By Richard S. Dunham When did I first realize that George Bush's trip to Europe would be a political success back home? When American TV captured an image of demonstrators burning a U.S. flag in Goteborg, Sweden, on June 14. That was after footage of protest signs denouncing Bush, with a Nazi swastika replacing the "s" in the President's name.
These crude, tasteless images play poorly in Middle America, where citizens view the flag with pride even if they don't always view their President with pride. Mr. and Ms. Middle America still remember how U.S. troops helped rescue Europe from the grip of Nazi tyranny and don't particularly appreciate these types of free expression.
Bush's oft-contentious European sojourn only heightened the disconnect between public opinion in America and on the Continent. In Europe, the new American President ranks somewhere down there in the polls with Saddam Hussein and Ariel Sharon. Euro-elites decry the Americanization of world culture, and they see the new President as a rude, crude, reckless rube. Or worse.
IN PEORIA. Europeans view capital punishment as a barbaric relic of a bygone era, and they consider Bush's strong support for the death penalty as a sign of his values and moral center. Nothing Bush did on his journey from Spain to Slovenia will change the opinions of most Europeans.
But Bush plays differently in Peoria. While his overall job-approval ratings have dipped, his handling of global issues has remained strong ever since the China-U.S. spy-plane incident. An ABC News/Washington Post Poll conducted May 31-June 3 found that 58% of adults approved of Bush's handling of international affairs, while 33% disapproved. It was Bush's best rating on any issue.
The goal of Bush's trip was simple: Give "nervous" European leaders (the President's own term) a chance to get to know him. And start winning converts on controversial issues, such as his antimissile defense system and a go-slow approach to global warming.
"STICK TOGETHER." He lined up strong support for the untested antimissile concept from nations of the former Soviet bloc, including new NATO members Poland and Hungary. He found common ground with two other center-right leaders, Jose Maria Aznar of Spain and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy. And he made a loyal public friend in Britain's Tony Blair, who is perhaps the most nimble politician on the world stage today.
"Europe and America should always stick together," Blair declared. "Of course there will be areas where we need intensive negotiations, like nuclear defense, but the world is a more secure and more stable place if Europe and America are together."
Blair -- one of former President Bill Clinton's best friends -- found himself a new buddy in Bush. The Labor leader even won a nickname from the American Nicknamer-in-Chief: "Landslide," a reference to his recent triumph over Britain's beleaguered Tories.
MANGLED NAMES. That's not to say that Bush's first trip to Europe was an unqualified smash. He made plenty of verbal goofs and diplomatic boo-boos. He mangled the Spanish language in a Spanish TV interview. And he mispronounced the name of the Spanish Prime Minister. He called NATO Secretary-General Robertson "Lord Robinson." And he misstated the name of the country of Ukraine, instead using the outdated, Soviet-imposed title, "The Ukraine."
Still, Bush aides can breathe easy because he got the big things right, especially in the eyes of much of middle America. Let's say the trip was a hit in spite of itself. Dunham is a White House correspondent for BusinessWeek's Washington bureau. Follow his views every Monday in Washington Watch, only on BW Online