Endangered Friendships

Bush policies and practices drive a wedge between the U.S. and key allies in Europe

January 04, 2004|By Madeleine K. Albright

In the structure of a classical play, a problem is presented in Act 1. Complications arise in Act 2, and all is resolved in Act 3.

In Iraq this spring, while much of Europe was still enmeshed in Act 2, George W. Bush plunged directly into Act 3, without acknowledging the complications or fully considering the consequences of his actions.

The result was the most heated year in trans-Atlantic relations since the Suez crisis of 1956. The Iraq war ignited tinder already piled high by clashes over trade, arms control, the Middle East, global warming and the International Criminal Court.

By March, when the war in Iraq began, surveys indicated that only a minority of Europeans held a favorable view of America, while in the United States pollsters found unprecedented animosity toward dissident allies France and Germany.

In October I spent three weeks in Europe, hoping to find passions cooling and anti-American sentiments receding. Instead I was told, even by normally pro-American officials, that European hostility had only grown deeper as the months passed with no weapons of mass destruction being found in Iraq and without any sign of recognition by Bush that there had been any merit to Europe's prewar warnings.

My European friends were not shy in telling me that Americans appeared to them simultaneously besotted with power and unnerved by terror, increasingly overbearing, jingoistic and rash.

Europeans appreciated the trauma of the Sept. 11 attacks, I was told, but were baffled by the idea that an attack on Iraq should be the centerpiece of America's response. Saddam Hussein was a rotter, they conceded, but no imminent threat - and he was blameless for Sept. 11.

As to current events, despite the Bush team's attempts to show a happy face, the Iraqi rebuilding looks at best like, in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's words, "a long, hard slog."

Meanwhile the American president is unable to appear at public events, even in historically friendly Great Britain, for fear of being shouted down by protesters, and an October Gallup poll suggested that a majority of Europeans view the United States as a threat to peace.

The antagonism that has crept into Euro-Atlantic relations must be reversed because it has the potential to undermine the entire web of institutions and arrangements created after World War II, not only to contain communism but also to build prosperity, control nuclear arms, advance democratic values and distinguish right from wrong in world affairs. If the Bush administration isn't careful, it will allow Hussein to do what four decades of Soviet leaders could not do: drive a wedge between Europe and the United States.

One would hope, therefore, that the administration would devote itself to mending the trans-Atlantic bridge. Little would disarm the president's domestic critics more than the spectacle of America and Europe once again working together smoothly, combining their diverse talents to combat terror, democratize Iraq, stabilize Afghanistan, denuclearize Iran and promote the rule of law.

After America's recent show of its aggressive and unilateralist capacities, a tilt back toward institution-building and alliance-strengthening would be welcomed in Europe and would likely attract bipartisan support at home. It would also be eminently sensible, given the challenges of the moment.

Going the other way

Alas, with elections looming, the administration seems to be adopting the opposite approach. The first Republican television ads forcefully - and unfairly - accuse Democrats of "attacking the president for attacking terrorists" and of planning to "put our national security in the hands of others," presumably meaning the United Nations or even France. The Republican National Committee is urging voters to call their congressmen "to support the president's policy of pre-emptive self-defense."

Meanwhile, despite almost daily setbacks in Iraq, the Pentagon shows no sign of a serious effort to internationalize the occupation. Protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, the administration seems to have concluded that unilateralism in foreign policy is not a weakness but a strength, at least where electoral politics is concerned.

If this is in fact Bush's view, the 2004 election will constitute a virtual referendum on whether Americans have any desire to continue the trans-Atlantic partnership.

The Republican strategy could play well among those persuaded by the administration's implicit claims that the invasion of Iraq was essentially a retaliatory measure for Sept. 11 and that attacking Saddam Hussein was simply another way of attacking Osama bin Laden.

Although unsupported by the facts - Bush himself has acknowledged that there is no evidence linking Iraq to Sept. 11 - this argument casts the war not as a subject for pragmatic discussion but rather as a moral test. The Germans and French failed this test, those advocates say, essentially deserting under fire.

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