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A Skeptical Welcome, Mr. President

President Bush is in Europe this week, and reconciliation with European allies is clearly on his to-do list. But Americans living abroad – on the front line of the transatlantic rift – have good reason to be skeptical.

As an American abroad, I have experienced first-hand the rising anti-Americanism and strong negative reactions to our country’s policies. Attendance at July 4th celebrations overseas has plummeted. Business friends travelling to the United States complain of outrageous treatment at airports. Many foreign students no longer consider attending American universities at the pinnacle of their academic careers because of difficulties in obtaining visas.

Furthermore, buying non-American goods is coming into vogue, and cities such as Geneva have threatened to boycott American products. Indeed, the strained transatlantic relationship is hurting not just those of us abroad, but Americans at home as well.

Americans living abroad should be pleased that a second Bush administration is seeking to mend the U.S.-European relationship and repair its reputation by reducing the perception of rampant American unilateralism in international affairs. The appointments of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (a pragmatist) and her deputy, Robert Zoellick (an internationalist), bode well for smoother relations with Europe, as does the president’s trip to Europe early in his second term.

In addition, the election in Iraq could prove catalytic for reconciliation. Rather than gloating, a generous president might now genuinely involve the international community in Iraq’s reconstruction from a position of magnanimity, allowing allies to truly compete for contracts and giving them a seat at the decision-making table.

However, the president has a difficult task ahead. The administration’s anti-European comments and actions in the wake of the march to war in Iraq remain fresh in European minds. Many of my European friends doubt that Bush is sincere about taking a more “consensual” approach, as Tony Blair has put it, to his second term.

For example, there was nothing in the president’s Inaugural and State of the Union speeches to indicate a fundamental change in policy. While the dust has somewhat settled concerning Iraq, it may be easily stirred up again if the president moves forward with another unilateral military action in the name of pre-emptive self-defense or fails to address the priorities of our European allies, such as combating climate change.

For their part, the Europeans should indicate their willingness to help train Iraqi forces, and they must increase their military expenditures on logistics and transport material to lighten the burden on the United States in Iraq. In sum, they must stop using the Bush administration as an excuse for disengagement and demonstrate that multilateralism can effectively promote the interests of all of us.

Americans living abroad have welcomed the president and secretary of state with guarded optimism and have listened intently to their speeches extolling the virtues of cooperation. However, we expect more than rhetoric= The second Bush administration must incorporate the lessons learned from its rush to war and match the president’s words on consensus-building and “effective multilateralism” with concrete action. We are waiting for bottom-line proposals from an administration that prides itself on pragmatism. Our European friends are willing to listen, but the welcome mat may not stay out very long.

Daniel Warner is deputy to the director at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland.

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