ISTANBUL, Turkey – With smiling allies at his side, President Bush (search) has sailed through June with splashy photo opportunities to answer charges that he follows a lone-man approach to foreign policy that alienates America's friends.
The polls show Bush is unpopular overseas, but the pictures orchestrated by the White House tell another story.
Bush has teamed up with world leaders from D-Day (search) ceremonies in France to the Group of Eight (search) summit in Sea Island, Ga., to a U.S.-European Union summit in Ireland, to the NATO (search) summit here in Turkey.
Each click of the shutter captures the president smoothing relations with allies. Some "photo ops" amount to public makeup sessions with friends who have not seen eye-to-eye with Bush on policy in Iraq. But each image can help counter complaints that America has not been served well by Bush's no-nonsense style on the world stage.
Democratic rival John Kerry (search) says that for all of Bush's tough talk on Iraq, his policies have put U.S. security and credibility at risk. "I believe it will take a new president of the United States to clear the air to re-establish American credibility in the world and to be able to reach out to leaders, not just in the Middle East, but all over the world," he says.
The White House rebuts the allegations, saying that rough relations with some U.S. allies in the early days of the Iraq war were blown out of proportion. The administration, which frequently notes that 16 of 26 NATO nations are helping in Iraq and Afghanistan, says America and its allies now agree that a peaceful, democratic Iraq is in the best interest of all.
"I think the bitter differences of the war are over," Bush said in Ireland over the weekend, before the surprise handover of power to Iraqis on Monday.
NATO members gathered in Istanbul are ready to offer help to train and equip Iraqi's struggling security forces to deal with lawlessness and terrorism. The administration views this as an election-year victory for Bush, one that answers Kerry's criticism that the president has failed to enlist enough international support in Iraq.
However, former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke (search), who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for secretary of state if Kerry is elected president, said persuading NATO to help with training is hardly a victory.
Early in the war, the administration hoped more nations would send troops to Iraq. After France and Germany, for example, declined to do so and Spain, the Dominican Republic and Honduras pulled their forces out, the administration reduced its call for soldiers.
Last week, Iraq's new prime minister issued an urgent plea not for troops, but for equipment and help in training security forces.
Bush likely will score political points at the Istanbul summit if NATO does agree to help train.
"But even if they do it, I am not prepared to say that is a success," Holbrooke said. "I am only prepared to say that (Bush and his aides) met their own, sharply lowered expectations."
A deep domestic political undercurrent runs through this NATO meeting, said Kurt Campbell, director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (search) in Washington.
"Traditionally, American presidents go abroad to boost their sense of power and credibility and then turn around and use that at home for domestic purposes," he said.
Recent anti-war and anti-Bush demonstrations abroad, including ones here on Sunday that attracted an estimated 40,000 people, have changed that, he said. Structuring the president's foreign events in ways that do not create domestic political liabilities is the central challenge of the Bush administration, Campbell said. Those that benefit Bush are the quick, "hit 'em" and "get out" appearances that don't remind voters of U.S. unpopularity in some countries abroad.
Bush candidly dismisses the anti-Americanism.
"I must confess that the first polls I worry about are those that are going to take place in early November of this year," he said in Ireland.
He said he cares about America's image, but isn't too concerned about his own:
"As far as my own personal standing goes, my job is to do my job. I'm going to do it the way I think is necessary. I'm going to set a vision. I will lead, and we'll just let the chips fall where they may."