President's trip a fence mending process

Published 4:45 am Monday, February 28, 2005

By By Jo Bonner
This past week, President Bush made the first overseas trip of his second term, visiting Belgium, Germany, and Slovakia during a five-day visit to Europe. More than anything else, this trip was designed to give the president an opportunity to sit down at the table with some world leaders who in recent years have been less-than-supportive of the United States and its work in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Most of you probably remember that many of our traditional European allies, particularly France and Germany, were unwilling to support the U.S.-led coalition as it undertook operations in Iraq. In fact, the motivation to liberate the Iraqi people from an oppressive dictatorship and eliminate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein was not in the interests of many foreign leaders, some of whom labeled President Bush and other leaders from this country and abroad as war-mongers.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder even used the intense feelings of his country against our president as the basis of his most recent reelection campaign. In this instance, Schroeder won because he was successfully able to focus more attention on the hostility towards the United States than on the possibility for reducing the number of global threats.
With the president's return to the White House, it has become apparent that many leaders who expected him to be gone after only a single term have been forced to reconsider their position with regard to the United States.
Even after having been demonized by the foreign media and the citizens of several European countries, President Bush has clearly demonstrated the political maturity and wisdom to rise above the fray. As always, he continues to focus on the global good and on substance rather than image.
Already, the short-term benefits of this trip are becoming obvious. During a three-day stay in Brussels, the president met with the leaders of several NATO nations, including a session with French President Jacques Chirac. While only ceremonial, these meetings nonetheless are an important first step in rebuilding relations with our allies.
Later in the week, President Bush met with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a stop in Slovakia. While there had been much advance speculation that the conversation between the two men would run hot – Putin has been very critical of our administration's handling of the situation in Iraq and of the 2000 election, and the president has charged that Putin should offer more support for the democratization process in the Ukraine – things appeared to go well.
In fact, the dialogue was constructive enough that the two agreed on a basic plan for combating global nuclear terrorism and for addressing the increasing nuclear threats posed by Iran and North Korea.
I would expect this to be the first of many attempts by the president in his second term to extend the olive branch across the Atlantic. A true test of statesmanship is the willingness of a leader to engage in positive dialogue, rather than simply spouting rhetoric.
This trip showed me that the president is more than capable of being a statesman and in bringing our allies back together at the table. The road will be difficult, but this is a positive start indeed.
Treats for Troops scheduled
On the weekend of March 4-6, residents of south Alabama and the Florida panhandle will once again have the opportunity to participate in what has become an annual tradition along the Gulf Coast.
In conjunction with the United Parcel Service (UPS), the Girl Scouts of America will be hosting the third annual "Treats for Troops" program at Colonial Bel Air Mall in Mobile and Cordova Mall in Pensacola. The event will begin at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, March 4, and will continue during normal mall hours until 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 6.
Together with my colleague, Rep. Jeff Miller of Pensacola, I will be participating in a program I think is an outstanding way of showing our men and women in uniform that we remember them and appreciate the sacrifices they are making for our country on a daily basis.
The "Treats for Troops" program allows residents along the Gulf Coast to purchase boxes of Girl Scout cookies at the two mall locations. Rather than taking the boxes home with them, however, UPS stores in Alabama and Florida will send the cookies to deployed military personnel from our area currently stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas in the Middle East.
As someone who has personally visited with south Alabamians who have been called to duty in Iraq and in other areas of the Central Command (CENTCOM) Theater of Operations, I know how very important it is for us here at home to show our support for the military. They are performing a difficult and dangerous task which, while challenging, has been directly responsible for people in nations halfway around the world having been able to experience freedom for the first time.
And while the past few months have seen the return of many of our family members and friends from overseas duty, many others – both active duty personnel and reservists – who call the Gulf Coast home continue to serve.
I have enjoyed my participation in the "Treats for Troops" program a great deal, and I look forward to taking my children and visiting Colonial Bel Air Mall next weekend. For more information on this program, I would encourage you to call 1-800-476-3727.The act of buying a box of cookies may not seem like much to you, but it means more than you know to the men and women with whom you are sharing a little bit of home and a lot of your heart.
My staff and I work for the people of south Alabama. Let us know when we can be of service.
Jo Bonner is a congressman for the State of Alabama. His column appears weekly.

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