The Bush administration has now squandered virtually all the goodwill it enjoyed in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. With its hard-driving cowboy unilateralism, its dismissal of the UN and its defiance of international law, the United States has unnecessarily antagonized much of the world community. By trying to pit “the Old Europe” (those EU nations, led by France and Germany, opposing a war on Iraq without a UN security council resolution) against “the New” (those EU nations, led by Britain and Spain, for war). But this is far from new: the writing was on the wall before 9/11. On his first presidential trip to Europe in May 2001, President Bush had already given a textbook performance of the seven deadly sins in intercultural diplomacy:
Sin #1: He skipped creating relationships before getting down to business. Over-eager American businesspeople and politicians often run into this trap. Whether because of a pressure to produce results, a short time horizon, or a culture of the hard sell, Nike's mantra "Just Do It" reigns supreme in the United States. But other cultures emphasize relationships. Pushing for results too quickly - before you have built a strong partnership - can backfire.
IIronically, his aides said the President's first foray into Europe was all about building relationships. But if the trip was just a friendship mission, the President should have waited before pushing his views against the Kyoto treaty and for his pet project, a global missile shield. What is more, calling Spain's Prime Minister Aznar "Anzar" on television was not exactly a trust-building measure.
Sin #2: He took the American way for granted. Although he was a guest in Europe, Mr. Bush behaved as if he were on his Texas Ranch, where the world matches his unexamined assumptions. Not only did he see fit to fold all of Eastern Europe into NATO; he assumed that all Europeans share his American values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - which is not enshrined in any European constitution.
In Poland President Bush said: "We are the products of the same history, reaching from Jerusalem and Athens to Warsaw and Washington." Wrong: Europeans do not share the same history. And they aren't likely to share Washington's values, neither its belief in free markets and reduced government, landmines, genetically modified foods and capital punishment nor its stand against abortion and the new International Criminal Court. Most Europeans abhor the death penalty and prohibit nations that practice it from entering the European Union.
Sin #3: He bossed people around.Mr. Bush was plain-spoken in public, which works in American movies but is disastrous when you try to build a consensus on the international stage. When Mr. Bush took it upon himself to tell Europeans they needed to expand the European Union, Chris Patten, the union's external affairs commissioner, had to remind the President sternly that "The US is not a member of the European Union" - a highly unusual rebuke for a visiting head of state.
Bush administration officials claimed that the President was talking tough only for the cameras, and showed his European hosts respect behind closed doors. If that is true, he got it exactly wrong. Never order Europeans around publicly. Do your straight talk in private where people don't lose face.
Sin #4: He preached his vision. The President gave no sign whatsoever that what Europeans told him might affect his own prior beliefs. He had come to sell his hosts on his vision. (The President insisted on the advantages of a missile shield even as a senior general from his own Pentagon cautioned the US-Congress that accelerating development of a missile shield would be a mistake without meticulous planning and major financing.) Mr. Bush flexed the optimistic American marketing muscle. Instead of listening to the subtle signs, he ignored the Swedish Prime Minister's gentle rebuke about global warming that "if you are in favor or against the Kyoto Protocol, you have to take action."
Sin #5: He was flippant. Just as he has done in Austin and Washington, the President joked and flirted his way through every press conference, perhaps in the hopes of re-branding himself as a nice guy who can be trusted. But this tactic led him to belittle the issues, at least in public. In a press conference with President Putin of Russia on antiballistic missiles, the President grinned and told perplexed journalists that the former KGB-chief and he liked the same toothpaste. Such "Saturday Night Live" skit techniques may endear Mr. Bush to voters in the United States; in Europe they bought him some indulgent laughs, but little if any respect.
The American President earned praise for his comedy routines from an unlikely ally: the new Italian Prime Minister, who reportedly professed to be "very pleased to see the human qualities of President Bush". Unfortunately, an endorsement from Mr. Berlusconi is not much more valuable than one from the mafia whose front man he is rumored to be.
Sin #6: He put style over substance. The American President dismissed the Russian President's veiled warning not to unilaterally dismantle the international security architecture. "I looked the man in the eye," Mr. Bush said of Mr. Putin ,"I was able to get a sense of his soul." And this is the same man who says the Kyoto treaty is too unscientific?
Sin #7: He was stuck in the past. Many of Mr. Bush's policy utterances (“Axis of Evil,” “you are with us or against us”) seemed to emanate from an antiquated Cold War mentality. This is quite human: most of us tend to revert to old behaviors when we find ourselves in uncommon territory. Take the President's position on global warming: it is hardly original. His father had already dismissed the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 when he stated unequivocally that "the American way of life is not negotiable". Now the younger Mr. Bush showed the world - as well as voters at home - that he won't budge an inch on interests that matter to American industry. But it is questionable whether such rigidity will win the United States any friends.
There is nothing wrong with open, even vehement disagreements over substantive issues between allies. Such disagreements are healthy and were to be expected. Europeans won't tell anytime soon whether Mr. Bush succeeded. After all, they have a much longer time horizon than Americans do. Europe has learned the hard way that building consensus is better than bombing your way into the village
Of course it is much too early to tell. Some experts say that Europe has rarely embraced a new American president. According to the Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung, "The Texan could show, if he and the Europeans want to, that there is more to him than baseball, bible, and barbecue." But his first overseas trip had likely made things harder, not easier, for Mr. Bush. He would do well to heed the Italian journalist Luigi Barzini's advice in 'The Europeans' a generation ago: "Minor countries (and the United States in decades past) could often afford to make mistakes. The United States cannot afford to make mistakes today."
This article was written in June 2001. It was used as the basis for a lecture given to the University of Sydney on 17 March 2003.