Grading the President: A View From Eastern Europe
President George W. Bush’s foreign policy initiatives tend to be better received in the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe than in most West European countries. The roots of this generally benevolent attitude can be found in the region’s past. Many people in "New Europe" philosophically oppose the idea of war, but their ...
President George W. Bush’s foreign policy initiatives tend to be better received in the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe than in most West European countries. The roots of this generally benevolent attitude can be found in the region’s past. Many people in "New Europe" philosophically oppose the idea of war, but their experiences with the likes of Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu and Hungary’s Matyas Rakosi give them little patience for dictators such as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein or Syria’s Bashar Assad. What Old Europeans perceive as American oversimplification of complex international issues, New Europeans tend to see as principled stances reminiscent of those that helped bring down the Soviet empire in the late 1980s.
When West Europeans ridiculed former President Ronald Reagan’s description of the Soviet Union as the evil empire, East Europeans understood exactly what he was talking about. And today, even as West Europeans reject Bush’s remarks about the "Axis of evil," many East Europeans listen sympathetically. Although a large number of them may not favor military intervention as a means of bringing down brutal regimes, they don’t mind too much when force is used to achieve that goal.
East and Central Europeans also feel stronger loyalty toward the United States than do their Western counterparts. Not only do they remember the U.S. role in bringing down communism, but many also remain grateful to Washington for pushing NATO expansion to the East even as the European Union (EU) was hesitating on its own enlargement. Europeans in former communist countries are more open to the idea of exporting democracy to the Middle East — a concept some West European intelligentsia dismiss as unrealistic. Eastern Europe remembers that, during the communist era, many West Europeans did not believe their neighbors were mature enough to have democratic societies, while Americans "naively" believed that freedom and democracy were universally valid aspirations.
At the same time that many East Europeans can identify with the Bush administration’s foreign policy, they are also generally critical of Bush’s disdain for multilateralism. Former President Bill Clinton’s ability to implement his agenda through diplomacy and coalition building was better received, certainly by most intellectuals in the region.
Many local politicians in Central and Eastern Europe also feel they have been needlessly caught in the middle of a messy, trans-Atlantic spat. The inability of the United States, France, and Germany to agree on important issues, such as the war in Iraq, has put East European political elites into a position akin to that of children trying to please two feuding parents. Whatever they do will be seen as a betrayal by one or the other. In that respect, however, the arrogance of West European leaders, such as French President Jacques Chirac — who, before the war in Iraq, advised EU candidate countries to shut up and mind their own business — is as much a source of criticism as Bush’s disrespect for diplomacy.