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Euro-Bush: Well, It Was Real, It Was Fun. But Was It Real Fun?

The President's European adventure has come to an end. The President is Euro-Bush no longer. Now he can get back to the work of Social Security reform, which, unfortunately, looks to be a tough task ahead.

Click on the picture for a full transcript of the event.

The President met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in, appropriately enough, Bratislava, Slovakia. Bush pressed Putin on the issue of Russia's backpeddling human, civil, and political rights, but not too heavy-handedly.

Can you imagine John Kerry, or Al Gore, leaning on Vladimir Putin for his poor record on freedom and democracy? Either way, a veritable World's Fair of patronizing, pedantic haughtiness.


A few somewhat humorous moments from the Bush-Putin meeting:

First, a weird, rambling question from a reporter-

"Q First of all, I wanted to ask another question, but we have an interesting conversation now, therefore I'm going to ask about the following: It seems to me that you have nothing to disagree about. The regimes that are in place in Russia and the U.S. cannot be considered fuller democratic, especially when compared to some other countries of Europe, for example -- for example, The Netherlands. It seems to me, that as far as Russia is concerned, everything is clear, more or less. But as far as the U.S. is concerned, we could probably talk at length. I am referring to the great powers that have been assumed by the security services due to which the private lives of citizens are now being monitored by the state. This could be explained away by the consequences of September 11th, but this has nothing to do with democratic values. How could you comment on this? I suggest that you can probably agree -- you can probably shake hands and continue to be friends in future."

We'll just place one big [sic] after that whole question, and call it even, how about that?

The President gave a nice answer, succinctly explaining the U.S. Constitution and the system of checks and balances. If he had WILLisms.com handy on his PDA, he could have also explained that the U.S. has a much broader, much deeper, much longer tradition of democracy than the Dutch; the U.S., even post-Patriot Act, earns perfect scores from Freedom House.

Putin, however, delivered the punch-line, proving just how sharp and quick-witted the former Soviet KGB agent really is. Putin explained:

"You have cited a curious example -- The Netherlands. The Netherlands is a monarchy, after all."

The reporter's question sort of proves the effect of media bias. The reporter had probably read all kinds of articles in American and international media about how the U.S. is becoming some kind of police state under President Bush. If that was the reporter's only frame of reference, the question becomes less awkward, one could suppose.

But awkward nevertheless. And, the nerve of it, comparing Russia and the U.S. like that! The U.S. is the world's most long-enduring democracy. Russia is still recovering (with a significant relapse in the past year) from decades of occupation under the thumb of the Communist Party.

Next, was another odd question from a reporter-

"Q To follow up on the issue of democratic institutions, President Bush recently stated that the press in Russia is not free. What is this lack of freedom all about? Your aides probably mentioned to you that our media, both electronic and our printed media -- full coverage of the manifestations and protests in our country. Our regional and national media often criticize the government institution. What about you? Why don't you talk a lot about violations of the rights of journalists in the United States, about the fact that some journalists have been fired? Or do you prefer to discuss this in private with your American colleague?"

This one made President Bush laugh, as it was another example of distorted media leading to distorted perception. The journalist must have read somewhere about Eason Jordan or, perhaps, Rathergate, and determined that freedom of the press in the U.S. is not as solid as previously thought, as if Bush personally fired those recalcitrant reporters for refusing to paint him in a positive light. The reporter's question also revealed a thorough lack of understanding of the First Amendment in the U.S., which has been the poster child for the manifesto of the greatest force for freedom in the past two centuries, the American Bill of Rights.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

The United States, with its First Amendment, is the supreme example in the history of the world with regards to freedom of the press, and that is no hyperbole; few other countries guarantee such broad freedom in law, fewer still guarantee it in practice. The President took his turn at smacking down an idiot reporter:

"PRESIDENT BUSH: I don't know what journalists you're referring to. Any of you all still have your jobs? No, I -- look, I think it's important any viable democracy has got a free and active press. Obviously, if you're a member of the Russian press, you feel like the press is free. And that's -- feel that way? Well, that's good. (Laughter.) But I -- I talked to Vladimir about that. And he -- he wanted to know about our press. I said, nice bunch of folks. And he wanted to know about, as you mentioned, the subject of somebody getting fired. People do get fired in American press. They don't get fired by government, however. They get fired by their editors or they get fired by their producers, or they get fired by the owners of a particular outlet or network.

But a free press is important. And it is -- it is an important part of any democracy. And if you're a member of the press corps and you feel comfortable with the press in Russia, I think that is a pretty interesting observation for those of us who don't live in Russia to listen to.

But no question, whether it be in America or anywhere else, the sign of a healthy and vibrant society is one in where there's an active press corps. Obviously, there has got to be constraints. There's got to be truth. People have got to tell the truth, and if somebody violates the truth, then those who own a particular newspaper or those who are in charge of particular electronic station need to hold people to account. The press -- the capacity of the press to hold people to account also depends on their willingness to self-examine at times when they're wrong. And that happens on occasion in America. And that's -- that's an important part of maintaining a proper relationship between government and press.

