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George W. Bush´s foreign policy - a view from Eastern Europe

In general, the foreign policy initiatives of US President George W. Bush are better received in the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe than in most West European countries. Although a majority of people in “New Europe,” just like in the West, have not backed war in Iraq, opposition to military intervention has been much less intense than in most West European countries. Moreover, most governments in Central and Eastern Europe found ways to defy public opinion and support the US, at least verbally.

One of the main reasons for the generally benevolent attitude of most post-communist countries toward Bush’s policies is the region’s past. While many people may be philosophically opposed to the idea of war, they have little patience with dictators such as Iraq’s Saddam or Syria’s Assad. What West Europeans perceive as American oversimplification of complex international issues, “New Europeans” tend to see as principled stances similar to those that helped bring down the Soviet empire in the late 1980s.

In other words, when West Europeans ridiculed Ronald Reagan’s description of the Soviet Union as the “evil empire,” East Europeans understood exactly what he was talking about. When today West Europeans reject Bush’s remarks about the “axis of evil,” many East Europeans listen. Although a large number may not be in favor of military intervention as a means of bringing down brutal regimes, they will, in fact, not mind too much when force is used to achieve such a goal.

East and Central Europeans also feel stronger loyalty toward the US than do their Western counterparts. Not only do they continue to remember America’s role in bringing down communism, but many also remain grateful to US-led NATO for expanding to the East at a time when the EU was dragging its feet with regard to its own enlargement.

In addition, Europeans in former communist countries are more open to the idea of exporting democracy to areas such as the Middle East, which some West European politicians and intellectuals ridicule as unrealistic. They remember that during the communist era many West Europeans did not believe that their neighbors to the East were mature enough to have democratic regimes, while the Americans “naively” believed that freedom and democracy are universally valid aspirations.

At the same time, while many East Europeans can identify with the foreign policy ideas of the Bush team, they are generally critical of what they see as a degree of disdain for a multilateral approach to international affairs on the part of the current US administration. The fact that many East Europeans agree with Bush’s agenda does not prevent them from seeing Bush as “an elephant in a China shop.” Bill Clinton’s ability to press through his agenda by means of diplomacy and coalition-building was better received -- certainly by most intellectuals in the region.

Many in Central and Eastern Europe also feel that local politicians have been needlessly caught between a rock and a hard place. The inability of the big Western powers on either side of the Atlantic to reach consensus on important issues, such as war in Iraq, has put East European political elites into a difficult position. Whatever they do will be seen as a lack of loyalty on their part either by the US or by “Old Europe.” The arrogance of some West European leaders, including Jacques Chirac, who before the war in Iraq advised EU candidate countries to shut up, is subject to as much criticism as what appears to be Bush’s lack of respect for diplomacy.

Foreign Policy - July - August 2003