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Should President Bush Care About Europe's Opinion of Him?

Aired June 12, 2001 - 19:30   ET



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I recognize that not everybody agrees with the United States on positions. But there is so much more that unites us than divides us.


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, President Bush goes to Europe. But is everybody happy he's there?


HUGO YOUNG, "THE GUARDIAN": There are a lot of serious discontents and a feeling that Mr. Bush is a very strange president, who has declared on a number of issues very important to Europeans in a unilateralist way.


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE: Christopher Hitchens, columnist for "Vanity Fair" and "The Nation"; and John Fund, "Wall Street Journal" editorial board member.

PRESS: Good evening, welcome to CROSSFIRE.

If it's Tuesday, it must be Spain. President Bush began first official visit to Europe today with ceremony, meeting King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia of Spain. But then, the gloves came off. In a news conference with Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, from newspaper editorials and the protesters on the streets, came tough questions on global warming, missile defense and capital punishment, issues where European leaders disagree with Bush and led one British newspaper to call him "The Toxic Texan. Bush held firm, but vowed to listen.

Tomorrow, the president heads for Belgium, then onto Sweden, Poland, and Slovenia, for his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and a final showdown on U.S. plans to abandon the ABM treaty.

As Bush heads into unfriendly territory, we ask tonight: is he going to get a fair hearing? Does he deserve one? Or are snooty European leaders just ganging up on the United States -- Tucker Carlson.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Christopher Hitchens, of course snooty European leaders are ganging against the United States, and the question is: why do we care? Europe is no longer a bulwark against the Soviet Union, so why should the United States care at all if, say, the Belgians disapprove of President Bush's policies?


CARLSON: That's right.

HITCHENS: Or the Catalans, or Flemings, or Walloons.

CARLSON: Especially the Flemings and the Walloons, why do we care?

HITCHENS: Apart from the constituencies of some of these countries do have in America, which shouldn't be overlooked. I mean, you think of the difference that Bill Clinton's Irish diplomacy, for example, made in the United States, things like that.

Well, I mean, I wouldn't want to overstress it, but the common bond of democracy and pluralism, the Atlantic alliance, and all the rest of it -- and then, the fact that actually what these European leaders and some critics are saying to Bush are exactly what now a majority in the Senate, quite a lot of people in the House, and probably not much less than 50 percent of Americans are also thinking, which is who is this guy? And why can he not get his policies straight?

It's not what you think about global warming, which position you take, it's the view that Bush doesn't know about it, or care much. It's not which view you might take of North Korea, it's the impression the president gives of not knowing or not caring about North Korea. It's the same with missile defense, and of course on the capital punishment question, which has an amazing resonance in Europe and is getting an even greater resonance in the United States, where more and more people are turning against him.

You have a man who was befouled in his time as governor, befouled himself again yesterday with that obscene state occasion in Terre Haute, Indiana...

CARLSON: Well, let's take that one example, then.

HITCHENS: ... with an indefensible position.

CARLSON: Well, that -- that -- I mean, capital punishment may or may not be...

HITCHENS: Short answer, it's a mirror. It's a mirror.

CARLSON: I understand that, but it's also snobbery, just pure snobbery. Let's take the example of capital punishment. Now, Bush didn't think up capital punishment. Americans, by a huge majority, support it. The previous president, Bill Clinton, supported it, executed retarded people -- as I know you have written about extensively.


CARLSON: He went to Europe, there weren't people holding up signs calling him a murderer, and the reason they are now is simply because Bush is the kind of person Europeans don't like or understand. They picture him chewing tobacco, driving a pickup truck. It's just a stereotype.

HITCHENS: You are right there. It is too easy. The toxic Texan stuff is much too easy, and there a lot of stock images of that kind.

I actually have followed Mr. Clinton around, as recently as last week in England, pointing out his various crimes against humanity too, so though it's true that Bush does make me feel a bit snobbish sometimes, that's not -- I don't think that's the root of it. Think of these people as reflecting probably what -- about half of the population of the United States does.

PRESS: John Fund, I think a lot of people are missing the true significance of the president's trip to Europe. The only person that I know who really saw that and grasped that was David Letterman last night, and here's how he started his show, talking about the president's trip.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: President George Bush, traveling to Europe today, began a five-day European trip. He's in Europe. He's going to kick off the beginning of the dumb American tourist season.



