Jewish World Review May 19, 2003 / 17 Iyar, 5763

Jim Hoagland

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Europe on its own | Saving Europe from itself became American habit and destiny in the 20th century. There should be no need for that worthy but costly reflex to continue on this side of the new millennium.

This is no call to isolationism or its latter-day cousin, military-driven unilateralism. The victory in Iraq does not free the United States of its need for allies. In fighting international terrorism, the United States can no more "pull down the blinds and sit in the parlor with a loaded shotgun" than it could in the Cold War, when Dean Acheson used that phrase to steel the nation against the temptation to leave Europe on its own.

But the United States can now let Europeans "save" Europe. The Bush administration should do nothing to deepen the self-inflicted divisions now roiling the Old Continent. And Washington has only a limited role to play in resolving these new divisions, which are political in nature and do not endanger global stability.

Think of it this way: Why should the Bush administration try to divide the Europeans when Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder are doing such a good job? A decision by Washington to take the high road will encourage an emerging new breed of small-country leaders in the European Union to challenge French-German hegemony over their affairs. Isn't that punishment enough?

A laissez-faire approach to Europe requires three steps from the Bush administration:

  • Stop the heavy-handed effort to "punish" France for the shortsighted, negative attitude its leaders showed toward the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. American retaliation so broad that it hits the French military would be particularly misguided. France's generals and admirals were more than willing to participate in the Iraq campaign. They are generally friendly to America's international goals. Wounding potential and actual U.S. allies in the French military and business establishments is poor strategy.

  • Ditch the romantic haze on Russia. Don't treat Russia as a special case or, worse, a vassal state that is too weak to be criticized and whose cooperation can be bought with pity. Vladimir Putin's regime was even more obstructive than the French. Treat it with the same sang-froid.

  • Leave Europe to George, Jaap, Anders and other Blairite Europeans for the time being. NATO Secretary General George Robertson, Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen joined Tony Blair and the leaders of Poland, Spain and Italy in resisting Chirac and Schroeder's efforts to stampede Europe against U.S. goals in Iraq and the greater Middle East.

The divisions over Iraq are paralleled -- and in some ways stimulated -- by arguments over a French-German power grab within the European Union this year. Just as Chirac (with justice) complains that Bush never consulted him on strategy regarding Iraq, leaders of Europe's small countries complain (with justice) that Chirac and Schroeder never consulted them on bilateral diktats spelling out vital policy changes to agricultural subsidies and EU institutions.

These intra-European divisions are affordable and in some ways healthy. On the cusp of a transforming expansion into Central Europe, the 15-member organization needs fresh leadership that is rooted in principle and the courage to withstand misguided public opinion, rather than pander to it.

The European debate on Iraq -- largely unnoticed in the American media -- shows that Britain's Blair is not alone in displaying a profile in courage. Poland shook off an open threat of retaliation from Chirac and quieter pressure from Schroeder. Scheffer kept a shaky Dutch coalition government from joining Belgium and Luxembourg in supporting the Paris-Berlin-Moscow rejection front.

The White House should resist the temptation to exploit or prolong these EU divisions. Let Chirac explain on his own to his citizens how the divisions and resentments he helped provoke in Europe will contribute to their long-term welfare. Let Schroeder deal with Germany's economic malaise without a visible American thumb in his eye.

In his postwar phone call to Bush last month, Chirac said France would be pragmatic about Iraq. He said he would not offer theological opposition to a NATO peacekeeping role in Iraq or Afghanistan. That helped reduce tensions, I am told. But the White House still holds Paris to a higher standard of remorse than it sets for Moscow or Berlin.

It is appropriate to make French support for a new U.N. resolution on Iraq a litmus test for putting relations back on track. That should be the case as well for Russia, also a Security Council member. Then, let time wound all heels. Let Europe be Europe.

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