Mr. Bush needs envoy in Europe: Mr. Gore?

March 07, 2002|By Derek Chollet

BERLIN -- The war of words between the United States and Europe over the "axis of evil" has reached a fever pitch. Hardly a day passes without a new barrage of insults being hurled from one side of the Atlantic toward the other.

Before the transatlantic finger-pointing becomes a serious problem, President Bush needs to make a dramatic move.

He must send a high-level, personal envoy to Europe to make the case for U.S. leadership. He should ask Al Gore.

Sound completely crazy?

Doing so would give Europe the high-level attention it craves and deserves. It would also show that the United States is united for the long-term fight against terrorism. Moreover, by deploying Mr. Gore, Mr. Bush would follow in the footsteps of America's last great war president, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In August 1942, eight months after the U.S. entry into World War II, FDR recruited Wendell Willkie, his Republican opponent in the 1940 presidential election, to conduct a global tour to rally the Allies and show the world that the United States was unified.

Together, FDR and Willkie planned the itinerary and the message.

Traveling to more than a dozen countries on three continents, Willkie symbolized American leadership and engagement.

His 49-day tour was a public relations sensation. An estimated 36 million Americans listened to his radio report summarizing the journey, which later became the basis for his best-selling book extolling global cooperation, One World.

Immediately after Sept. 11, others floated similar ideas -- some even suggested that Bill Clinton become a roving ambassador -- but these dropped like lead balloons.

Now that we have a crisis with our best European friends, the time has come to act. And Mr. Gore is just the man.

It's not hard to imagine Mr. Gore as a modern-day Willkie. Like Willkie, the former vice president has embraced the role of loyal opposition admirably.

He has even acknowledged that while it might be bad for Democrats in the next election, he hopes that Mr. Bush's performance "makes it damn hard for the competition to complain about his record in foreign policy."

Yet it is hard to imagine the president as a modern FDR. It would be shocking to see him be so boldly bipartisan, especially with November's congressional elections looming.

But Mr. Bush could show the nation and the world that he is interested in more than simply partisan gain. Although some Republicans would certainly criticize Mr. Bush, the Gore move could be one of the smartest he would make. He would co-opt the domestic opposition simmering against him.

More importantly, he would give Europe the high-profile attention it so desperately covets. And enlisting Mr. Gore would silence those European leaders who privately complain that because of the contested 2000 presidential election, Mr. Bush does not have the American people behind him.

Mr. Bush should recall that FDR's legacy was about more than leading the nation in war; it was about forging a lasting consensus both at home and abroad behind international cooperation and America's global leadership.

Derek Chollet, a Bosch Public Policy Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, served in the State Department during the Clinton administration.

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