Thursday, February 24, 2005

Bush's Trip to Europe

In the build-up to Bush's trip to Europe, the media began hyping its significance`. "For Bush And Europe, Time to Start Over" went a February 20th headline on the front page of the Washington Post. "Bush's trip could just represent a new start," an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said on the same day. A day later, USA Today, in its typically prosaic fashion, declared, "Stakes are high as Bush seeks to reconcile with allies."

Notice, first off, how the Bush administration's spin on the trip -- it represented a new effort by the President to win over Europe -- gets repeated as if it's objective fact in these headlines. The Post, in particular, feels free to say that Europe as well sees this as a fresh start, which, I think, is hardly the case, but also incredibly demeaning as it lumps all of Europe together and then accords the continent the exact same views as Ari Fleischer. All of the pieces are written out of the newspaper's Washington bureau by reporters who likely have little experience covering European affairs and may very likely only have ever been there accompanying a President or when on vacation. "Covering Europe" for these journalists entails calling over to Great Britain, France, and Germany's D.C. embassies.

But the larger problem is this narrative -- Bush is trying to mend fences, will he succeed?, are the Europeans still furious? was Bush's mission a success? This plot line, I know, is constructed not to serve the interests of the Bush administration, but to sell the story to the public so they'll be interested. All the same, Bush's interests are served. The public pays attention to what in reality is a largely meaningless venture abroad that will have almost no impact on European/American relations -- it's all, like most diplomatic missions, symbolism. Bush meanwhile can satisfy the demands of this narrative, since it is based on symbolics, simply by giving a good, well-meaning speech. He doesn't need to do anything except read the speech Michael Gerson has written for him. Then the pundits all weigh in -- it was a good speech, it shows he's trying to mend fences, and so on -- and even if the speech has no impact, he gets enormous credit just for giving it. He has risen to the demands of the narrative like a noble protagonist in some novel. Even if the ending should fizzle at this point, Bush gets credit for adequately playing his role in this story.

Why can't the media simply say this is a largely symbolic diplomatic venture with little news emerging from it? The answer is obvious: you couldn't fill airtime with such nonchalant chatter, no one would pay attention. But I think if you asked any true expert in European affair about the Bush visit, this is what they would say. Obviously, no journalist is going to run a comment by such an expert -- bo-ring! -- so the pseudo-experts fill the void -- partisan hacks in think-tanks with axes to grind and newspaper columnists who from the comfort of their offices in the countryside opine about world affairs.

This seems to me to be the most telling comment Bush made during his trip -- "This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous . . .And having said that, all options are on the table." Lots of sound and fury signifying nothing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Lawrence, Kate here.
I read your whole blog since the last one I commented on. I like the way you're weaving in certain underlying themes throughout. Very well written. - Me.

12:24 PM  

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