A notable characteristic of George W. Bush’s second term diplomacy has been his focus on small, pro-US nations in strategic regions. First was his trip to Georgia in May 2005, reported here and here. Then was his trip to Mongolia in November 2005, reported here and here. Now is his trip to Albania. Although these nations may not be major players on the world stage, have big economies, or boast strong military forces, but they see US support as vital to their national interests, and the US can potentially cooperate with these powers to check larger nations with tougher regional ambitions.
President George W. Bush got a warm welcome when he arrived in Tirana, Albania, on Sunday. In fact, it was more than warm, it was red hot.
“Among us, this is the greatest and most distinguished guest we have ever had in all times,” said the Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha.
Bush is the first American president to visit the Balkan nation. He received a 21-gun salute and was greeted by cheering locals waving American flags and banners reading “Proud to be Partners.” His face now appears on Albanian postage stamps and the nation is expecting a wave of babies named “George.”
The pro-America fervor in Albania dates back to World War I when President Woodrow Wilson staved off efforts to split Albania among its neighbors. For his part, Bush has enhanced the U.S. reputation with his efforts to help Kosovo, which has a huge Albanian population, gain independence. Russia opposes the move.
“At some point in time, sooner rather than later, you’ve got to say, ‘Enough is enough, Kosovo is independent,’” Bush said at a Sunday press conference.
The president’s reception in a majority-Muslim nation is just the kind of image the president wants the world to see.
Albania is a strong supporter of U.S. military actions since 9/11, and has 100 troops in Iraq. It has also offered to triple the number of troops in Afghanistan — which would total 140. Don’t overestimate what this support means, but don’t belittle it either.