Can Barbecue Diplomacy Shape World History?

But not everyone believes the barbecue bonhomie between Bush and Putin before the onset of the Iraq diplomatic crisis serves no purpose today.

"It's interesting that this administration has not taken that hard a line on the Russians as the French," says Lyman. "There was disappointment, there was a lot of phone calling, but you didn't see that antagonistic tone you see coming out of this administration toward France and even Germany."

In the Diplomatic Doghouse

If an invitation to the Prairie Chapel Ranch is a badge of Bush's personal inclusion into a select circle, the denial of an invitation is meant to serve as an equally personal exclusion.

As Washington's anti-French rhetoric reached a particularly acrimonious pitch this year, Bush was characteristically blunt about the chances of French President Jacques Chirac making it to Crawford.

"I doubt he'll be coming to the ranch any time soon," said Bush in a television interview last month.

Chirac is not the only statesman being left out in the cold these days. As the U.S. president heaped lavish praise on Howard for his war support, Canada was placed in the doghouse of Washington's favors, with Bush canceling his trip this week to meet war opponent Prime Minister Jean Chretien in Ottawa.

"I think the style of this administration is more of a 'you're either with us or against us' approach," says Lyman. "This administration also has a general philosophy of courting the major powers that matter, the countries of international stature such as Russia and China."

While Chinese President Jiang Zemin was a distinguished guest at Crawford last October, Lyman notes that Mexican President Vicente Fox, a one-time frequent ranch visitor who shared an extraordinarily close relationship with Bush in the early days of his presidency, has been left out in the cold in recent months.

Access to Presidential Retreats

Presidential retreats have featured fairly frequently in recent U.S. history, although their access to visiting diplomats and the press has depended on the personal style of the incumbent president.

While President Reagan had the Rancho de Cielo in California — where Britain's Queen Elizabeth once visited — Paul Bedard, a veteran White House correspondent and columnist for U.S. News, says Reagan "valued his privacy much more" than several other U.S. presidents.

But while President Richard Nixon was known for pacing the beach near his San Clemente estate in his bathing suit, and President John Kennedy would retire with his family and New England circle to Hyannisport, Bush's opening up of the ranch, says Bedard, is in keeping with his personal style.

"This president, I think, is more of a showoff, he personally likes to be there, he needs people there, he feels it's a chance to get to know more than what can be got at a White House meeting — and it works," says Bedard. "It's like a frat party."

But there's a clear distinction between the way Bush uses Camp David and his ranch in Texas, says Bedard. While the president spends several working weekends at Camp David, and several visiting heads of state have also visited the resort in the course of their U.S. trips, his visits to the ranch are less frequent.

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