Jewish World Review March 30, 2004 / 8 Nissan, 5764
Friends, What Friends?
So goes our relationship with Europe.
This week Secretary of State Colin Powell flew to Madrid to meet with that country's incoming Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. But the nice photo op notwithstanding, the trip was largely a bust. Powell was unsuccessful in getting the Zapatero, who ran as an anti-war/anti-Bush candidate, to change his mind about pulling Spanish troops out of Iraq unless the UN takes over.
Meanwhile, President Bush told French president Jacques Chirac that he will travel to Normandy on June 6th to mark the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. This was heralded as a sign of "a thaw" in our frosty relations with France.
For his part, Sen. John Kerry who owned real estate in Italy's Lake Como until last year promises to rebuild the bridges to Europe that he charges were badly damaged by Pres. Bush's "arrogant, reckless foreign policy." The familiar Democrat refrain is that President Bushwith a "my-way-or-the-highway" approach to foreign policy squandered the goodwill that the world had bestowed on us post-September 11th. The cowboy didn't kowtow. One can't help but conclude in a Kerry White House, there would be a full-court press to impress "the world."
But can any individual or any party significantly improve our relations with Europe?
It is conventional wisdom in some circles that Europe and the U.S. were much closer during the Clinton Administration. But this week that notion was blown out of the water by the 9/11 Commission testimony of former Clinton Secretary of State Madeline Albright and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. When asked why the Clinton team hadn't launched an aggressive military campaign against Afghanistan after the 1998 African embassy bombings, both said that such a move wouldn't have been supported by the "international community." Apparently, neither had even bothered to make the case to our European pals that the Taliban and al Qaeda needed to be taken out. What does that say about the state of the American-European relationship?
Our problems with Europe result from the fact that Europeans strongly believe two things: (1) Israel is in the wrong in the Middle East, and (2) the United States has too much power. No president, Democrat or Republican, is going to give in on either of those points. Not even John Kerry.
The time has come for us to move beyond this whole concept of "allies." The term implies a friendship that simply does not exist anymore.
In the 30s, 40s, and 50s, America and much of Europe joined together to fight Nazism, fascism, and communism. We set ourselves apart from much of the rest of the world through our common beliefs in capitalism and free speech. The crusade to bring those values to the rest of the world has been very successful while the fears that drew us together are gone.
This is not something to get apoplectic about. After the Revolutionary War, there was real tension between the U.S. and Britain (the War of 1812). But over time we came back together as allies in a new struggle. Ditto for our relationship with France in the 19th century.
As much as I like this column's opening analogy, anytime we start pretending that countries are like friends or family we are bound to be disappointed. Countries aren't people. There is no "family of nations." There is no "global community." To think otherwise is na´ve. The world is a dangerous place where each country acts in its own interest. Poland joined the European Union not because they felt some close affinity with the French, but because they thought it was the best thing for the future of the Polish people. Tony Blair sent British forces to Iraq in part because he thought it was in Britain's long term interest both to maintain an alliance with the U.S. and beat back a destabilizing force in the Middle East.
If John Kerry thinks that attending European conferences and pushing Congress to ratify more international accords is going to endear him to the Europeans, he's sorely mistaken. He'd have better luck wearing French cuffs and buying a residence in Provence.
During a Kerry Administration, France, Germany, and Spain would probably be less overtly hostile to American interests than they are now. But that doesn't mean much else would change. A Kerry presidency won't compel Europe to invest more money or manpower in the war on terror in order to show its support for America. It won't mean Europe will cease subsidizing companies like Airbus to the detriment of its American competitors. It won't mean that Europe will back off ruling against American giants like Microsoft.
No amount of turbo-diplomacy can make countries do what is not in their self-interest. The time may come when Europe will take terrorism as seriously as we do. If that happens, we will be reunited with our European allies once again until the next time when what's good for America isn't good for Europe, or vice versa.
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