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By Bill Gallagher

DETROIT -- Feel our president's pain. He's in Europe on a diplomatic mission and he's squirming, mechanically going through his duties, checking his watch and dreaming of the flight back home and a return to his Texas dacha. For George W. Bush, this is an ordeal he'd love to avoid, but he must, at least, show the world he's trying, however disingenuously, to improve U.S. relations with Europe.

Bush loves any visit to a military base or aircraft carrier, where he can address the folks in uniform. The cheers and adoration are guaranteed. He craves those opportunities. His eyes light up and he struts around like a bantam rooster.

For Bush, a visit to Europe rates below even news conferences or an actual conversation with a real, unscreened American not used for political prop purposes.

For Bush, Europe is torture. Imagine him locked in a cell for a week. No satellite for 24-hour sports on TV. The only station is PBS. There are video games available, but the controller won't work. The only music blasting into the cell is one of Barbra Streisand's greatest hits, U2's "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" and Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis." No Bible in the cell. There are just two books: John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" and Sister Helen Prejean's new book, "The Death of Innocents." The cell food is continental. No lemonade, just cases of Perrier. A few days of that and our brave commander in chief would be turning over state secrets Cheney let him in on to get out.

That's how Bush feels as he visits European Union and NATO headquarters and is forced to have discussions and socialize with European heads of state. As much as the chore repulses Bush, Cheney has told him he must sit down and deal with the Europeans, in an attempt to salvage something in the long and important relationship the Busheviks have shattered.

The imperial war in Iraq and American unilateralism, Bush's thumbing his nose at the Kyoto Protocols and the administration's reckless fiscal policies and trade-bullying are the thorniest issues dividing the United States and Europe. Bush refuses to recognize most of these issues exist, which makes it difficult to have meaningful negotiations.

A politically unified Europe has evolved into a bigger market than the United States. While the people in most nations there don't share our material wealth, they tend to be more satisfied with the quality of their lives. They cherish their town squares, piazzas and plazas. Walking is considered virtuous and healthy. They seem to take more time than we do simply to appreciate their families and communities.

They take more time for vacations, and yet their productivity is surpassing U.S. workers. EU products, from cell phones to jumbo jets, are taking off.

The percentage of poor people in Europe is significantly lower than in the United States. Since EU business executives don't get the obscene salaries of their American counterparts, the fruits of labor are more evenly distributed.

The Europeans know global warming and filthy air are real threats to survival and they are doing something about it. Twenty percent of the power used in Denmark now comes from windmills.

Bush and his wacky neocon advisers detest the idea of the European Union. The more it expands and the more influential it becomes, the more they would like to ignore it. The few reality-based people left in the administration know Europe is vital for U.S. interests, if for no other reason than to help ensure financial stabilization, as Bush continues his drunken-sailor spending binge and dedication to budget deficits and the declining American dollar.

European confidence in the U.S. ability to manage the global financial system is eroding, and for good reason. While the Busheviks, led by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, refer derisively to "Old Europe," the fact is that we depend heavily on their old money to stay afloat fiscally.

In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, investment banker and former U.S. Ambassador to France Felix G. Rohatyn offered some sobering advice to the president on the importance of restoring relationships with our European allies.

Rohatyn reminds the EU-bashers that "Europe and the United States are one another's largest trading partners, largest investors and largest employers." He urges Bush to court European business leaders, especially at a time when "we require $2 billion per day of foreign capital to service our debt, when the dollar is losing value regularly in the marketplace, and when the overall net flow of foreign money into American stocks and bonds has fallen sharply."

Rohatyn argues Europe is vital to help "stabilize a dangerously fragile global financial system." He notes European holdings in U.S. equities still top $800 billion and long-term debt securities, including U.S. Treasury bonds, are more than $1 trillion. But there is no guarantee that will continue indefinitely.

Bush must convince Europe, Rohatyn urges, that the administration has a "commitment to a strong and stable dollar and budgetary polices that are consistent with that commitment." Instead of that mature approach to Europe, we still hear the shrill voices from the right-wing media and Bush's base -- the evangelistas -- denouncing Europe as a continent of decline and decadence. First Lady Laura Bush recently reinforced that juvenile nonsense when she sacked Walter Scheib III, the White House's French-trained chef.

He had worked at the White House for 11 years. Scheib said he got fired because he failed to meet "the first lady's stylistic requirements." There are reports that Scheib chaffed at White House orders to create an inaugural menu that honored brand names representing food companies of top Bush campaign donors. The chef had to whip up entrees using choice ingredients that included Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Coca-Cola and Pilgrims Pride butter-basted turkeys. Yummy! At least the Busheviks are consistent. Integrity means nothing, from the kitchen to the cabinet.

George W.'s political, cultural and social aversion to Europe and things European is abundantly clear. The White House is never straight on this but, as far as we can tell, he didn't make his first visit to Europe until he was president and he had to.

Here's a guy with plenty of inherited wealth. His daddy's buddies gave him a share in a baseball team, which provided him with a ton of cash. But he never thought of venturing to Europe to broaden his world view. Never. Incurious George prefers Texas.

He's not comfortable in places where the people, languages and food are "fur'n" and his bed is unfamiliar. He has to look at people with universal health coverage, who believe the death penalty is barbaric and his war in Iraq is monstrously evil.

The European media is critical of his policies. When challenged at a news conference, Bush can't turn to some planted pseudo-reporter like Jeff Gannon/James Guckert for a softball question.

Perhaps most disturbing for Bush is that foreign trips throw him off his routine and unmask his thinly veiled impatience and irritability.

Americans need reminding that our leader is a classic "dry drunk," whose untreated addiction leaves him seriously flawed, even dangerous.

He shows growing signs of megalomania. His pomposity is apparent. He is consumed with single-minded obsessions, and his rigidity and aversion to introspection are legendary.

Dr. Justin Frank, a Washington, D.C.-based psychiatrist, understands the president's disability and describes it in detail in his book, "Bush on the Couch."

Bouncing from Belgium to Germany will upset George W.'s emotional equilibrium.

As Dr. Frank observed, "The rigidity of Bush's behavior is perhaps most readily apparent in his well-documented reliance on his daily routine -- the famously short meetings, sacrosanct exercise schedule, daily Bible readings and limited office hours. A healthy person's able to alter his routine; a rigid one cannot."

Our rigid ruler will painfully endure his week in Europe.

We can only hope relationships with our dear, old friends will improve, in spite of his visit.

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Feb. 22 2005