CBSNews.com Chief Political Writer
President Bush has worked well with friends and poorly with allies, it could be said. But this June, from the shores of Normandy to Sea Island, Georgia, Mr. Bush is making concessions in an effort to bring the old friends, of Old Europe, back to the side of U.S. foreign policy.
Publicly, it's working. The U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the handover of sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government on Tuesday, as world leaders met in Georgia at the G-8 summit of leading industrialized nations.
But in the corridors of the United Nations, people are skeptical, if not downright displeased, with current U.S. efforts to revive relations.
The ardently independent President Bush, possibly the most unilateral of modern presidents, has estranged much of the world. And while polling has shown world opinion of the United States at new lows, it only takes a day at the United Nations to understand why the discontent runs so deep.
Although they will not say it for attribution, those randomly interviewed want Americans to deny Mr. Bush four more years in office. They expect a rekindling of diplomacy, of statesmanship, if Sen. John Kerry becomes president. They have lost all trust in the Bush administration.
"This administration has totally disregarded many longstanding rules and approaches to international affairs and therefore the administration has given its back to its own allies, particularly in Europe," said one senior European U.N. envoy.
"Before 9/11 there was a feeling that this administration wasn't going the way we would like it to lead us. There was Kyoto, the International Criminal Court, the ABM treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty, all before, and then the war in Iraq," the official said.
"A potential Kerry administration I don't think is going to differ in substance that much from the Bush administration," he continued, speaking from the U.N cafeteria overlooking New York's East River. "A Kerry administration is going to differ in the approach."
In a dozen interviews, with diplomatic officials ranging from ambassadors to secretaries, most see Mr. Bush's efforts as too little, too late.
There is less an expectation of a dramatic shift in U.S. policy under a Kerry administration than a belief that there will be a shift in the way the U.S. works with other nations.
United Nations employees, as well as foreign diplomatic officers, are forbidden to comment on domestic U.S. politics. In order to speak candidly, those interviewed spoke only on the condition of anonymity.
"There is a distaste and a disbelief in what comes from Washington, and because of this White House, it is thought to be what comes out of this country. It is a belief that they practice consultation without intent to use it," said an ambassador from North African nation. "But because we had a president we could trust who was a Democrat and now we have a president who we can't, and he's a Republican, there is a tendency to trust Democrats."
Many of those interviewed came from the vantage point that "once you have lost trust, you cannot regain it," as one Central American, who was eating lunch with her mother, a diplomat, put it.
The cafeteria is just a floor below where Secretary of State Colin Powell presented the U.S. case for invading Iraq last year – a case predicated on the existence of weapons of mass destruction (still unfound) and assertions that Saddam Hussein was attempting to ascertain such weapons (that were based on sketchy intelligence at best).
Those working at the United Nations repeatedly said that trust itself has been the greatest casualty in the declining relations with the U.S.
"We expect a new administration, if elected, to show Americans are upset. In three years, this presidential administration has lost all its credibility, even with the American public," said am official who works in the U.N. Secretariat. "All of the pretext that they used to go into Iraq is public knowledge now that it was all lies.
"You can't have a foreign policy based on lies," he continued. "I don't know what Kerry will do and he has basically said that world leaders will appreciate that coming and I think that's true because what George Bush has done is destroyed diplomacy. He has established the rule of force, of military, instead of dealing diplomatically and peacefully."
But until Election Day, all those interviewed said the world community, and the Security Council specifically, will have to work with the United States because it is still the most influential country in the world body. Diplomacy, in other words, must continue whether or not ill will remains.
"Everybody is pragmatic in this business," the senior U.N. envoy said. "Everybody agrees this is a mess in Iraq and the only way out is to compromise. At least, it's a recognition that, hey, we were right."
By David Paul Kuhn