PRESS: Now, maybe too easy a shot, but the fact is, as Christopher pointed out, you have got Europeans disagreeing with President Bush on global warming, on missile defense, on capital punishment, to mention just three issues, and the White House seems to think that he is going to go over there, and this personal charm of his is going to turn them around. I mean, isn't the whole premise of this trip just pretty stupid?

JOHN FUND, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Bill, there are two Europes. There is the smug superiority of the graduate-school European left, the people who run all of these governments, and then there is the average European. In France, in Italy, in Britain, something like two -- between a majority and two-thirds of the people actually support the death penalty. Their governments don't, but a lot -- a lot of these issues, America's position is the position of the average European, the guy who goes to work for a living, rather than sits around conference rooms.

PRESS: Well, that may or may not be true, but the guy does have an image problem. I want to read you a quote from a senior administration official. Now, I have been in briefings at the White House with senior administration officials -- who knows who it is, it's usually somebody pretty high up.

"The New York Times" said about this trip, quoting the senior administration official at the White House, quote: "The common European perception of President Bush is of a shallow, arrogant, gun- loving, abortion-hating, Christian fundamentalist, Texan buffoon." Now, that's the White House talking! Which happens to be, I think, the attitude that most Americans have of President Bush.

FUND: Well, I'm old enough to remember that...

PRESS: ... but my question is: that has to be based on something, John. He has got a real image problem, doesn't he?

FUND: Yeah, there is a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in this country, which would rather blame America's president first. You look at Ronald Reagan...

PRESS: These people...

FUND: ... they use all of those terms -- and put in Californian instead of Texan -- the same thing would have been said about Ronald Reagan 20 years ago, and even now the Europeans have to come to recognize that Reagan saved their bacon, ended the Cold War, and was a great president.

HITCHENS: Can I explain -- correct...

PRESS: Please.

HITCHENS: ... Mr. Fund on point of fact. Senor Aznar of Spain is not a leftist of any kind, nor is Mr. Kucan...


HITCHENS: ... Slovenia, he's not going to encounter just social democrats, and Mr. Blair has just appointed, firing his predecessor, the most pro-American possible for our secretary in the form of Mr. Jack Straw. And I predict, by the way, that a lot of this lowballing that's going on now will end with people saying, hey, Bush did much better than we expected.


FUND: Once again, he's underestimated, and that's a very good position both for Bush now and Reagan 20 years ago. They were both underestimated.

HITCHENS: Well, I think that, with respects, I think that's what the White House is doing there, they are lowballing it so that everything will be much better than anticipated. It's a charade in that sense, but it's no charade in the deeper sense, people who live in Europe could be destroyed by an American policy on missiles or global warming, in which they have no vote, so there always is going be a certain amount of anxiety, whereas it's Reagan, or Clinton, or either Bush.

CARLSON: Well, perhaps you can explain that in some more detail when it comes to missile defense. There's this notion floating around that Europeans, whatever that means, are opposed to missile defense. It strikes me that it's really the French who are the most vocally opposed to -- how would an American missile defense plans in any way imperil French national security?

HITCHENS: Well, remember, I mean, not all is lost, the Turks are on Bush's side about this. You want to -- don't give up so easily.

CARLSON: But why would the French -- why would an American missile program affect France?

HITCHENS: I will tell you why. They have to live on the same continent as Russia, former Soviet Union.

FUND: Jacques Chirac, the president, is much more well disposed toward than Jospin, the prime minister.

HITCHENS: Yes, and of course the French aren't of one mind on this. We must be careful not to say "the French," "the Spanish," and "the Slovenians." We'll have do it a bit.

The reason for this is this: the hope is that the system of arms control, which was put in place partly because -- well, mainly because of European pressure in the '70s and '80s is now being dismantled on a technicality by the Bush administration. The people who said -- who laughed at Clinton for saying he couldn't show the meaning of the word "is" are now saying, well, we didn't really sign that treaty with Russians. We signed it only with USSR, right?

CARLSON: But that's blatantly true, though.

HITCHENS: This is crazy...

CARLSON: That treaty was signed with the Soviet Union.

HITCHENS: This is crazy and irresponsible talk. No, it has been since confirmed many times. It was signed with Russia. And it was -- after all, it's the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of the administration that USSR didn't represent Russia. Real Russia...


