It's embarrassing to have a president who's so universally loathed. Bush arrives in Austria today and will be greeted by scorn and widespread protests, not to mention Cindy Sheehan. Random posters have been up across Vienna since April, depicting Bush's face and a German-language caption reading "A mass murderer is coming."
How extraordinary that even when Bush visits allies abroad he's not well received. He was heckled in the Australian Parliament in October 2003, and weeks later, lambasted for insulting the Queen when his security personnel trashed Buckingham Palace. He was greeted by hostile headlines and throngs of placard-carrying protestors in Ireland in 2004, then charged with torture by a legal activist group in Canada later that year. Bush encountered massive protests under the slogan "Not Welcome" in Germany in 2005, and faced banners depicting him as a devil, a vampire and a warmonger at the November 2005 Summit of the Americas in Argentina.
Bush is in Austria today for a brief US-European Union Summit plugged by the State Department as "combating an ideology of violence with a positive vision of freedom, democracy and opportunity." Humorous in light of recent revelations that the CIA colluded with various European countries on the alleged kidnapping and secret transfer of terror suspects to countries that use torture.
But the show must go on. Expectations for Bush's visit are low, however, and his farcical jaunt to Iraq last week didn't help. The Iraqi Prime Minister wasn't informed about Bush's visit until five minutes before they met, proving that the supposedly sovereign government can't even control who enters its country.
Bush said he visited Iraq last week to look Prime Minister Maliki "in the eyes" and determine his dedication to freedom - reminiscent of how Bush looked Russia's President Putin "in the eye" back in 2001 to "get a sense of his soul." But Bush won't be practicing his mystical eye-looking quality in Vienna; the city's under a security lockdown with huge sections cordoned off lest Bush come face-to-face with the growing hordes of angry protestors.
It's hard to imagine where Bush actually is welcome. A Pew opinion poll released last week found that citizens across the globe are losing confidence in the US leader, with his approval ratings plummeting, for example, to 15% in France, 7% in Spain and a 3% in Turkey. Support for the administration's militaristic policies has also dramatically waned, with majorities in only 2 of the 14 countries surveyed favoring the so-called war on terror, and similar majorities citing the US military presence in Iraq as a greater threat to world peace than Iran.
In other words, people around the world are beginning to understand that the deteriorating security situation in Iraq is linked to the sharp increase in global terrorism - and a potential threat to their own safety. And they wouldn't be heartened by Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-CA) April 2006 assessment of National Counterterrorism Center data, which found an increase of over 5,000% in the number of global terrorist attacks and over 2,000% in the number of terrorist-related deaths in the three years following the US invasion of Iraq. Yet the administration says the war on terror is making us safer.
It's troubling that as international disapproval of Bush and his administration's policies increases, so does anti-Americanism in general; the Pew poll found that "favorable opinions of the United States" have plummeted since last year in the majority of the 15 countries it surveyed, including in Germany, Russia and India.
So perhaps it's fitting that Bush is now visiting Austria, a country which at one point was a powerful empire controlling lands as far flung as Mexico, but today fights to have its voice heard on the world stage. The lesson is clear: Imperialistic overreach and its requisite focus on military power can eventually make the mighty crumble.
Heather Wokusch is a free-lance writer based in Austria and can be reached via her website: www.heatherwokusch.com. She's been on an extended book-writing sabbatical, but will be back to blogging in the autumn of 2006.