'If Bush Didn't Exist, Europe Would Have to Invent Him'

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TIME.com: Hoping to placate European criticism over his positions on efforts to curb global warming, President Bush on Monday announced new research initiatives to study the problem but reiterated his rejection of the Kyoto treaty. Will the latest announcement impress the Europeans?

James Graff: The Europeans see Bush's rejection of mandatory emission cuts as a classically American approach, just as the Bush administration sees Kyoto as a classically European approach of relying heavily on regulation. What the Europeans want to see, however, are moves to redress the fact that the average American consumes a lot more carbon-based energy and therefore contributes a lot more than the average European to the problem of global warming. And that is not going to be addressed by the Bush proposals.

Anything Washington does to duck the issue of mandatory emission cuts is unlikely to impress the Europeans. Italy's new conservative prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has pushed the European Union to take American proposals more seriously. And that may mean the Europeans are more willing to take another look at proposals floated by the Clinton administration for trading emissions-rights and so on. But the question will be to what extent is Bush willing to back away from his vow that in addressing global warming nothing can be done to harm the U.S. economy. That struck people here as selfish and self-serving, but also wrongheaded — the Europeans believe that while taking steps towards cleaner and more efficient energy consumption may be more expensive in the short run, they'll result in long-term savings and will ultimately become essential.

But President Bush is seen by the Europeans as being in the pocket of the energy lobby, and unless he's seen to take a step back from those interests, he's not going to be very convincing to the Europeans.

Europe had a lot of problems with the Clinton administration over Kyoto, too. Why does the hostility towards Bush seem so much greater?

In policy terms, what Bush did on Kyoto was that he said out loud what was implicit in Clinton's positions. But Clinton was charming and extremely well-versed on policy issues; he had an ability to sit down in a room full of world leaders and convince people of his point of view. Of course President Bush may have a certain charm one-on-one, but on policy matters he may in fact ultimately benefit from the fact that expectations are so low. If he manages not to get lost in his syntax, he'll have a minor victory.

But on the global warming issue, if George Bush hadn't come along, the Europeans might have been tempted to invent him. It's not as if the Europeans are doing that well on emissions control, but measured against the U.S. they look stellar. The Europeans wouldn't look so good on the issue if it wasn't for Bush. He's helped the Europeans invent a common value. There are not that many of them, and they're frequently formed in response to America — another is Europe's common opposition to the death penalty. So Bush has become a useful tool for creating an often-elusive European unity. He's been blamed for a lot of things for which he's not responsible. And the irony is that on issues ranging from trade to the Balkans, the actual working relationship between Washington and the Europeans has been better under the Bush administration than it had been under Clinton.