CARLSON: In 1972, the Paris peace talks were going on. I mean, this is an ancient document that in no way reflects current realities.

HITCHENS: And it was leading to a build-down of missiles and the stand-down on missiles on both sides. I think you will the general view in Europe, which is where a lot of the war, if it ever occurred, would take place, is the best time to deal with a missile is when it's still on the ground or in a silo, not when it's heading toward you at 600 miles a second.

PRESS: Here is my question, John Fund, about missile defense. You know, we didn't hear much really -- hear much from Kennedy -- Bush during the campaign about what his position was on foreign policy. All he said was that he was going to be humble -- in fact, I want to remind you. He said it over and over again. Here's Bush at the second presidential debate.


BUSH: We're a freedom-loving nation, and if we're an arrogant nation they'll view us that way. But if we're a humble nation, they'll respect us.


PRESS: Now, in all humility, let's take the issue of missile defense.

FUND: It's an act of generosity, not humble.

PRESS: When Bush says that we are right and everybody else is wrong, isn't that about as arrogant as you can be as a nation?

FUND: Watch what the Europeans do, not what they say. We have already seen Blair come long.

PRESS: They rejected...

FUND: Aznar today -- Aznar today said we probably will need a missile defense. Mr. Chirac of France has already said that.

You look in five years, the Europeans are going to be very happy that they are going to be protected from rogue missiles from a possible terrorist nation.

What they say today is not what they will do tomorrow.

PRESS: Obviously, you're counting on the charm offensive, too. I think you're about as out-to-lunch...

FUND: No, I'm talking about the facts.

PRESS: You're as about out-to-lunch as people in the White House. But look, the point I'm making is on this issue, on missile defense, on global warming, on troops in Bosnia, and talk with North Korea, over and over again this administration, this president has gone it alone, no consultation of with allies ahead of time. How arrogant can you be?

FUND: When the European Community went and did their own deal with North Korea, they didn't call it unilateralism. They called it diplomacy. So they can do it, we can't. That's not -- that's not a fair table.

HITCHENS: If I may, both of you gentlemen, Mr. Carlson and Mr. Press will confirm that a few weeks ago when I was saying what a unilateralist Bush was on another show you both...


HITCHENS: ... you said to me: "Well, what about the United Nations? He isn't unilateralist about that." And I said, well, that must be daddy, mustn't it? It must be daddy's influence.

Now, we read on the front page of "The New York Times" that thanks to the efforts of former Ambassador Gregg and others George Bush Sr. has told George Bush Jr. to change his policy on North Korea back to what it used to be, back to what it should have been, and actually back to where the Europeans simply picked it up where he dropped it. They didn't -- they weren't unilateral about it.

Now, he reassuring is it for anyone -- Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean or European -- to read in the paper that...

CARLSON: That he has competent foreign policy advisers?

HITCHENS: ... that the president who never -- who never...


CARLSON: ... I can imagine.

CARLSON: ... who understood what the policy was, who got it wrong when he stated while trying to change it, hopelessly wrong, had to be corrected by his State and Defense Department and his own spokesman, now says -- now says...


FUND: ... is different from which previous presidents?

HITCHENS: ... OK, I'll change it back because daddy says so.

FUND: And this is different from which previous presidents?

HITCHENS: Well, I'll leave the question with you, Mr. Fund.

FUND: No, it's no different. Lots of presidents have advisers, lots of presidents make course -- midcourse corrections...

HITCHENS: This is more...

PRESS: This is 180 degrees (UNINTELLIGIBLE) President Clinton instituted the talks with North Korea. Bush canceled them. Now Chris is right. He's putting them back...

CARLSON: He's bringing them back...

HITCHENS: Because daddy...

PRESS: Daddy says so.

HITCHENS: ... says so. It's worse than...

PRESS: That's the point. CARLSON: So because a series of foreign policy advisers agree with you you're against it?


HITCHENS: ... stupider than Prince Charles now.

PRESS: We didn't elect his daddy.

FUND: All that has changed is that we're talking with North Korea. I might have a problem with that because I think that they basically are a rogue terrorist nation, but that's fine. Were talking with them.

PRESS: Talk to his daddy.


CARLSON: Well, we'll continue to talk about the Bush vacation in Europe. Is it or is it not when we return in just a moment on CROSSFIRE?


