long-term effect. In the summer of 1960, as Japan debated a new treaty with the United States, leftist and pacifist forces launched demonstrations so vast that then-President Dwight Eisenhower canceled plans to visit. Similarly, in 1958, Vice President Richard Nixon's trip to South America met with such violent outrage that a warship was sent in case extraction by force became necessary. The extreme hostility to America's foreign policy in Japan and South America eventually subsided.
But this is different. The center of the rage is Western Europe, historically the home of America's closest allies. American presidents have often been greeted by cheering throngs of Europeans, as when Woodrow Wilson went to Paris in 1919. Trips to Europe produced some of the modern presidency's greatest moments, from John F. Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech to Ronald Reagan's eloquent elegy to the boys of D-Day. Even when the visit of an American president sparked demonstrations, it was clear to all concerned that the vast majority of the populace supported America's role in the world.
Today, as an ominous boycott of American products spreads, it is obvious that the anger at America is deep and extends far beyond Western Europe.
Bush's quarantine involves almost all of the Middle East, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand, and even some Asian countries. Polls in some Eastern European nations suggest less intense opposition to America, but those countries are geographically close to Western Europe -- a presidential visit to Bucharest would likely attract hundreds of thousands of demonstrators from Germany and France. A trip to a less stable nation, such as Egypt or Pakistan, could severely weaken or even bring down the host government.
The world's citizens are so helpless in the face of America's military supremacy and unilateral foreign policy that the only way they can express their anger is through civil unrest and boycotts. Even a visit to America's neighbors, Mexico or Canada, would produce scenes of unprecedented anti-American demonstrations.
And those images would matter here at home. In 1960, Kennedy used the anti-Nixon demonstrations abroad to argue that the nation was losing stature in the world. A foreign trip by Bush now would reveal to the average American in pictures -- so vivid that even FOX News couldn't spin them away -- just how bitterly our policies are opposed around the globe.
Once the war is over and the occupation begins, reporters will start to ask why our president isn't traveling anymore. Karl Rove will have to think of a place to send him. Outside of Israel or Afghanistan, the choices will be slim. Of course, Bush could safely go to a country where the government uses brutality to stop demonstrations. Which means that it has come to this: The American president, who once symbolized the value of freedom to many people around the world, can now only visit countries where dissent is crushed.
So what's it going to be, Mr. President: Havana or Beijing?
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