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Is London hanging up on Bush?

U.S. President George W. Bush with British Prime Minister Tony Blair
U.S. President George W. Bush with British Prime Minister Tony Blair  

ByBill Schneider

LONDON, England (CNN) -- After September 11, President Bush won over European opinion as he vowed to save the world from terrorism. It looked like a great love affair with America was beginning.

Now, nearly a year later, it's over.

All London was abuzz last week when The Guardian newspaper reported that a poll commissioned by Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed Bush's "spectacular unpopularity among British voters.''

Where did the story come from? Gossip. Leaks, based on casual, unscientific evidence.

So how did the story get into a reputable newspaper?

Well, it's August. And something else, says one of Blair's closest advisers.

Peter Mandelson, former Cabinet minister says, "President Bush has come in for criticism, some mockery, actually condescension from media commentators here in the U.K."

That kind of disdain for Bush has filtered down to public opinion, not just in Britain, but across Europe.

According to Jessica Elgood, a political pollster for MORI House, a polling organization in London, "On average, only one in five Europeans approve of the way he is doing his job, which is extremely low. Lower than his predecessor, [Bill] Clinton, who was far more popular."

Partly it's a matter of style. Bill Clinton had charm. So did Ronald Reagan. George W. Bush?

Jonathan Freedland, a columnist for The Guardian, says, "When somebody like President Clinton traveled, you got the sense he just knew what buttons to press, no matter if he was in London, Prague or Paris. He just had an emollient, smooth way of talking. George Bush often seems abrasive. He seems aggressive. His manner and body language often seems like he is in a hurry and he'd rather not be there."

The problem is, Bush has trouble speaking with an international language.

President Clinton didn't.

Mandelson says of Clinton's style, "In the way he couched his actions, it always seemed to be in the world's interest as well, for the whole international community. Bush's language doesn't emphasize that to the same extent. It's more about American needs, American interests, American opinions."

In overwhelming numbers, the French, the British, the Italians and the Germans believe President Bush's decisions are based entirely on U.S. interests and do not take European interests into account.

The big fear right now: Iraq.

This month, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder opened his re-election campaign by rejecting what he called American "adventures'' in Iraq.

Public opposition is building in Britain.

Last fall, the British were solidly behind U.S. action in Afghanistan. But this year, they have not been supportive of a U.S. strike on Iraq.

"If the military options are not accompanied by a political strategy to prepare public opinion, then I think we will get to first base with our governments lined up but with public opinion straggling way behind,'' says Mandelson.

Governments together, publics apart: That's the problem, and it's bigger than Iraq.

"Fifty-three percent of the British public now see Europe as our closest ally. Only one third see America as our closest ally. Now clearly that shows a shift in British opinion. If we look 20 years ago, we see the opposite," explains Jessica Elgood

Increasingly, Europeans say Bush is "your'' leader, not "our'' leader.

We'll drink your coffee. But we won't follow your leadership.




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