Bush enjoys friendly final European tour

US President George Bush doesn’t like to travel, but when he does, he always tries to make the most of his trip. On his final trip to Europe he is doing just that – by visiting his friends Sarkozy, Merkel, Brown and Berlusconi.



The cowboy and the American


If President Bush’s itinerary was any indication, he counts French President Nicolas Sarkozy as one of his closest pals. The US president spent almost 48 hours in France – more time than he spent in Slovenia for the EU-US summit. Even before Sarkozy was elected, many thought the two men would get along. Both like to think of themselves as cowboys – donning cowboy boots and red checked shirts during their respective campaigns. Sarkozy spent his first summer vacation as French president in the United States, near the Bush Kennebunkport compound, and the two presidents had a cookout and went boating. It’s no wonder the French call Sarkozy “the American”.



The massage seen round the world


At the 2006 G8 summit, Russian TV cameras caught President Bush giving German Chancellor Angela Merkel a friendly shoulder squeeze, prompting her to throw her arms up in the air and make a funny face. The two leaders have been friends since Merkel was elected in 2005, visiting with each other several times a year. Just a few days before the infamous squeeze, Bush had visited Merkel’s home district of Stralsund, where she hosted a German barbecue in his honour. He has subsequently invited her to the White House and to his ranch in Crawford, Texas – an honour reserved only for special guests.



Childhood friends?


Chancellor Merkel isn’t the only European leader to stay at Crawford ranch. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi backed Bush’s war in Iraq, securing him a spot in Bush’s inner circle and an invite to Texas. In 2003 Berlusconi visited the Bush family at their rural retreat. President Bush gave Prime Minister Berlusconi a private tour of the ranch in his dusty pickup truck. Later, at a press conference, Berlusconi told reporters, “We met only two years ago, but I feel I know him like I know my grammar school friends.” The two men come from similar business backgrounds (although Berlusconi has been much more successful) and both are known for public gaffs that get significant media attention.



No one’s poodle


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hasn’t been invited to Crawford, but he was invited to Camp David, the official US presidential retreat, in the summer of 2007. He and President Bush do not share the same closeness that the American leader and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair did (Blair was often called Bush’s “poodle” by the British media), but the relationship is respectful nonetheless. On his visit to Camp David, Gordon Brown stunned everyone when he thanked Bush for his fight against Islamic terrorism, and President Bush has called Brown a “good friend”. But Brown has also moved British troops out of Basra and started to reduce troop levels Iraq, much to the disappointment of the US government.



Call left unanswered


Unlike his fellow European leaders, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has never been invited to the United States by President Bush – not to the White House, not to Camp David and definitely not to Crawford. In fact, President Bush and Prime Minister Zapatero have only met in multilateral settings and then only briefly. The cool relationship started even before Zapatero was elected in 2004, when in October 2003 as opposition leader he refused to stand during a Hispanic Day parade when a US marine carrying an American flag walked past. Zapatero said he refused to stand as a war protest. Later, when George Bush was re-elected at the end of 2004, he did not return Zapatero’s congratulatory phone call.

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