In the rarified club of world leaders, President Bush has taken his share of lumps. Critics have railed against his handling of Iraq, his perceived disdain for the United Nations and what they say is a swaggering approach to foreign policy.
But Bush probably would not want to trade places with any other head of state.
Nearly all his fellow leaders of the world’s big industrial democracies have stumbled. It has left them vulnerable at home and weakener on the world stage.
The president, through it all, is riding what he sees as a strong re-election mandate to trumpet his goal of spreading democracy.
That helps explains why Bush, despite a slip in his approval rating among Americans, may find himself holding the stronger hand when he travels in early July to Scotland for the annual summit of the leaders of the eight major industrialized democracies.
“His counterparts all face ill political winds that make their domestic positions rather precarious,” said Charles Kupchan, director of European studies with the Council on Foreign Relations, a private research group. “I do think it puts Bush in an advantageous position.”
It is not the best of times be a world leader:
_Britain’s Tony Blair, Bush’s chief ally on Iraq, did win re-election this month to a third term as prime minister. But he prevailed by drastically reduced margins for his Labour Party, threatening his leadership abilities.
_Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, also a strong support of U.S. policy in Iraq, has seen parties in his government coalition lose in regional and local elections. Defeats even forced his resignation, although he cobbled together a new coalition to regain power.
_German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a vocal critic of the Iraq war, has called for national elections for this fall _ a year early. That followed his party’s crushing defeat in Germany’s most populous region. The loss, he said, cost him the mandate he needs to fix Germany’s struggling economy.
_French President Jacques Chirac, also a foe of U.S. policy in Iraq, is taking heat for his decision to call a referendum on the European Union’s first constitution. It’s set him up for what could be a humiliating defeat. Chirac’s approval ratings have declined and he faces opposition from within his own party.
_Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin faces serious challenges and demands that he resign. The House of Commons tied on a vote of confidence this month. It took a vote by the parliament speaker to give Martin’s minority government a one-vote victory. Canada pledged to tighten its borders after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But Ottawa has declined to send troops to Iraq or sign on to the U.S. missile defense shield.
_Japan’s prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, finds his popularity lagging after four years on the job. It’s down about half from the 80 percent he once enjoyed. Koizumi may be in better shape than his European counterparts. But weighing him down are tensions with North Korea and China, and public concern about expected tax cuts and pension restructuring.
_Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to consolidate power and exercise more control over regional leaders. But his rollback of press and political freedoms and his pursuit of oil giant Yukos have drawn international condemnation and clouded Russia’s business climate.
Analysts see common themes for the leaders’ tough times: high unemployment and slow growth in Germany and France; social tensions associated with Muslim immigration; and a backlash against “globalization” as industries move their operations to low-wage countries.
Bush himself is having trouble on Social Security, judicial nominations and other domestic priorities. Yet, analysts suggest, the president has had strong run internationally over the past few months _ even with the continuing violence in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He persuaded European powers to negotiate with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. He watched democratic elections and the formation of a new government in Iraq. He successfully prodded Syria to withdraw from Lebanon.
And he is taking an active role in trying to nudge Israelis and Palestinians toward peace.
France’s ambassador to the United States spoke recently of the effect of Bush’s winning a second term.
“The moment President Bush was re-elected, he extended the hand of friendship and cooperation to the leaders of Europe,” said Jean-David Levitte. “Style has changed.”
Tom Raum has covered Washington for The Associated Press since 1973, including five presidencies.