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Europe to Bush: “Hands Off Iran”?
by Mike Whitney
February 26, 2005

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Bush’s trip to Europe produced few surprises and rarely diverted from a script that was prepared by the White House public relations team. A full week before he left Washington the media had already decided how the junket would be played out in the press. The headstrong Bush would be remade into a receptive statesman willing to engage the allies in open dialogue. Nearly every story in the print media reiterated the hackneyed expression “fence-mending” to underline Bush’s eagerness to patch up differences and look for common ground. It was all bunkum.  Bush didn’t budge an inch on any of the key issues. The extremists who surround him would never allow that to happen. They believe that negotiation is a sign of weakness and that compromise is the same as defeat.

The media decided that the trip would be celebrated as victory of diplomacy regardless of the outcome. This explains the uniformity of the coverage in both print and televised media. The articles that appeared in America’s newspapers could have been composed by the same author. There were only minor differences. Bush was depicted as a peacemaker, bearing an olive branch to old friends after a minor spat. The media never really veered from this basic fairytale.

All in all, it was the most minutely choreographed tour in the history of the Republic. Regrettably, very little was actually accomplished. The Transatlantic Alliance continues to dither on life-support and the savvy Europeans show no interest in Bush’s high-minded rhetoric. True, there were plenty of smiley photo-ops and lofty speeches, but behind the back-slapping and handshakes, the main parties remain as divided as ever. The illusion of a “shared vision” was only held together by announcing agreements that had been worked out weeks earlier. The commitment to provide greater security for Russia’s “loose-nukes” was one such agreement, as was Chirac’s pledge to take a strong stand on removing Syria’s 1,500 man army from Lebanon. Similarly, Schroeder’s support for a “non-nuclear” Iran may look like a Bush triumph, but, in fact, Europe has already done everything possible to dissuade Iran from developing nukes, including lavish economic incentives and a stepped up inspections regime that exceeds Iran’s treaty obligations under the NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty) These deals were already hammered out long before Bush left Washington. So, what new agreement did the Bush-trek produce?

Nothing. But, the image of the President as a hard-charging, man of action who negotiates foreign policy on-the-fly is a fabrication that must be maintained at all cost. No one seriously believes Bush has any real interest in foreign policy. He simply shows up on time, recites his lines on cue and moves the ball down the field for his constituents.

Like Condi Rice, Bush went to Europe with ultimatums not friendship. He may have hit a few high-notes with his moralizing oratory (invoking freedom and democracy ad nauseum) but he really got nothing in return. The concessions from Euro-allies were negligible at best. For example, his appeal for more manpower in Iraq was flatly rejected by the bitterly anti-war Europeans. Still, the press characterized Bush’s efforts as “encouraging”; emphasizing that all 26 NATO nations offered to train Iraqi officers (outside of the country) In fact, this agreement was worked out

long before Bush left the US, but the announcement was postponed to create the impression of solidarity. Unfortunately, the officer training does nothing to share the burden of the occupation in terms of expense or loss of life.

The Subtext of the Euro trip

Typically, the public has only a passing interest in presidential excursions. The difference here is the growing concern among many people that the administration is planning an attack on Iran. This has piqued curiosity in current affairs.  People who would otherwise ignore the activities of glad-handing politicians are now trying to decipher the hieroglyphics of diplomatic activity. Regrettably, Bush’s words gave no clue of his future intentions.

Bush’s comments were carefully worded to create the impression that Europe and the US are unified on Iran. This doesn’t accurately reflect the nuanced position of either the EU or Russia, but it does succeed in linking Bush’s “get-tough” policies with the more moderate approach of the Europeans. This is clearly what the Bush advisors had in mind. By connecting Bush to the Allies, Bush’s waning support at home is bound to increase. This was probably the underlying purpose of the trip. Bush had no intention of candidly negotiating with his European partners. Why would he? The Bush team already knows exactly what they want, and they don’t need timorous foreigners to challenge their plans. The trip had nothing to do with changing hearts and minds. It was designed to bolster support for the Chief Executive by giving him the opportunity to look Presidential, hobnobbing with other heads-of-state. Without polling data, it’s impossible to know if this strategy succeeded, but there’s plenty to suggest that it didn’t. After all, we’ve never had a President who was so unpopular that he could not appear in public throughout greater Western Europe. Both Karl Rove and the corporate media are undoubtedly hoping that no one noticed.

On the key issue of Iran, Bush’s comments were intentionally elusive. In Mainz, he said that a “US attack on Iran is ridiculous”, but he quickly changed directions adding, “All options are still on the table”; an ominous rejoinder that has only deepened suspicions of Washington’s plans.

So, the crucial question remains: Did European leaders issue Bush a firm “Hands off” Iran?

It’s impossible to know with absolute certainty, but it’s inconceivable that they’d allow the opportunity to pass without confronting Bush on an issue so basic to their collective security. The disaster in Iraq has put enormous pressure on Europe to do whatever it can to make sure that Iran doesn’t meet a similar fate. A disruption in the flow of oil from the region would be catastrophic for Europe. Iran is essential for Europe’s continued economic vitality as well as a valued, strategic ally for Russia. An attack on Iran would be a direct assault on all the countries which depend on its resources.

Winding Down

As Bush’s trip was concluding on Thursday US officials were circulating a position paper to the governing members of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). The document indicates that the administration will give the “European allies only until June to cajole Tehran before Washington seeks UN sanctions.” (Reuters) There’s little doubt that the issuance of the paper was meant to coincide with the winding down of Bush’s trip. The Administration has successfully concluded its public relations coup, so now it’s back to the business of running the world. The EU has been put on notice; it has 4 months until Washington begins to mobilize for its next confrontation. The stakes are simply too high to sit back and wait for the bombs to start dropping.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at:

Other Articles by Mike Whitney

* The Incredible Shrinking Dollar
* Assassinating Al-Hariri Fits Washington’s Plan
* Washington’s Plan to Foment Civil War in Iraq
* Condi’s Euro-Tour
* Folksy Tom Friedman and New Age Imperialism
* Government Without Consent
* The Desperate State of the Union
* Iraq’s Election Fiasco
* Boarding Up the “Window of Opportunity”
* KGB Chieftain Finds Home at Homeland Security
* Bush’s Grand Plan: Incite Civil War
* Pink Slips at CBS