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BUSH SHOWS HIS OLD TOUCH ON PARIS VISIT

SHARE BUSH SHOWS HIS OLD TOUCH ON PARIS VISIT

George Bush may have had his shortcomings as a domestic leader, but a little-noticed news item this week pointed up how much the former president's talent for diplomatic persuasion and coalition-building is sorely missed these days by a confused and troubled world.

Bush and his wife, Barbara, and several family members have been vacationing in Europe. On Monday, they visited Euro-Disneyland, the big theme park near Paris, something a lot of American tourists do.Not much in that - except for one thing. Bush somehow managed to cajole French President Francois Mitterrand into coming along.

The feat may not rank with the ex-president's achievement in persuading France and a score of other initially reluctant nations to join in the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War coalition. But as a reminder of his extraordinary persuasive talents with allied leaders - and, indeed, with most politicians, as long as they weren't Americans - during his presidency, it was pretty good going.

Mitterrand had never before visited the 2-year-old Euro-Disneyland, an enterprise concerning which the French have, shall we say, ambivalent feelings. The suspicion is that if Bush hadn't urged him, Mitterrand would never have set foot in the place.

A Frenchman who spotted the two figures engaged in relaxed conversation as they walked together through the sprawling park was quoted by a Paris newspaper as declaring his astonishment at Mitterrand's presence. "I couldn't believe my eyes," he said.

The French leader is a Socialist and thus, by definition, a man of the people. But unlike so many American politicians, he sees no need to go overboard in exhibiting his affinity with the French equivalent of Joe Six-Pack.

Before the excursion with the Bushes, the idea of visiting a theme park to mingle with the common people probably never occurred to him.

Mitterrand thinks of himself as an intellectual and something of an esthete who writes books with philosophic pretensions. Even his speeches are sprinkled with metaphysical allusions, some barely comprehensible. Euro-Disneyland really isn't his thing.

Besides, the U.S.-inspired attraction raises a lot of hackles here, especially on the left and among intellectuals. These critics view it as a further intrusion of American popular culture, which in their opinion is already too much in evidence in France. Such people are Mitterrand's natural constituency - another reason he may have stayed away until Bush's invitation.

The pair aren't chums. Even as president, Bush didn't count the Frenchman among those world leaders with whom he had warm personal relations. Mitterrand is notoriously prickly and always inclined to demonstrate his - and thus, France's - independence.

But throughout the Bush years, he usually found himself under the spell of the American president's art of gentle persuasion, agreeing - sometimes to his own surprise - to fall in step with a coordinated policy set in motion in Washington. It was true in the gulf against Iraq's Saddam Hussein; it was so in dealing with the complex situation created as communism started to unravel in Eastern Europe.

Now the French and other European allies look back with what a British commentator has called "nostalgic tears" to this recent past when U.S. foreign relations were built on close-knit alliances and regular consultation - a far cry, as they see it, from the stop-go, now-you-see-it-now-you-don't foreign policies of the Clinton administration.

So when Bush phoned the Elysee Palace and asked Mitterrand to join the party at Euro-Disneyland, how could he say no? It was like old times.