Foreign Views: US fix for transatlantic crisis could make things worse
By Martin Walker
The pragmatic new agenda that the White House is devising to fix the transatlantic relationship could in fact perpetuate its crisis — and feed the conspiracy theories currently fashionable in Paris, Brussels and Berlin that the Anglo-Americans are out to destroy the whole European project
The chancelleries of Europe, to use an old term for the foreign policy elites, are all aflutter about triumphalist Americans retaliating against France and Germany for their unhelpful role over Iraq.
There is anguish that President George Bush might not shake the hand of his host, French President Jacques Chirac, at the G8 summit in Evian next month. Or that the victorious Americans and the British allies might “misinterpret” Chirac’s decision to invite the Chinese along to the G8 gathering.
Little misinterpretation is possible. It is clear what Chirac is up to. The French president wants strength in numbers, so he can hide behind the Germans, Russians and Chinese, the other critics of “American hegemony.”
Chirac need not worry. According to sources inside the National Security Council, Bush is not going to read the riot act, nor engage in petty acts of retribution. Nor is he going to anguish about the state of transatlantic relations and “the crisis of the alliance.”
“This is not a problem about Europe, but about France and Germany — who no longer speak for Europe. The answer lies less in tinkering with the psychological complexities of the relationship and more in dealing together with the world outside — where the real threats come from,” a senior NSC figure confided at a recent lunch. .
“As Britain’s Tony Blair puts it so eloquently, the threats are terrorism, rogue dictators and weapons of mass destruction — and the dangerous mix between them. There is also the problem of the underlying poverty and bad governance and bad policies that breed them. And there is an opportunity for all of us to address all of these problems in the Greater Middle East,” the source went on.
“The tools at our disposal are not just the coalition of the willing — which performed very effectively in Iraq — but NATO is also a tool, after its enlargement and invigoration at the Prague summit last November.” ”
He added, “The way to rebuild the transatlantic relationship lies less in analyzing the Euro-American psychoses and values systems and theoretical views of the world, and focusing instead on what we do together to meet the problems out there.”
“Get up off the couch,” chimed in another American official, this time from the State Department, who was nodding his head in perfect agreement. “This is about pragmatics. Action agendas. The real world.”
There has been much Euro-agonizing of late about NATO being broken and the United Nations being wrecked and European Union split down the middle and how difficult it will be to put all these Humpty-Dumpties back together again. So it is refreshing to hear the White House is taking a robust and practical view of it all, and even more cheery to hear that the State Department evidently agrees.
The problem is that we have been here before. Almost exactly a year ago, at the British country house of Ditchley where the Foreign Office holds informal and off-the-record weekend conferences, some serious Americans were talking frankly about the future of the US-European relationship. The Americans would not worry about the theology of integrated Europe and its common foreign and security policies, they said. Americans were too practical for that. They would simply see how the Europeans met the test of America’s coming war upon Iraq, and then make their own judgments about the health and utility of the Atlantic alliance.
We all know how that test turned out. The British passed it with honor and courage and 45,000 troops. The Italian, Danish and Spanish governments, and the Eastern Europeans, all stood by their American allies. And we know the response of France and Germany.
There is not much reason to think that France and Germany will do a great deal better in the next test that is coming in the Middle East. They remain devoted to some views that are anathema to the White House. They think that Yasser Arafat is an essential partner for peace. And they hold that the United Nations is somehow required to legitimize the British and American presence in Iraq, and to share out the spoils of Iraq’s oil and contracts irrespective of whose troops overthrew the Beast of Baghdad.
So the pragmatic new agenda that the White House is devising to fix the transatlantic relationship could in fact perpetuate its crisis — and feed the conspiracy theories currently fashionable in Paris, Brussels and Berlin that the Anglo-Americans are out to destroy their whole European project.
They have a point. When the White House and Pentagon talk of “coalitions of the willing,” that is seen by the Europeans as a mortal threat to their own dream of forging a Common Foreign and Security Policy. And so it is. The Bush administration no longer trusts the French and Germans, and looks askance at any European project run by them. No amount of pragmatic leaping off the couch and into action is going to change that. —UPI