WASHINGTON – President Bush, beginning a splashy farewell trip to Europe, expressed both concern and confidence Monday about the U.S. economy, shaken by soaring energy prices, rising unemployment and a severe credit crunch.
Bush's first stop is in Slovenia for his final U.S.-European Union summit. He also will visit Germany, Italy, France, England and Northern Ireland. Next month he will go to Japan and in August he will attend the Olympic Games in China.
Like many Americans, Europeans have Bush fatigue. His decision to invade Iraq stirred anti-American sentiment in many countries, although that has receded as Europeans watch the U.S. presidential campaign and weigh prospects for change under a new president.
"A lot of people like America. They may not sometimes necessarily like the president but they like America," Bush said in an interview with POP TV of Slovenia. "They like what America stands for."
Bush, in a departure statement on the South Lawn, sought to address anxieties about the economy.
"A lot of Americans are concerned about our economy. I can understand why," he said. "Gasoline prices are high; energy prices are high." He said the economic stimulus package approved by Congress should help matters.
He also called on lawmakers to allow oil drilling in an Arctic wildlife refuge and offshore on the Continental Shelf to "give this country a chance to help us through this difficult period by finding more supplies of crude oil, which will take the pressure off the price of gasoline." However, even if drilling were approved, it would take about 10 years before oil would flow from ANWR, according to government estimates.
Echoing recent remarks by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Bush said "a strong dollar is in our nation's interests. It is in the interests of the global economy." The weakness of the dollar is blamed as a factor in rising oil prices.
Bush said the U.S. economy is "large and it's open and flexible. Our capital markets are some of the deepest and most liquid. And the long-term health and strong foundation of our economy will shine through and be reflected in currency values."
The weakness of the dollar is blamed as a factor in the soaring costs of oil and other commodities. Bush's comments were intended to let financial markets — and leaders in Europe — know that he is paying attention to the problem.
"The U.S. economy has continued to grow in the face of unprecedented challenges," the president said. "We've got to keep our economies flexible; both the U.S. economy and European economies need to be flexible in order to deal with today's challenges."