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Jewish World Review July 18, 2002 / 9 Menachem-Av, 5762

Michael Barone

Michael Barone
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Europe follows Bush |
'America the Arrogant," reads the headline over an opinion article in the July 7 Washington Post. "Why Don't We Listen Anymore?" It is only one of many articles in the mainstream press decrying "a new American unilateralism." The implication is that America in general and George W. Bush in particular are out of line with sophisticated European and world opinion. Unless we switch and embrace the policies supported by our critics-and by those who write these pieces-we are going to be set back in our war against terrorism.

Interviews and talks with government leaders and political insiders in London and Berlinleave a different impression. The leaders of major European governments would not have chosen on their own to require democratic reform among Palestinians before pressuring Israel to make concessions or to insist on regime change in Iraq-policies set forth by Bush and supported by large majorities of American voters. But they are going along with the first and will go along with the second- although both are opposed vociferously by articulate elites and not supported by popular majorities in their countries. America is leading and European governments, although grumbling that they have not been consulted on what will come after a war in Iraq, are following.

That is most obviously true in Britain, where fate-the decision by Gordon Brown over dinner in a trendy North London restaurant in May 1994 to cede the Labor Party leadership to Tony Blair-produced for this generation a prime minister as viscerally pro-American as Winston Churchill or Margaret Thatcher. Blair has his cavils with American policy. He tried to establish a little distance from Bush, but only a little, over whether we should deal with Yasser Arafat. He probably believes, like the Near Eastern Bureau of the State Department, that it would be better to delay military action against Iraq until a peace settlement is reached between Israel and the Palestinians-a policy rejected by Bush in his June 24 speech. He would like it made clear to the world (and to the Labor Party back benches) that weapons inspections in Iraq cannot guarantee elimination of its weapons of mass destruction-something that's pretty easy to demonstrate.

Standing by, notwithstanding. But Blair, it can be said with assurance, believes that Bush will order military action in Iraq well before 2004. And, say British sources closely acquainted with his thinking, "We will be with you." Or, as one of his Conservative opponents puts it, "If the crunch comes, he'll be there." Notwithstanding his differences on policy toward Israel, notwithstanding his dismay at how Bush rejected the Kyoto treaty, notwithstanding his unhappiness with Bush's rejection of the International Criminal Court, notwithstanding the hostility of Labor newspapers and the opposition of several dozen Labor MPs. Britain, as after September 11, will be on our side.

That is true as well of major countries on the Continent. Italy's Defense Minister Antonio Martino, as reported here three months ago, is confident that his government can muster its majority in favor of military action in Iraq. Germany's Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping, interviewed July 4, says that his government would very likely do so too, a view that is echoed by the foreign affairs spokesman for the Christian Democratic opposition, which has been leading in polls and may take office after the September 22 elections. These European leaders are careful to say that the United States must make a convincing case that it has exhausted nonmilitary alternatives. But they argue only perfunctorily if at all that inspections can limit Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps reluctantly, they accept what their chattering classes are busy denouncing.

Over the past six months, Bush has reshaped American foreign policy as no American president has since Harry S. Truman in the first six months of 1947. Bush directed the war against terrorism to the "axis of evil" in his State of the Union address on January 29, he signed a nuclear arms pact with Russia in May and abrogated the ABM Treaty in June, he asserted America's right to take "pre-emptive action" at West Point on June 1, and he insisted on Palestinian reform on June 24. In each case, he has gone against "world opinion." Yet the leaders of major European governments, who would never have recommended such policies themselves, have gone along with the United States. Bush has given the world what Truman did: leadership. Let us hope the results are as good for Americans and the world this time as they were the last.

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Michael Barone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2002, Michael Barone