Copyright © 2002 The International Herald Tribune |

‘Old Europe’ and Bush’s America
William Pfaff International
Monday, March 31, 2003
AMSTERDAM The current split between the United States and Old Europe is particularly painful for the Netherlands, not only a very ‘‘old’’ European nation, but a founding member of both NATO and the European Union.

The Netherlands government formally backs Washington’s intervention in Iraq, but the public disapproves of the war. This leaves people in this secular nation, of scrupulous Calvinist formation, asking if they are not behaving hypocritically.

They would like to have reassurance that a divided conscience will not continue to be essential to membership in trans-Atlantic alliance, which is very important to them.

As a university professor put it, ‘‘the government and the people both want to be told that George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld are not really in charge. They want to believe that, somewhere in Washington, serious but silent people are really in charge.’’ The Netherlands’ experience during the past 50 years was of American leaders and officials who sometimes were difficult to deal with, but who, ultimately, were responsible men and women with realistic views that commanded respect.

The idea that the people in charge in the United States are the neo-conservatives now promoting ‘‘benevolent’’ American global hegemony, and making war in order to make it come about, is an idea that makes the Dutch uneasy.

This is why Britain and Tony Blair are important to them. The British and the Dutch have in modern times been very close, and today the British prime minister is hopefully looked upon as the man capable of rebuilding damaged European-American links.

This expectation, however, rests on an assumption that the irreconcilable can be reconciled. Blair was in Washington last week talking with Bush about issues important to the West Europeans as a whole. He was clearly looking for compromises that Bush is not prepared to make. He told the president that after the war, Iraq must be submitted to a governing structure ‘‘specifically accepted and endorsed by the United Nations.’’

This amounts to a variant, less aggressively expressed, of the position taken by France, Germany and Russia. They insist that the United Nations, not the United States, must take charge of Iraq when all this is over, as representative of the international community as a whole.

However, as the British prime minister was on his way to Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell was telling the House of Representatives that the United States is not doing what it is doing in Iraq only to lose the dominant voice in what happens afterward.

The prime minister also wants action on the ‘‘road map’’ for the Palestine-Israel settlement that was agreed upon late last year by the so-called ‘‘Quartet’’ — the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

Just before the Iraq war, Blair persuaded Bush to announce that he would publish this detailed road map [which he has not yet done]. The promise was made to appease Blair’s domestic critics, and to respond to the drumbeat of international criticism of the Bush administration’s failure to try to solve the poisonous deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians.

Bush, however, has already suggested that when the road map eventually is published, the Israelis can propose modifications — which was not part of the original agreement.

In addition, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel some time ago said that the Quartet’s proposals are ‘‘dead.’’ As he has the means to kill them, this may be taken as conclusive.

The Quartet demands that Israel withdraw from its colonies in the occupied territories. Sharon refuses this on principle. Nothing in the record or the known inclinations of the Bush administration suggests that it would do anything to sanction such an Israeli refusal.

Blair nonetheless declared last week that the pre-Iraq war promise to take action on Israeli-Palestinian peace was not simply an affair of statements made in the context of military action in Iraq, then forgotten.

‘‘I can give my assurance that they will not be forgotten,’’ he said. ‘‘They will be taken forward and they will be done. This will be a central priority of British foreign policy.’’ In saying this, the British prime minister clearly expressed the wishes of the European Union as a whole. Unfortunately, so far as the Bush administration is concerned, it takes no special insight to say that Blair was wasting his time.

He is not dealing with the old America that people in the Netherlands remember with respect. He is dealing with a new America that has an ideological vision of the world that no one outside the United States accepts or supports.

Both Tony Blair, and America’s friends in the Netherlands, have yet really to come to terms with this, and with its longer-term implications for trans-Atlantic relations.

Copyright © 2002 The International Herald Tribune