BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. Bob Garfield is away this week. I'm Brooke Gladstone. President Bush was on tour this week through Europe, stopping off in Belgium, Germany and Slovakia, meeting with heads of state, trying hard to bridge a trans-Atlantic gap that has grown ever-wider in recent years, because of what several key European nations see as American arrogance on issues ranging from the Iraqi invasion to global warming. So, we take our own tour of Europe, now, by way of the foreign press, this week with Susan Caskie, contributing editor of The Week magazine. Susan, welcome to the show.
SUSAN CASKIE: Thank you. It's good to be here.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So there's been a lot of initial comment on the mere presence of President Bush in Europe, a part of the world he is perceived to have snubbed. What's the reaction there? Were the editorials - I'll give you a choice - Appreciative? Tentative? Or indifferent?
SUSAN CASKIE: Well, they certainly were not indifferent. There was an element of appreciative. In Le Figaro, a conservative French paper, there was a commentary by Pierre Rousselin where he said Bush has finally "discovered" Europe. [LAUGHTER] The idea in Le Figaro and a couple of German papers is that before, Bush knew that there were different European countries, but the EU as an institution he would have to work with, they felt like he hadn't really acknowledged. But on the other hand, what was different this time around in the reaction to President Bush was kind of a, a self-deprecating tone, in several of the editorials that we normally see in Canadian papers but haven't generally seen in European papers. In The Guardian, which is a British paper, historian Timothy Garton Ash was quite mocking of the whole European project. He said that, on the one side, you had Caesar - this is a quote - "On the other, the prime minister of Luxembourg and of Belgium and the president of the European Commission, and the EU high representative," and he went on and on in this vein. He was saying that the EU really needs to get it together and have one person who can say I have the presence, I have the weight of Europe behind me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: When you talk about the self-deprecation, was it limited to Britain?
SUSAN CASKIE: The surprising place that I found it was in Spain. Prime Minister Zapatero, who is no great friend of President Bush - he's the one who pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq - he only had about 15 seconds of face time with President Bush in Brussels, and the Spanish press was jumping all over him for this and mocking him and saying that he had been dissed. There's a Madrid paper called ABC - A B C - and there was an entire column devoted to the one sentence that President Bush spoke to Prime Minister Zapatero. [LAUGHTER] President Bush said "Hola, que tal, amigo?" "How are you, my friend?" And the Madrid paper just went on and on about that and said, "Oh, amigo, amigo, amigo - they're such good friends," when, of course, that was really it. And the rest of it was a snub.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Bush's appearance there was meant as a public relations effort. Did the papers see it that way?
SUSAN CASKIE: Well, that's an interesting question, especially as it regards the visit to Germany, because President Bush came to Mainz, and many of the papers - the Suddeutsche Zeitung, but also other German papers - the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung mentioned the first President Bush's visit also to Mainz. That was 16 years ago. And, at that time, he spoke to cheering crowds; he was talking about German re-unification. He really had some interaction with the German people. And this time, the German people want nothing to do with President Bush, and he did not seem to want to engage with them either. Originally, he was scheduled to have a sort of German town hall meeting with German citizens, and that was canceled, because there were massive protests. These protests were covered a lot in the German press, and not so much in the American press.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In his speech in Brussels, he seemed to strike, at least rhetorically, a conciliatory tone when he called for "a new era in European-American relations." Was it reported that way?
SUSAN CASKIE: It was reported that way to a great extent in French papers, especially the French economic newspaper, Les Echos, said, "We can't really speak of a honeymoon between the US and Europe. That would be exaggerating. But even if it wasn't a true warming, it was certainly the beginning of the end of the Ice Age."
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What about the issue of Iran? Right now, Britain, Germany and France are in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear capability, and the president has declined to join those negotiations so far. But there have been rumors that perhaps America would take military action against Iran, and when he was asked about this in Brussels, Bush said this:
GEORGE W. BUSH: This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. Having said that, all options are on the table. [LAUGHTER]
SUSAN CASKIE: I think that was perceived as sort of typical diplo-speak, but one newspaper in particular, the Times out of London did pick up on that, and it said, "The US has the military might to win wars, but it still needs Europe to win the peace." And that's been a theme that we've seen resonating throughout the European press, particularly British and German papers.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, as you pored through the papers this week, I get the sense that what you found wasn't really a new opening, a new rapprochement, but more a new acceptance of the reality that this is the American president they're going to have to live with? Or am I being too strong?
SUSAN CASKIE: No, I think that's absolutely true. There was an editorial in Le Monde that was talking about that exact thing, saying - the first four years of the Bush administration, Europe was trying to pretend that this was an aberration; that the Americans weren't really so stupid as to elect someone as right wing as President Bush. When it happened again, the Europeans then felt like - all right, well - we do have to live with this person. And Le Monde said on the other side, the Americans also have realized that they need to wake up to the fact that Europe exists; it's not going away. It's not always going to agree with them, and that we have to, as Bush said and as Chirac said and Schroeder said and all of them - we have to work together.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: All right. Susan, thank you very much.
SUSAN CASKIE: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Susan Caskie is a contributing editor of The Week magazine. [MUSIC]