Ireland Welcomes Bush With Protests
By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 26, 2004; Page A18
NEWMARKET-ON-FERGUS, Ireland, June 25 -- President Bush landed in Ireland Friday evening and brought the controversy of the Iraq invasion and prison-abuse scandal with him, prompting street protests on turf that historically has been one of the most hospitable destinations for American presidents.
Bush and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern took a leisurely half-hour stroll -- in the rain and without umbrellas -- after the White House entourage pulled up to the stone-turreted Dromoland Castle. It will be the scene of summit talks Saturday between the United States and the 25-country European Union.
In the capital, Dublin, about 10,000 people protested the Bush administration's policies on Iraq and human rights, Irish news media reported. Organizers promised that five times that number would turn out in Dublin on Saturday.
The White House is eager to use the meeting to continue the slow process of mending relations with traditional allies who split with the administration over Iraq and have resisted contributing as much to the occupation as Bush had urged.
But Irish officials, who are hosting the meeting because their country holds the EU's rotating presidency, said they would use the summit to make European foreign policy differences clear to Bush.
Ahern has allowed U.S. military planes involved in the Iraq campaign to refuel in Ireland, despite overwhelming public opinion against the war. But his traditionally neutral country has sent no troops. The disclosure of abusive tactics at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and accusations of mistreatment of prisoners at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, exacerbated European objections to Bush's policy.
"The United States has traditionally been strong on human rights, but this administration is ignoring international law," Sean Love, the executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, said in a telephone interview.
The protest plans -- contrasting so starkly with the festive receptions for presidents John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton -- prompted such massive security that the morning newspapers called the 6,000-officer deployment the largest in the history of the island. Naval gunships patrolled an estuary, armored cars searched bogs and article after article reported complaints that the civil rights of protesters were being trampled.
Before leaving Washington, Bush was challenged during an interview with Radio and Television Ireland on his claim that the invasion made the world safer and that "a free Iraq is going to be a necessary part of changing the world."
The interviewer, Carol Coleman, asked, "Why is it that others don't understand what you're about?"
"I don't know," Bush said. "History will judge what I'm about. . . . I don't really try to chase . . . popularity polls. My job is to do my job and make the decisions that I think are important for our country and for our world."
Daniel S. Hamilton, director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said the EU-Bush meeting comes at "an awkward time for any serious talk or initiatives," since "most of the leaders don't necessarily want him to be reelected."
Despite the outcry over his policies, Bush quickly made himself at home. Irish television caught him fiddling with a window in the castle, wearing a white undershirt. With mixed success, the Irish government urged broadcasters not to use the shot. Television footage of the walk with Ahern showed the president waving a lit cigar.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company