The rest of the world will be watching with anxiety when President Bush is inaugurated Thursday for a second time, fearing the most powerful man on the planet may do more harm than good.
Many world leaders, alienated by Bush’s go-it-alone foreign policy and the U.S.-led war in Iraq, would have preferred him to lose the U.S. election last November. Since his victory, they have been urging him to listen and consult more.
Mistrust also runs deep among ordinary people. Some 58 percent of people surveyed in a British Broadcasting Corporation poll in 21 countries said they believed Bush’s re-election made the world a more dangerous place.
“Negative feelings about Bush are high,” Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes which carried out the study, told the BBC. “This is quite a grim picture for the United States.”
People in three countries surveyed — Poland, India and the Philippines — said the world was now safer, while Israel, which was not part of the survey, also remains a big supporter of the 58-year-old president who took office four years ago.
From Asia to Europe, leaders are looking for signs that Bush will take a more “multilateral” approach on the challenges that lie ahead in Iraq, the Middle East, Iran and North Korea, and on issues such as trade, the U.S. dollar and the environment.
“I think 2005 should mark a new start in our relations … based on listening to each other, having a more regular dialogue and mutual respect,” French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said last week, reflecting the view of the European Union.
There are some encouraging signs. Bush and the European leaders who fell out with him over the Iraq war have signaled they are ready to bury their differences.
In a sign he wants to improve ties with Europe, Bush will visit Brussels next month and will soon meet two of his war critics separately — German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Mainz and French President Jacques Chirac in Washington.
NEED TO WORK TOGETHER
“It is clear that this is an administration that believes in force and strength and is not particularly bothered by what other countries may think,” said Guillaume Parmentier of the French Institute of International Relations in Paris.
But he said Bush’s team had realized that it was harder to act without the backing of allies, and the EU understood it had no option but to work with the world’s only superpower.
“There’s a sober realism on both sides of the Atlantic,” said Charles Grant of the Center for European Reform in London.
Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice’s vow that “the time for diplomacy is now” will go down well at the Brussels-based, 25-nation EU.
What is less certain is that words will be converted into deeds and that a genuine reconciliation will follow.
Washington and Brussels have averted a legal clash over the world’s top two plane makers, Boeing and Airbus, but other trade disputes remain.
Bush shows no sign of wishing to strengthen the dollar despite the EU’s complaints that its exports will suffer, or to answer calls to sign the Kyoto protocol to cut greenhouse gases.
Differences may linger over Iraq and key tests lie ahead on Iran and forging peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Washington takes a tougher line than the EU in efforts to ensure Iran does not develop nuclear arms and any U.S. force against Iran would strain ties. The EU wants much more commitment to Middle East peacemaking in Bush’s second term.
MISTRUST RUNS DEEP
There is deep resentment to Bush in the Arab world, where he is accused of bias toward Israel, is criticized for his actions against Arab and Muslim states in the war on terror and faces dire warnings against any new military action in the region.
“The more Bush expands the horizon of American violence in the region, the greater the prospect of extremism and fanaticism,” said Egyptian political analyst Mohamed al-Sayed.
In Asia, Bush faces challenges over how to handle China and its fast-growing economy, and North Korea’s nuclear program — as well as fears that Washington will be distracted by problems in other regions.
“When it looks at the chessboard called the world, its attention is focused in the Middle East,” said Kim Sung-han of the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security in Seoul.
The plea from other regions is not to be neglected.
“Latin America certainly wasn’t on the first Bush agenda in any appreciative way and my impression is that it won’t be on the second Bush agenda very much either,” said Andres Rozental, head of the Mexican Council of Foreign Affairs think-tank.
John Stremlau, head of international relations at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, urged Bush to back proposals to relieve poverty in Africa. He mixed hope with concern — a common view as Bush’s second term starts.
“I see this as a year of great possibility. But is the political will there?” Stremlau said.
© Reuters 2005