New American presidents face an international ritual: Are they up to the big European test?

My friend Al Kingon argued, quite rightly, that President Bush’s trip to Europe is deja vu all over again. He remembers, as do I, the same disdain Europeans had for Ronald Reagan when he first visited the continent 20 years ago. Reagan: the dumb actor, clueless prompter reader, an affable idiot. And those were some of the kinder comments! It was galling.

No one liked what he said and thought less of what he did.

The French argued his tax cut would send us into a deeper recession. It didn't. The Germans predicted his "evil empire" talk would trigger World War III. It didn't. Even the British lamented his style would make him a one-term joke. He wasn't.

Ronnie shocked them by, in the end, dismissing them. He reduced their barbs to babble and their smugness to silliness. And he wasn't the only one. A young John Kennedy similarly shocked naysayers by showing his resolve in the Cuban missile crisis. Jimmy Carter, hapless though much of his presidency was, still managed to bring Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin together at Camp David.

My point is this: Don't underestimate the underestimated. They can fool, surprise you and often triumph over you.

So Europe, be smug all you want. Be dismissive all you want. You don't need to spin a grammar free line, to make a powerful statement. The "jerk" you dismiss today, may likely be the hero you'll be crawling to tomorrow.

I'll be waiting for it. And you can bet, I'll be reporting on it.

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