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Bush policy risks terminal strain in NATO
William Pfaff
Monday, July 21, 2003
Europe and the United States
PARIS The trans-Atlantic alliance is under what may be terminal strain. George Robertson says NATO will provide no further help to the United States in Iraq - meaning that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's principal European members refuse to let the alliance do so.

NATO might survive the present crisis, but only as a structure providing U.S. bases in ex-Communist Europe. The United States is going in one direction, and NATO's European Union members in another, a rival direction.

This is a reluctant choice by the Europeans, but their perception of Washington has in the last two years changed dramatically. The United States is now seen in Europe as a threat to Europe's independence. The American side does not understand this.

During the last few weeks, I have been at a half dozen European conferences bringing together political specialists and policy analysts, as well as past or present officials from both sides of the Atlantic, to talk about current affairs and the future.

The declared subjects differed: Italian-American relations, European security, global financial and economic issues, questions of world order. In every case, wherever it started, discussion quickly turned into a debate about how to cope with the Bush administration's new America, seen as a disturber of world peace and a risk to the security even of its allies.

At these meetings, U.S. foreign policy found very few West European defenders. One or two half-hearted Brits. No Dutch, Germans, Italians or Scandinavians. Even the British said that Europe now has to have its own policy and its own security resources (although with Tony Blair's speech in Washington, the British government now seems unqualifiedly committed to American leadership). All said this without enthusiasm. No one likes the situation.

The Europeans simply no longer agree with the United States. They don't agree about the terrorist threat. They don't think Osama bin Laden is a global menace. They don't take Washington's view of rogue states. They don't agree about pre-emptive war, clash of civilizations, the demonization of Islam, or Pentagon domination of U.S. foreign policy.

Such views are interpreted in the United States as "anti-Americanism." The truth, as a leading (conservative) figure from ex-Communist "New Europe" said at one of these meetings, is that the Bush administration has turned America's friends into anti-Americans.

He said that throughout his political life he had been an admirer and defender of the United States against left-wing European critics, but now he has become what he calls a "new anti-American."

He defined new anti-Americans as "former anti-anti-Americans, now forced to become anti-American themselves." He said that in his own country, the U.S. ambassador behaves in the way the Soviet Union's ambassador did before 1989. This simply is unacceptable.

Washington and the U.S. policy community seem to have completely misunderstood what has happened. They blame the French, Germans and Belgians, and think they have explained the problem. They like to tell Europeans that Europe doesn't understand that 9/11 "changed everything" for the United States. They fail to realize that 9/11's aftermath has changed everything for Western Europe.

Neo-conservative officials from Washington who spoke at the conferences I attended celebrated American power and victory in Iraq, and demanded apologies from the Europeans for having failed to support the United States. They still were saying that if you didn't agree, you are "irrelevant."

Analysts from the universities and policy centers were too often implicitly condescending to their audiences, saying that Europe needed to "grow up" and face the terrorism threat (seemingly indifferent to or ignorant of the history of IRA, German and Italian Red Brigades, Basque ETA, PLO, and Algerian terrorist operations in Europe).

They talked about Venus and Mars the Washington theory about passive, peace-obsessed Europeans, in need of realistic leadership from tough-minded Americans. The Europeans had heard it all before. This time they laughed, or walked out for a coffee.

However, they took the implications seriously. Every one of these discussions ended with the Europeans in a debate about what had to be done to put the so-called European common security and foreign policy on the road. Until now this has been a lackadaisical debate. Now, even the people from the most Atlanticist allied states, closest to the United States, shrug and say, "there's no choice."

Well meant appeals by American Atlanticists for U.S.-European reconciliation, such as the one issued a few weeks ago under the auspices of Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, are politely received, but are irrelevant. We are past that point. That statement advised Europeans on what they should do to recapture America's confidence, and "make the U.S. feel welcome in Europe." It's the other way around. It's the Americans that have lost the Europeans' confidence. Unless the United States can recapture it, the alliance is finished. Tribune Media Services International

Copyright 2003 The International Herald Tribune