Bullied By Bush?

President-elect Bush pulls up his pant leg to show his cowboy boot, with his initials and Presidential Seal embroidered on it, at the Black Tie and Boots Ball in Washington Friday night, Jan. 19, 2001.
To the French, he's an uncouth cowboy - a swaggering statesman in a Stetson who shoots from the hip and asks questions later, if he asks them at all.

They're not the only ones who think so. From Berlin to Beijing, President Bush was widely scorned abroad during his first term as a headstrong hombre more interested in action than consultation.

Now, as the world spins into a new year, many are eyeing his second term with a mixture of caution, frustration and resignation.

Denied the chance to wipe the slate clean with a Kerry administration, nations like France - snubbed and sidelined by a bitter trans-Atlantic rift over Iraq and other foreign policy squabbles - can only hope that Bush will cast a less imposing shadow over the next four years.

The angst and suspense underscore a simple, if jarring, truism: Like it or not, America, the world's only remaining superpower, still calls the shots on everything from global warming to peace in the Middle East.

"The Old Europe faces Bush anew," the French newspaper Le Figaro headlined over an editorial imploring Bush's second administration to be more conciliatory than his first. France and Germany, which tangled the most fiercely with Washington over the U.S.-led war in Iraq, "greet Bush's second mandate with prudence and suspicion," columnist Luc de Barochez said.

"They caress the hope that, like the second presidencies of Reagan and Clinton, the second mandate of the guest in the White House - unlike the first - will be marked by a desire for international cooperation," he wrote.

Bush has promised to visit Europe soon after his Jan. 19 inauguration. The French and Germans will be watching closely to see whether he merely jets off to Britain to huddle with Prime Minister Tony Blair, his biggest ally in the war on terror, or takes the initiative to mend relations with stops in Paris and Berlin.

To do otherwise would be "a wrong signal," said Eberhard Sandschneider, a German foreign policy analyst. Sometimes a phone call isn't enough, and "it's helpful to sit with someone over a cup of coffee," he said.

Europe's alienated powerhouse nations aren't the only ones wondering what four more years will mean to the rest of the international community.

The Israelis and Palestinians have the most to gain, viewing Washington as the only force with serious mediating leverage. Yasser Arafat's death has renewed hopes for peace, and the world is looking to Bush to seize the moment with a more vigorous diplomatic effort than that of his first administration. Bush refused to have any dealings with Arafat, and an early test of his intentions will be how he treats the Arafat successor to be elected next month.

In Asia, Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen reflected a widely held view when he accused Bush in a newspaper commentary of trying to "rule over the whole world with overwhelming force."

Not so in Japan, where Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi recently tossed roses rather than thorns at Bush. Koizumi said he admired Bush's ability to face down critics, gushing: "It's impressive. I'll have to learn from him."

Bush's re-election eases the pressure on Koizumi to pull his country's 550 troops out of Iraq. Japanese resistance to continued involvement in the U.S.-led coalition has soared since Islamic militants, demanding that Japan withdraw, killed a Japanese hostage.

In South Korea, where the Pentagon intends to draw down troop levels by 12,500 over the next few years, the government hopes to build on the close ties it forged with the first George W. Bush administration for help in easing the nuclear standoff with North Korea.

But the most immediate challenge waits in Europe, where denigrating Bush is a blood sport.

Icy Franco-American relations have spawned a new underground newspaper in Paris, L'Anti-Americain, filled with venom, toilet humor and general disrespect for the United States. "We are all anti-American!" its masthead taunts.

If Bush needs friends, he need only turn to staunch U.S. allies such as Poland, where many are charmed by what they see as his sincerity and simplicity. They say it reminds them of Ronald Reagan, revered by Poles for helping to end the Cold War. He can also look to Italy, where Premier Silvio Berlusconi describes himself as a close friend and bucked the pro-Kerry sentiment that swept most of the continent - including his own country - by openly rooting for Bush.

Even though there's minimal chance Europe will send any troops to Iraq, some of its leaders past and present are doing what they can to break the impasse.

Key European powers, including anti-war France, Germany and Russia, have agreed to join U.S.-led efforts to get Iraq's economy back on track by forgiving its debts. U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow called it a "real milestone" that "shows the trans-Atlantic alliance remains a strong force for good in the world."

French President Jacques Chirac, who clashed publicly and repeatedly with Bush, wrote a "Dear George" letter congratulating the American president on his re-election and expressing his wish "to reinforce the French-American friendship."

One former French foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine, famously snarled that Bush's victory would leave the world with a "hangover." But another, Herve de Charette, recently urged France to let bygones be bygones and "renew strategic dialogue with the Americans"

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, also anxious to improve relations with the United States, has moved from rhetoric to action by launching a program to train Iraqi soldiers and police outside Iraq as an alternative to involvement in the U.S.-led peacekeeping effort.

But Schroeder, like many Europeans who resent having lost their voice in world affairs, insists he should be able to criticize U.S. policy without automatically being branded as anti-American.

"I hope they realize that one can win wars alone, but not peace," Schroeder said recently. "And that the conclusion will be drawn that they should consult more carefully than ever with the partners who have to be there afterward."