I can assure you that the folks here are constantly trying to hold me to account for decisions I make and how I make decisions. I'm comfortable with that. It's part of the checks and balances of a democracy.

And so I'm glad to hear you're editorial comment, so to speak, on your comfort with the situation of the press corps in the Federation of Russia."

Ouch. One almost wonders if that journalist was planted there for comic relief, and/or to lob a softball at the President.

The meeting with Putin, however, was just one part of the trip, a trip with many missions.

The Wall Street Journal explains that Europe has decided, in some ways at least, that "Bush may be right after all" (which they borrowed from Der Spiegel, noted at Chrenkoff's blog):

"For much of Europe, the idea that President Bush is the real and legitimate face of America came a few years late. But it has come, as has the realization that a hopeful era is dawning in the Middle East thanks to U.S. 'unilateralism' and force of arms. In this sense, the purpose of Mr. Bush's trip isn't to present himself anew to Europe. It is to allow European leaders--France's Jacques Chirac, Germany's Gerhard Schroeder and Russia's Vladimir Putin--to present themselves anew to Mr. Bush.

This is precisely on-target. Many Europeans felt that Bush had stumbled into his first term in office by some kind of fluke, and obviously America would come to its senses after one failed term. President Bush's record-breaking reelection victory, stunned many Europeans, but stunned them into the realization that, hey, this guy is for real, and he is going to be there for four more years. America, even, might be there, where Bush is, for longer than that.

The Wall Street Journal continues:

... Contrary to expectation a year ago (and with the qualified exception of Spain), the leaders who supported the war in Iraq have all been returned to office, while Messrs. Chirac, Putin and Schroeder languish in polls.

Again, dead on. This phenomenon is often underreported, but the policy of liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein has been confirmed at ballot box after ballot box, all around the world, not to mention Iraq and Afghanistan. A year ago, most counted Tony Blair out, yet he is likely to win reelection in the U.K.'s upcoming parliamentary elections.

In short, on Iraq, the international community agrees. France and Germany are on the outside of history, looking in.

More from The Wall Street Journal:

"Probably the most important component is that President Bush's vision of spreading democracy--of getting to the 'tipping point' where tyrannies start to crumble--seems not only to be working but also winning some unexpected converts. Just ask the Lebanese who are suddenly restive under Syrian occupation. As a result, European politicians are in a poorer position to lecture this President about the true ways of the world."

Indeed, many critics of the President's foreign policy like to fashion themselves as realists, deriding the President from the left as some kind of crazed right-wing neo-con crusader, or from the right as a crazed liberal hippie neo-con crusader. It doesn't get any more real than the volcano of freedom that is just beginning to gurgle in the Middle East.


Dick Morris describes the scene in Europe, explaining that, "It's a good time to be an American in Paris." Bush, Morris notes, "is going over the heads of the leftist European media and speaking directly to eastern and western Europe."


"The statesmen of Old Europe seem to have lost their way in the thicket of self-interest, while Bush is holding out a clarifying lantern of idealism and commitment to democracy."

The President seems to have enjoyed himself a great deal on his European tour. He seemed relaxed, free from the first-term pressures to meet or exceed expectations, confident that his vision for freedom in the world is working, assured that he is on the right side of history. All in all, a successful journey for the President.

UPDATE: Polipundit has more on Putin's confusion about American freedom of the press.

So does YoungPundit, noting this passage from a Time article:

"But when Bush talked about the Kremlin's crackdown on the media and explained that democracies require a free press, the Russian leader gave a rebuttal that left the President nonplussed. If the press was so free in the U.S., Putin asked, then why had those reporters at CBS lost their jobs? Bush was openmouthed. 'Putin thought we'd fired Dan Rather,' says a senior Administration official. 'It was like something out of 1984.'"

More on the subject, from Time:

"The Russians did not let the matter drop. Later, during the leaders' joint press conference, one of the questioners Putin called on asked Bush about the very same firings, a coincidence the White House assumed had been orchestrated. The odd episode reinforced the Administration's view that Putin's impressions of America are often based on urban myths fed to him by ill-informed aides. (At a past summit, according to Administration aides, Putin asked Bush whether it was true that chicken producers split their production into plants that serve the U.S. and lower-quality ones that process substandard chicken for Russia.) U.S. aides say that to help fight against this kind of misinformation, they are struggling to build relationships that go beyond Putin. 'We need to go deeper into the well into other levels of government,' explains an aide."

Putin may be sly, but he is also a product of his KGB days: paranoid and prone to conspiracy theories.

Posted by Will Franklin · 24 February 2005 11:49 PM