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. He's in Europe, but it's not a vacation. George W. Bush has gone abroad, and so far the reaction has been decidedly mixed. Bush is taking flak from some European leaders for his opposition to the Kyoto treaty on global warming. Others are miffed by his support for Star Wars. And the foreign press is still making fun of the way he speaks. Does what they think matter? Tonight's guest, Christopher Hitchens, a longtime British subject and columnist for "Vanity Fair" and "The Nation," and John Fund, editorial board member of "The Wall Street Journal."

Bill Press.

PRESS: John Fund, I want to skip to the issue of global warming, another one for which, pardon, the president is taking some heat in Europe. Yesterday, as you know, before he left, in what I think was the silliest photo-op that they've staged at the White House he came -- made a speech and came down squarely on the side of more study for global warming.

Here's how Daniel Becker of the Sierra Club reacted to this on CNN yesterday. Please listen.


DANIEL BECKER, SIERRA CLUB: What the president is saying is that we want to study some more about global warming. When your house is on fire, you don't go to the library and read up on fire and how hot it gets. You go put the fire out. And it's irresponsible for the president to just study global warming more. And what he is going to do will embarrass the United States in the eyes of the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PRESS: I mean, how much more study do we need, John Fund?

FUND: Well, if you read Monday's "Wall Street Journal," Richard Lindzen, who is an MIT professor, who was part of that National Academy of Sciences panel, says the summary was misquoted, misstated and did not have all of the facts, and we need more study. In addition, what Bush is saying is new technology is going to help us reduce our emissions over time. And the European nations that claim to support Kyoto, which European country has ratified Kyoto, one, Romania, which is probably going to get them money because it's so impoverished rather than having to spend money.

PRESS: Actually, I read that baloney piece in yesterday's "Wall Street Journal" and I actually...

FUND: Are an MIT climatologist?

PRESS: ... and I actually read this morning's "Wall Street Journal," where it said that yesterday while -- I hope you read your paper this morning -- while President Bush was making his speech yesterday saying we needed more study, the European nations announced that they were going to actually increase the level of reduction of greenhouse emission gases in Europe.

FUND: Promises, promises.

PRESS: Just a second. Beyond the Kyoto treaty, and Canada announced a new 10-year new program to reduce automobile emissions.

So you're saying that Europe can do it, Canada can do it, that they're acting. But we need more study, John. Isn't that embarrassing? It's a joke.

FUND: Bill, you've been in this town long enough that you know politicians often say one thing and end up doing something else.

PRESS: I wish.

FUND: Let's come back at the end of the 10 years and see if they actually did that, or whether this is just once again, you know, pure bloviation.


CARLSON: ... on the Europeans' part. Of course, it's pure bloviation.

HITCHENS: But wouldn't it be -- could I not make, at the risk of repeating myself, the same observation as I made about all of the other policies? It's not what you think about global warming. I'm old enough to remember Margaret Thatcher, who while not an MIT climatologist does have a degree in chemistry, changing her mind mid government and telling her civil servants: This looks as if it's really important, we ought...

FUND: But she never has endorsed Kyoto and never would. HITCHENS: No, probably not. But with Bush, you don't get the impression that he knows what the policy was, is now or ought to be. And the last time I heard him express doubts about it was he said, well, if we took these measures, they might impact on the consumer. Well, that's not going to impact the consumer as much as if global warming is true. He didn't seem to be thinking about it.

FUND: New technology will reduce our emissions. We should do that. We should do other steps.

HITCHENS: If you remember also, John, we're not -- may I call you, John?

FUND: Of course.

HITCHENS: ... we are not arguing about global warming now. We're arguing about are the Europeans right to think that this guy isn't the statesman for the subject. On the second point, I don't think you've yet offered a defense.

CARLSON: But wait...

FUND: They have been propagandized to the extreme (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

CARLSON: Then let me offer -- let me offer on this Kyoto treaty, which is ludicrous, and I think you'll agree. In fact, let Andy Card speak to its ludicrousness. This is White House chief of staff Andy Card on the Kyoto treaty.


ANDY CARD, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Kyoto is a flawed policy, a flawed treaty, and none of the European countries that are talking about this have ratified it. So I think that it's a little bit of a game that they are playing.


