Thomas L. Friedman of the NYT has completed his tour of the European colonies and has some free advice for his commander-in-chief.
Having spent the last 10 days traveling to Britain, France, Germany and Switzerland, I have one small suggestion for President Bush. I suggest that when he comes to Europe to mend fences next month he give only one speech. It should be at his first stop in Brussels and it should consist of basically three words: “Read my ears.”
Let me put this as bluntly as I can: There is nothing that the Europeans want to hear from George Bush, there is nothing that they will listen to from George Bush that will change their minds about him or the Iraq war or U.S. foreign policy. Mr. Bush is more widely and deeply disliked in Europe than any U.S. president in history. Some people here must have a good thing to say about him, but I haven't met them yet.
In such an environment, the only thing that Mr. Bush could do to change people's minds about him would be to travel across Europe and not say a single word – but just listen. If he did that, Mr. Bush would bowl the Europeans over. He would absolutely disarm and flummox people here – and improve his own image markedly. All it would take for him would be just a few words: “Read my ears. I have come to Europe to listen, not to speak. I will give my Europe speech when I come home – after I've heard what you have to say.”
If Mr. Bush did that none of the European pundits would be able to pick apart his speeches here and mock the contradictions between his words and deeds. None of them would comment on his delivery and what he failed to mention. Instead, all the European commentators, politicians and demonstrators would start fighting with one another over what to say to the president. It might even force the Europeans to get out of their bad habit of just saying, “George Bush,” and everybody laughing or sneering as if that ends the conversation, and Europe doesn't have to declare what it stands for.