WASHINGTON - Criticized for his go-it-alone approach in Iraq, President Bush is trying to build a new consensus among allies wary of a U.S. leader whose policies are widely unpopular in Europe.
The next five days are all about summitry - the U.S.-European Union summit this weekend in Ireland and the NATO summit in Turkey next week. Allied leaders are expressing a new willingness to help in Iraq, although not at the levels once anticipated.
Still, they risk their own political capital back home if they appear too cozy with Bush.
"America has never been at a lower point in the minds of citizens around the world," says Thomas Mann, a political analyst at Brookings Institution, a liberal-leaning think tank. "Our relations with other countries, including natural allies, have seldom been as strained. To be associated with President Bush and current American policy is a political liability around the world right now."
Bush leaves Friday for Ireland, where about 4,000 police and 2,000 soldiers - more than a third of security forces in the Irish Republic - have deployed around Dromoland Castle, a luxury hotel in the west of Ireland that is hosting Saturday's summit.
Left-wing activists planned protests in Dublin on Friday night and the summit venue Saturday. The protesters want Ireland to stop allowing U.S. military planes to land at Shannon airport, a strategic refueling point en route to Iraq. Protests are expected in several European cities this weekend.
Topics at both summits will range from Afghanistan to counterterrorism, from trade to curbing the spread of nuclear weapons. But Iraq will be at the forefront.
Bush, who is seeking allies' help in Iraq, will be holding out one hand and carrying what he believes is a persuasive argument in his pocket - one that asks NATO members to look in their own history books.
"This is about the spread of freedom and liberty," Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said Thursday in explaining the message Bush will carry to Europe. "That's what NATO has stood up for from the very beginning. ... Many of the members of NATO would not be free and at liberty themselves had it not been for the sacrifices of others, including sacrifices of the United States."
In an interview Thursday with Ireland's RTE television, Bush defended his decision to invade Iraq and insisted most of Europe backed the move. He also disputed the interviewer's assertion that most Irish people thought the world was more dangerous today than before the Iraq invasion.
"What was it like Sept. 11th, 2001?" he retorted. "I wouldn't have made the decisions I did if I didn't believe the world would be better. Why would I put people in harm's way if I didn't believe the world would be better?" he asked.
"History will judge what I'm about," the president said. "But I'm the kind of person - I don't really try to chase popularity polls."
The White House emphasizes that 16 NATO nations already have forces in Iraq, and some members of the alliance say they're willing to help train Iraqi security forces. Major NATO powers such as Germany and France have emphatically declined to send troops.
Raising their profiles in Iraq presents risks for U.S. allies, says Kurt Campbell, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense at the Pentagon and foreign policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"If you are going to enter this fray, then you are going to make yourself a target for the kinds of fundamentalism and attacks that the United States and other coalition members have experienced," he said.
The beheading of a South Korean hostage is just the latest example. Insurgents decapitated the hostage in hopes of derailing South Korea's plan to deploy more troops to Iraq. President Roh Moo-hyun stood steadfast in his decision to send 3,000 additional troops to Iraq.
The March 11 train bombings in Madrid that killed 190 people took place just days before voters ousted Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who had stood alongside Bush in supporting the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's strongest ally in the war, is fighting for his political life too. Earlier this month Blair's Labor Party suffered a stunning defeat in local elections across the nation.
Madeleine Albright, who was former President Clinton's secretary of state, says Bush would attract more international support if he simply acknowledged that his administration has taken some wrong turns in Iraq.
"It would not hurt if President Bush admitted that there have been mistakes," Albright said. "That is different from apologizing. One way to help persuade allies that they need to help is to say `OK, we made some mistakes here. We now need your help.' I don't think that's beyond the capability of a great nation to do."