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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush's Tour May Tread on Common Ground

U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to Europe this week has a different character from those of his first term. He has gone not to attend obligatory summit meetings or to confer with governments that have been supportive of his policies but to refurbish the broader transatlantic relationship and to urge Europeans to join in his ambitious effort to spread democracy. The fact that Bush perceives the need for partnership with Europe on what he has described as a generational project to address the causes of Islamic extremism is encouraging; even more so is his greater willingness to treat European governments as independent allies.

Bush is flattering the European Union by spending three nights in Brussels and holding a formal meeting with the European Council. He plans to sup not only with friends such as Britain's Tony Blair but with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der, who led European opposition to the Iraq war. An encounter with President Vladimir Putin in Slovakia will conclude the trip. Though anxious to mend relations with the United States, European governments remain broadly skeptical about a Middle East strategy centered on "spreading freedom.'' Many don't entirely accept Bush's premise that a Cold War-like struggle against a global enemy is under way. They may be willing to help a little more with Iraq and Afghanistan and will support Palestinian state building. But they are less interested in elections than in prodding Israel for a peace settlement. They also are committed to a strategy of negotiating with Iran's existing regime. And they have priorities not on Bush's list: global warming, aid for African development and U.S. acceptance of a lifting of Europe's embargo on arms sales to China.

It's possible to find common ground. More than 50 former senior officials and policy experts from both sides of the Atlantic organized by the Brookings Institution recently issued a paper spelling out compromise positions on almost every big issue. Europeans would offer not troops but far more aid and training to Iraq; the United States would agree not to the Kyoto Protocol but to separate limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Neither Bush nor his European counterparts are likely to be so pragmatic. Yet Bush would be wise to make concessions to the Europeans on such issues as the environment and the international criminal court, if the result is greater receptivity to his own overarching agenda of "spreading freedom.'' If he can persuade Europeans to embrace that principle as a foundation for collaboration in the Middle East, Eurasia and beyond, his second term will be remembered for rescuing the alliances that nearly ruptured during his first.

This comment first appeared as an editorial in the Washington Post.