Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Charm Offensive 

As Zemblan patriot J.D. likes to say, some people just can't handle ad libs:
During his trip to Germany on Wednesday, the main highlight of George W. Bush's trip was meant to be a "town hall"-style meeting with average Germans. But with the German government unwilling to permit a scripted event with questions approved in advance, the White House has quietly put the event on ice. Was Bush afraid the event might focus on prickly questions about Iraq and Iran rather than the rosy future he's been touting in Europe this week? . . . .

Bush's strategists felt an uncontrolled encounter with the German public would be too unpredictable. To avoid that messy scenario, the White House requested that rules similar to those applied during Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit two weeks ago also be used in Mainz. Before meeting with students at Paris's Institute of Political Sciences, which preens the country's elite youth for future roles in government, Rice's staff insisted on screening and approving any questions to be asked by students. One question rejected was that of Benjamin Barnier, the 24-year-old son of France's foreign minister, who wanted to ask: "George Bush is not particularly well perceived in the world, particularly in the Middle East. Can you do something to change that?" . . . .

The Germans, though, insisted that a free forum should be exactly that. Wolfgang Ischinger, Germany's Ambassador to the United States, explained to the New York Times last week: "We told them, don't get upset with us if they ask angry questions."
Dan Froomkin reports that the scheduled town-hall meeting was replaced at the last minute by a "small, carefully-screened roundtable discussion with young Germans who have visited the U.S. on exchange programs." This was the first question:
Q: Okay, once again, welcome. Mr. President, you said in a recent interview with The Washington Times that if people want to get a glimpse of how you think about foreign policy, they should read The Case for Democracy, by Netan Sharansky. In this book, as you know, Sharansky suggests the so-called town square test.


Q: Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fearing arrest or physical harm. My question for you: Did Sharansky's book have influence on your approach toward Russia?
The residents of Mainz, alas, did not have the option of walking into the middle of the town square, much less speaking their views, because the whole place was locked down tighter than Baghdad on election day. As Zemblan patriot J.M. points out, the 250 Secret Service who travel with the President are not there to fend off throngs of admirers:
Between the US president's 9.45am landing at Frankfurt airport and his afternoon departure, the sleepy Rhineland town and birthplace of Gutenberg will turn into a steel fortress.

In a contemporary echo of the Lady Godiva legend, anyone living on the route of the presidential motorcade is being discouraged from taking a peek at the 60 to 80-strong column of vehicles conveying the US president. In police leaflets, residents have been asked to keep their windows shut and stay clear of balconies "to avoid misunderstandings".

Stores and restaurants in the "red zone", the high-security area centred on Mainz's electoral palace, have been advised to close for the day as part of the biggest security operation in the country's postwar history. "They told us we could stay open if we liked but that nobody would be allowed in the area. It did not seem to make much business sense," said Bozo Vukoja, owner of the Am-Fischtor Croatian restaurant in the red zone.

Neither driving nor parking will be allowed in the zone, where garages have been emptied, mailboxes unbolted and 1,300 manhole covers sealed.

To keep all travel options open for the president, four highway sections east of the city will be blocked to traffic. Schools will be shut and many workers will be taking a "Bush day". The nearby Opel, Linde, and Nescafé plants decided to move their shifts or suspend production.
Elsewhere, Sidney Blumenthal says that although the President may not understand why or how, he has well and truly united Europe:
The European reception was not an embrace of Bush's neoconservative worldview but an attempt to make it a thing of the past. New Europe is trying to compartmentalize old Bush. To the extent that Bush promises to be different, the Europeans encourage him with Champagne toasts; to the extent that he is the same, the Europeans, just for the moment, pretend it's not happening so as to nudge him. The Europeans, including the British government, feel privately that the past three years have been hijacked by Iraq. Facing the grinding, bloody and unending reality of Iraq doesn't mean accepting Bush's original premises but getting on with the task of stability at hand . . . . Ceasing the finger-pointing is the basis for Europe's consensus on its new if not publicly articulated policy: the containment of Bush.
Is it working? And if so . . . who's charmin' whom?
President Bush said Wednesday that he and German, British and French leaders had discussed negotiating tactics to try to get Iran to give up its suspected nuclear weapons program, and his national security adviser later left open the possibility that Mr. Bush would consider offering incentives to dissuade Iran from its nuclear ambitions.

The tactic of incentives, favored by the Europeans, had been roundly rejected by the Bush administration as recently as two weeks ago.

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