President Bush left yesterday for an eight-day foreign tour originally conceived as a triumphal celebration of democracy and -- in the words of Secretary of State James A. Baker III -- an opportunity formally to "bury the Cold War hatchet."
But Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has changed all that.
Instead, Bush's major private focus will be the Persian Gulf crisis, while publicly the president celebrates in ceremonies, speeches and formal agreements the first anniversary of the democratic upheavals that swept Eastern Europe last autumn. He arrives today in Prague, continues Sunday to Germany and spends the next three days in Paris at a 34-nation summit heralding the dawn of a new Europe.
Bush plans to meet separately at the summit with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, French President Francois Mitterrand, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and at least three or four other leaders who are playing key roles in the international diplomacy aimed at getting Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.
In the private session with Gorbachev, scheduled for Tuesday, Bush is expected to discuss the ruinous condition of the Soviet economy and outlook for U.S. aid. The United States has been working on contingency plans to send food and medicine to the Soviet Union in an emergency, officials said, but the broader issue of more permanent economic aid also may arise.
An overriding goal of Bush's trip, which was expanded to conclude with two highly photogenic days Thursday and Friday in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, is to solidify the international consensus against Saddam's occupation of Kuwait and continue the effort of laying a foundation for possible military action, according to administration officials.
At the same time, senior administration officials said this week, the president will use meetings with the exiled Emir of Kuwait, Saudi King Fahd and a made-for-television Thanksgiving Day with U.S. troops in the Saudi desert to reassert for an American audience his goals in the gulf crisis.
"When America wakes up Thanksgiving Day and turns on its televisions to the parades and games, the first thing they will see is President Bush telling our boys he wants them home safe and soon, but that we must stand against this aggression," said one official of the message that day is supposed to convey to millions of Americans.
In a larger sense, advisers also hope the trip will help Bush's image recover from the recent budget battles and electoral struggles, and divert attention from rising congressional criticism of his gulf policies. "Presidents usually get a bump up from foreign trips, and our guy could use it right now," said one official.
During his conversations with world leaders, Bush intends to gauge international support for a proposed resolution authorizing force to drive Iraq from Kuwait if non-military measures fail.
Baker flew to Europe on Thursday in a similar effort. He has been meeting with foreign ministers representing several Security Council members and will link up with Bush on Sunday in Paris, where the resolution and overall gulf policy are expected to be major topics.
Bush begins his tour Saturday in Prague as the first U.S. president to visit Czechoslovakia. There, he will join in commemorating the first anniversary of the so-called Velvet Revolution that ended communist control.
The expansion of freedom and democracy is also the theme of Bush's brief visit Sunday with Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Germany, which will give Bush the opportunity formally to applaud the unification of Germany completed last month.
In Paris next week, Bush will participate for three days in the 34-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), an event that is more a symbolic celebration than a historical turning point.
Michael Mandelbaum of the Council on Foreign Relations called it "the peace conference at the end of the Cold War," and Rozanne L. Ridgway, president of the Atlantic Council and former assistant secretary of state, said: "For the states of Eastern Europe, this is a coming-out party."
The public highlight of the Paris session will be the signing of the first major East-West agreement to reduce conventional arms since the end of World War II. The Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty sharply reduces non-nuclear forces that both NATO and the Warsaw Pact have maintained in central and eastern Europe.
The treaty, to be signed in ceremonies on Monday in Paris, is aimed at eliminating Moscow's ability to place huge numbers of tanks and other heavy armor in Central Europe in support of what the West feared would be a lightning strike. The treaty limits the weapons of 22 nations and covers territory that ranges from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains.
Bush also will sign a non-aggression declaration between members of the NATO alliance and what is left of the Warsaw Pact, an act Baker said signifies the burial of the Cold War hatchet.
The leaders attending the summit also will adopt a document on the future of CSCE, which has been one of the forums for exchanges between East and West over the decades of the Cold War. The document will institute high-level political consultations between the CSCE member states, set up periodic conferences, establish a permanent CSCE entity in Prague and a conflict-resolution center and try to establish an election-monitoring operation.
Baker, in briefing reporters this week, said the Paris conference embodies "the new Europe that is still in the process of evolving," a transatlantic constellation of leaders representing established democracies, a united Germany, the newly emerging democracies of central and eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. "For the first time in 40 years," he said, "Europe will be meeting and discussing and planning without an artificial East-West divide to block progress."