Hitting the Road with President Bush

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," February 18, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES: It is time to open a new chapter in our relationship, and a new chapter in our alliance. America stands ready to work with Europe on our common agenda and Europe must stand ready to work with America.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: First, Condi Rice and Donald Rumsfeld (search), now President Bush is going Europe to make nice with our allies there. It will be all smiles and handshakes in front of the cameras, but what about behind closed doors. My next guest is American Enterprise Institute Scholar Michael Ledeen. Michael, the big question: will President Bush's trip to Europe actually accomplish anything?

MICHAEL LEDEEN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Well, I think the trip will be an occasion to verify that things have, in fact, been accomplished already, which is the way good trips are designed.

The Europeans simply have to come to term with the fact that he was re-elected by a substantial majority, and that they're going to have to live with George W. Bush for another four years. And also, they're going to have to live with the fact that he's been proven right in Iraq.

And even Le Monde, after the Iraqi election said in very strong words that it would be obscene to criticize President Bush after this electoral outcome.

GIBSON: Nonetheless, they're capable of obscenities.

But I expect, Michael, that when the president approaches the Elysee Palace and walks up those stairs where Chirac is always greeting somebody, they will stand there, they will shake hands, it will all be nice. But Chirac wants to talk to Bush privately.

And the thinking up to now is that Chirac wants to wag his finger at him and lecture him. Do you think he's gotten over that? Or is that what he's going do to President Bush behind closed doors?

LEDEEN: I don't think it much matters, John. There will never be good relations between those two people, because Bush will not forget what France did to the United States during Operation Iraqi Freedom. And France went all over the world desperately trying to stop people from joining our coalition and undoubtedly caused the deaths of Americans.

GIBSON: No question about that.

Now what about Gerhard Schroeder (search) because he is not keeping his criticism behind closed doors, even now. He was sick, he couldn't attend that Munich conference where Donald Rumsfeld attended, but he sent one of his ministers to read his speech and basically took another whack at the Americans in the form of taking a slap at NATO.

So are the Germans still estranged and likely to remain so?

LEDEEN: Well, the Germans have a much better chance of gaining the affection of President Bush than the French do.

And by the way, we always talk about Europe as if Europe consisted of France and Germany, but notice that the great majority of European countries have stood with us in all of this. And one never, for example, talks about Italy, which has been an absolutely steadfast ally and performed magnificently in Iraq. And then countries: the Scandinavian countries, all of Central and Eastern Europe, and so forth.

The good news is that Schroeder seems to have fallen in love with Condi Rice, which doesn't surprise anybody who knows her. But the Germans have toned down their criticism quite a bit and I think you'll see a much friendlier Schroeder. And he has a real chance.

GIBSON: The other problem case waiting in the wings is Vladimir Putin in Russia. We just saw some pictures of Schroeder on a train talking to Putin, and a lot of people are expecting President Bush to give Putin a little lecture or two about democratic values in Russia. Is that likely to happen anytime soon? Or is that off the table?

LEDEEN: Well, I hope it happens very soon because Putin really has gone much too far in depriving Russian society of the kind of democracy that it won fighting communism all those years. And I think it would be really a mistake on Bush's part if he went there and did not talk publicly and openly to Putin about it.

GIBSON: Brussels is all a twitter because this turns out to be an accidental summit and the Belgians and the European Union people have such big dreams about, a United States of Europe as a counterweight to the Americans. And they're all just a twitter about this visit.

Is the president even going to notice the European Union?

LEDEEN: Oh, I'm sure he'll notice the E.U. He'll refer to it from time to time, but I think he'll talk a lot about NATO. And the reason for that is that European countries have cut their defense spending back so far that they really are no longer capable of participating in a modern war. And we don't like that.

We want allies who are going to be able to fight alongside us. The French have an aircraft carrier that very rarely sails, for example.

GIBSON: It's like the Intrepid over on the Hudson, isn't it?


GIBSON: It's a museum.

OK. Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute. We'll be watching and Michael, we'll have you back to see how the president did on his trip to Europe.

LEDEEN: Thank you, John.

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