Bush Shows Foreign Policy Muscles in Brussels

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DOUG MILLS/AP

Bush at a news conference following a meeting with NATO leaders in Brussels

TIME.com: What was President Bush's message to his fellow NATO leaders, and how did it go over?

James Graff: The President signaled his determination to go through with missile defense, and declared it necessary to set aside the Anti Ballistic Missile treaty, but to do that in consultation with U.S. allies and Russia. That's a tautology. He also said "people know I'm intent on doing the right thing to make our world more peaceful." The essential message is that we're going to do this, and we're going to get our allies to agree to us doing this.

And it has to be noted that despite considerable skepticism over missile defense, there has been some movement on the issue by the Europeans. Missile defense has ceased to be a yes-or-no question, becoming a question of degree and balance. The Europeans are increasingly prepared to acknowledge that there are new security questions to be addressed, but how those are addressed remains an open question. They're even more open to reexamining measures (such as the ABM treaty) that had been designed for a bipolar world. But the Europeans are insisting that the baby not be thrown out with the bathwater. They're saying we can't put all our eggs in the missile defense basket — there needs to be a new framework of multilateral strategic treaties to address the new proliferation dangers.

How did President Bush perform in what has to have been the most challenging foreign policy forum of his presidency so far?

James Graff: It clearly went a lot better than many people had expected, judging from readouts on the NATO meeting. At the press conference afterwards, the President was clearly very pumped up, self confident and expansive rather than on the defensive. We'll have to see what the various NATO allies say on background to journalists, but the White House feels that it got through this without any NATO members seriously questioning the existence of the threat that missile defense is meant to counter. So it was a diplomatic success and a success in terms of Bush's first trip over here, although that doesn't mean we're necessarily any closer to having a viable missile defense system.

It's pretty easy for the Europeans to say they're open to discussion when there's no specific proposal coming from Washington. Bush isn't saying much more than "isn't missile defense a grand idea and isn't the ABM treaty outdated?"

Still, he certainly seems much more comfortable in the role than he did in Mexico or Quebec City. In the press conference he was throwing around terms with which he would not have been very comfortable a few months ago. That, and his strong physical presence reflect a degree of self-confidence in dealing with foreign policy issues that we haven't seen before.

Did Bush manage to soothe the allies' concerns over U.S. commitment to the current peacekeeping deployments in the Balkans?

Carney: Yes, the Bush administration has been stepping back a little from some earlier comments that had antagonized the Europeans about wanting to withdraw our relatively modest number of troops home. The President today went out of his way, quoting Secretary of State Powell, to say we went in to the Balkans together, and we'll leave together.

Graff: There was a lot of concern in the NATO session over Macedonia, with President Chirac insisting that the alliance should do anything to stop it getting out of hand. That was perceived to mean that if the situation deteriorated, France might push for direct deployment of alliance troops. Still, nobody's talking about that yet — the emphasis is on getting the government to make constitutional changes to address the grievances of the ethnic Albanians, and there's some concern over the level of competence of the Macedonian government, which tends to focus either on making war or making constitutional reform, but struggles to combine the two. But there's no transatlantic split on Macedonia.

And Bush presumably faces a more difficult round of consultation with the Europeans on Thursday over global warming…

Carney: Yes, the level of indignation is far higher the Bush administration's rejection of the Kyoto treaty and what the Europeans see as its cavalier attitude to global warming than there is on missile defense. There's something in missile defense for these countries, but they can see no upside at all in Bush administration's position on global warming.