President Bush leaves for Europe tomorrow feeling the tug of two wars.
On the ground in Italy and France, the symbolism will all be of World War II. In Rome, he will visit the Ardeatine Caves, scene of a Nazi massacre of Italian civilians 60 years ago this summer. In Normandy, he will join with other world leaders -- including, for the first time, a German chancellor -- to mark the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landing.
But in the private meetings with his European counterparts and in his news conferences, the talk will be of the ongoing war in Iraq, which France and Germany bitterly opposed. Bush will sit down with Pope John Paul II, a stern critic of the war, and the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. In Paris, he will engage President Jacques Chirac, who had led the opposition to U.S. policy in Iraq.
As he has done before, Bush will try to link World War II themes -- the struggles of good and evil, right and wrong, democracy and totalitarianism -- to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Our security is still bound up together in a transatlantic alliance, with soldiers in many uniforms defending the world from terrorists at this very hour," Bush said while visiting Normandy on Memorial Day two years ago.
But opinion polls in Europe show that since the Iraq war began, the public there has grown distrustful of the United States, dismissive of Bush and even suspicious about U.S. motives in the war on terrorism.
"Bush and his ideologues feel only scorn for what has become of the Europe freed by American troops long ago in 1944," said an editorial in the Italian Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana. "The real purpose of his travel is to establish a moral connection between that campaign of liberation and the current occupation of Iraq, which has nothing moral about it."
Since the fall of a Spanish government that had backed the Iraq war, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been Bush's leading ally in continental Europe. But even in Rome, Bush can expect resistance. The Vatican's foreign minister, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica last month, called the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq "a more serious blow to the United States than Sept. 11, except that the blow was not inflicted by terrorists but by Americans against themselves."
A poll published by Famiglia Cristiana said a majority of Italians, preparing for local and European elections this month, believe Bush's visit is poorly timed. Tens of thousands of antiwar demonstrators are expected in Rome during Bush's visit.
In France, Chirac has arranged for another source of displeasure for the White House: German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will join Bush and other leaders on the beach at Arromanches for the D-Day commemoration on Sunday. With Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin also on hand, Bush will be surrounded by men who, in varying ways, sought to thwart his plans for Iraq.
Schroeder told the German weekly Focus that his presence at the D-Day event means "World War Two is definitely over." He called it a "signal to all Germans" of acceptance. It is also, potentially, a symbol of a Franco-German partnership -- dismissed as "Old Europe" by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld -- that has battled diplomatically with the United States and Britain.
In a briefing yesterday, Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, voiced the hope that the European trip, and Bush's hosting next week of the Group of Eight summit on Sea Island, Ga., would move beyond the disputes. Bush is trying to enlist European help for Iraq after the June 30 transfer of limited authority, and for a push to spread democracy throughout the Middle East.
"Look, we've had our differences," Rice said. "We've had difficulties over Iraq. But I sense in all of the countries of the alliance, all of the countries of the free world, a fundamental understanding that whatever differences we had in the past, that a free and prosperous and stable Iraq is a linchpin and a key to a stable Middle East is understood, and that people are looking for ways that they can help to get that done."