WASHINGTON -- Eleven months ago when he arrived at his first Group of 8 meeting, President Bush was largely untested, struggling to make an impression among his American constituency and to overcome fears among fellow summit participants that he was a Texas cowboy prone to tough talk and impetuous action.
As he leaves Washington today for the Canadian Rockies and his second summit of the world's leading industrialized nations, Bush has poll numbers that the other leaders can only dream about. His leadership has survived a direct assault on the United States. And his response--sophisticated diplomacy and sustained military action that ended Taliban rule in Afghanistan--has strengthened his hand at home and is sure to do the same at the summit.
"The war on terrorism has given him enormous popular support. And his performance over the past 12 months in foreign policy, far from showing him as a Texas cowboy--the parody of him in Europe--has shown him as someone who can deal effectively with the Russians and a major security challenge," said Enzo Grilli, a former member of the board of directors of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Yet, for all the grins and public bonhomie the meeting in the mountains is likely to produce, Bush and his partners remain at odds on a wide range of policy issues, with the Middle East dogging their discussions.
The latest White House effort to calm the region has commanded the president's attention for much of this month, culminating Monday in his urging Palestinians to find new leadership as a step required for their own eventual state.
In private talks, Bush can be expected to argue the case for his proposal. It could prove a hard sell among Europeans, who traditionally have prodded the United States to adopt a more sympathetic stance toward the Palestinians.
The summit's public agenda, although perhaps less dramatic, focuses on other pressing concerns.
Trade issues, global economic matters and the extension of the war on terrorism may distance Bush from the other G-8 leaders meeting Wednesday and Thursday in Kananaskis, a mountain village in Alberta.
Focus on Terror War
Bush enters the meeting with one overriding need: to avoid any sort of disagreement about the war on terrorism. Everything else is secondary.
"It's extremely important for the president to come out of this meeting ... with a clear sense that this is a fight of all civilized countries against a very extreme movement that is not acceptable to anyone," said James B. Steinberg, deputy national security advisor during the Clinton administration.
To that end, Bush in the last week proposed new U.S. spending to fight AIDS in Africa and promote education there.
This demonstrated a recognition that Bush should make "a gesture to those important friends and allies" at the summit who believe that "dealing with the underlying problems of development" is an important element in the anti-terror fight, said Steinberg, now director of the Brookings Institution's foreign policy studies program.
Still, Bush's course at home could force him into a defensive position on other key topics.
Bush continues to push a free-trade agenda in public and private discussions, yet he is defending a decision to impose tariffs on imported steel. While opposing government subsidies for farmers around the world, he signed a farm bill that subsidizes large agribusinesses at home. He will exhort others to stimulate their economies while facing concerns that the U.S. economic recovery may be stumbling.
Additionally, the crescent of trouble stretching from the shores of the Mediterranean to Iraq brings an anxiety to the meeting because most U.S. allies are uneasy about prosecuting a war against Saddam Hussein before clear progress is seen in resolving the latest conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians.
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, the host, has structured the summit around three issues: fighting terrorism, strengthening the global economy and expanding aid for Africa.
Bush moved last week to inoculate the United States from possible criticism that it is not doing enough to help the developing countries of Africa.
He said he would seek to double, to $200 million over five years, spending for a program to improve basic education and teacher training in Africa. He also promised to seek an additional $300 million from Congress to help nations in Africa and the Caribbean protect infants from HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.
The G-8 meeting is the 28th in an annual series that began in 1975 when the leaders of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan met in Rambouillet, France.
Canada eventually joined the club, and the Group of 8 has become the moniker for the world's seven major industrialized nations plus Russia.
For this year's gathering, Chretien made a point of finding an out-of-the-way location to make securing the site against anti-globalization protesters easier.
At last year's summit in Genoa, Italy, the demonstrations outside grew violent, and one protester was killed when he was shot by a police officer.
Kananaskis, about an hour and a half from Calgary, can be reached by helicopter or by a single road. Access will be blocked to all but officials and their guests.
The Canadian prime minister also emphasized his desire to keep the proceedings informal--there will be no official communique issued at the end of the meetings--and small.