World leaders have legacies. Global disasters have aftermaths. George Bush will be in office seven months longer, but as he flew into London on June 15 on the final leg of his continental au revoir, Europe was already coping with the aftermath of his presidency. There
are some positives. The mere prospect of Bushâ€™s departure is enough to lift spirits. A study of 24 nations around the world, conducted by Pew, found that the image of the US had improved, but that the optimism was driven by the impending regime change in Washington. Even so, the damage Bush has inflicted on Americaâ€™s image is impressive, especially with
close allies like Turkey: only eight of the nations surveyed had majorities with a favourable view of the US.
Rebuilding global trust will be the major task of the next US president. The last thing he should think about is continuity, the idea that Bush-era polices are somehow set in stone. Nothing could be more toxic than the notion that the next president will carry on the policy of â€œcoercive democracyâ€ â€” as Scott McClellan, Bushâ€™s former press secretary, phrased it â€” and that the next country to feel it will be Iran. The first casualty of a Kosovo-style air campaign on Iranâ€™s nuclear facilities would be the Iranian people. The second casualty would be the Iraqi people. Little that Bush has done in the Middle East adds up to a coherent strategy, and nothing in the case of Iran, which has blossomed under his presidency. As a result, Iranâ€™s nefarious regional influence now extends from the deserts of Afghanistan to the shores of the eastern Mediterranean.
The presidentâ€™s valedictory tour of Europe, just like his recent tour of the Middle East, is a reminder of just how much his personal authority has shrunk. Asked whether she would miss him, Chancellor Angela Merkel praised him as a leader who would call a spade a spade,
but refused to answer the question. In Rome, a gushing and unnecessary gesture by Pope Benedict XVI (he granted the president a rare tour of the gardens where he prays) was criticised by a number of cardinals for being excessively friendly. Paris responded to his presence with indifference.
Redressing the errors of the last eight years cuts both ways. Europeâ€™s leaders have not covered themselves in glory for the way they stood up to Bush when he was at the height of his power. Because they did not. The list of Bushâ€™s foreign policy failures is long. But just as inglorious is the way most European nations cloned his policies.
If the age of unilateralism is drawing to a close, the next US president will be more anxious to root major decisions in international consensus. But that will need European leaders capable of independent thought and radical action. As Bush praised European unity in Paris, the EU was plunged into an institutional crisis that threatens to paralyse
its ability to project a collective policy on behalf of its 27 member states. It is no use looking to Barack Obama for deliverance if the EU constantly balks at being bigger than the sum of its parts. â€” The Guardian