CARLSON: Of course. This is a way for Germany and France to placate the green parties within their own countries. As John pointed out, only Romania has ratified it. And the United States Senate voted 97 to 0 not only not to ratify it -- it was never actually sent to the Senate by Clinton because he knew that he they would wave it off -- but not even to consider it until India and China, half the world's population, might have to abide by it, too. I mean, this is a completely phony issue, isn't it?

HITCHENS: I remember Mr. Card from when he was the spokesman for the automobile industry on the nonexistence of the emission problem. I think he did a better job then than he's doing now. There is a real problem. You are correct in -- if we're going to argue about global warming I'm ready to do it, there is a real problem about it which is: nobody wants to go first and that is precisely why -- because the United States is the largest consumer and producer in these matters and is as in every other department, the claimant to a leadership role in everything.

Why, if the United States gives off an uncertain sound, yes, that does affect...

FUND: And China is the fastest growing nation in terms of CO2 emissions, is certainly not going to sign up to any treaty.


HITCHENS: That is exactly the reason for...

CARLSON: But to beat Bush over the head as if he's single handedly standing in the way of progress on the environment when nobody else is favors going forward.

HITCHENS: Mr. Carlson, nobody's made that accusation. It simply looks as if he doesn't know about, or care about, or understand the issue. That's all that's being said. He says, the last time I heard him on it, he said, if we took these measures it would impact the consumer.


FUND: You keep on with the Bush's dunce theory, he's been underestimated time and time again, it is good to be underestimated. He will prove you wrong.

PRESS: Well, I want to ask you about another issue about which he's getting some flack on and the death penalty. There's a man by the name of Joaquin Martinez, who's a Spanish citizen, was arrested in Florida and convicted of a double homicide. Spent three years on Death Row. He just recently returned to Spain because they found out that they'd made a mistake in Florida and he was not guilty after all.

Do you really expect Bush to convince Spaniards that the death penalty in this country is fair and there are two more Spanish citizens in this country today on death row.

FUND: And someone framed them as well?

PRESS: We don't know yet. But do you really expect them to believe that the death penalty is fair when they have that representative coming back home after being wrongly convicted here?

FUND: The process worked. We released him.

HITCHENS: That's neat. That's a good try.

FUND: Well it happens to be true.

HITCHENS: When Bush was governor of Texas they executed a Canadian in Texas. The U.S. and Canada have an agreement that you have to be able to contact your consulate...

FUND: Christopher, give me the name of the person who has actually been executed, not ever put on death row, that we know without a shadow of a doubt was innocent. Give me that person's name -- within the last 50 years in the United States. You can't give me name.

PRESS: Give me name of any one of the 156 people that Bush executed in Texas that you absolutely know...

HITCHENS: The name is Edward Earl Johnson. I went to see him in Parchman Prison, Mississippi and I have since talked to the prison governor who resigned on this and has talked to the governor of the state. I'm as sure as it's possible to be that they murdered Edward Earl Johnson an he hadn't been anywhere near the scene of crime.

FUND: I haven't heard or him.

HITCHENS: No, I dare say you haven't. You haven't been reading my stuff.

PRESS: John Fund, thank you for coming in. Chris Hitchens, good to have you here. Gentlemen, great debate. Tucker Carlson and I will be back with some final closing comments on the big Bush tour of Europe. We'll be back.


CARLSON: Bill, I end where I began, which is to say that who cares what the Europeans think. The EU spends all of its time making sure that British bologna is sold in Kilos, not pounds. The whole continent is increasingly irrelevant to American interests.

Great tourist destination, if they don't like our president, who cares?

PRESS: Here's why we should care: because on the issues that Bush is talking about, on global warming, on missile defense and on capital punishment, they are right and we are wrong. And he should listen and maybe he would learn something.

CARLSON: That's because their opinions mirror those of Tom Daschle, but they have an even more annoying attitude. It's like Daschle with a scowl. It's makes them even less relevant to American interests and they're separate countries. They're not part of America. They don't get to dictate our policies.

PRESS: No, it's called civilization and it's called wisdom but I'll tell you, Tucker, I think this trip will be a success if Bush doesn't -- like his daddy -- throw up on the prime minister's shoes. That's the level.

CARLSON: You are calling Belgium civilization?

PRESS: Yes, I am, as a matter of fact -- so's France.

From the left, I'm Bill Press.

CARLSON: And from the right I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT


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