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The US and Europe: Bush turns away from the weaklings of Europe



"EXCELLENT" in the title is General Sullivan's assessment of an article in The (London) Times (19/02/02) entitled " Bush turns away from the weaklings of Europe". These extracts give its essence:

"Europeans and Americans are now living on different planets, a prominent Washington pundit with impeccable conservative credentials and clear lines into the Bush White House told me at a recent dinner party for a small group of Administration members and their confidants.

He had just returned from an international meeting of foreign policy experts in Munich, the Wehrkunde conference, impressed by the huge gap that now exists between the world view of Europe's policymakers and their American counterparts. The consensus in Washington -- both among the people who influence American policy and those who make it -- is that Europe is irrelevant to the world today. Because it will not spend what is necessary to matter as a military power, its views on issues that involve the use of such power are of no consequence to America. Even the most casual follower of foreign affairs rattled off the fact that the increase in America's defence spending is almost half again as large as the total budget of Europe's biggest defence spender, the UK. Complaints about "unilateralism" are dismissed as whingeing by those unwilling to belly up to the bar and buy a round of drinks, to put in polite terms the unprintable reaction of some of my guests.

The military weakness of Europe is only one factor that is causing the EU to be seen as irrelevant. Administration officials are convinced that Europe is completely inward-looking, obsessed with tweaking the various bureaucratic institutions that are known here as "Brussels". They contrast this with outward-looking America. While Europe fusses over Macedonia and the problems of French farmers, America is developing new, innovative long-run policies towards countries that really matter in the 21st century -- China, Russia, India.

It will come as small comfort to those Europeans interested in maintaining cordial relations with the United States that there is some sympathy for the European predicament. One of my colleagues summed it up by saying that he can understand Europe's frustration, it once having been a great centre of Western culture and power, now reduced to irrelevance. And he meant it in a kindly way.

The good news for Britain is that it is seen as an exception, a sort of non-European country. Tony Blair's instant and complete support for America after September 11 has won his country a special place in American hearts. No matter that the tangible help he can offer is of marginal consequence. Or Jack Straw's sneering remarks about the President's State of the Union speech, Republican politicians well know that Mr Blair is being accused of neglecting the home front in order to concentrate on foreign policy.

America's special relationship with Britain is often contrasted with its ambiguous relationship with France. The story making the rounds is a reminder of Lyndon Johnson's response to then-President Charles de Gaulle's demand that America remove its soldiers from French soil. At Johnson's instruction, his Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, inquired whether the demand applied to those buried in military cemeteries in France".

My comment: I am not happy at the "those unwilling to belly up to the bar and buy a round of drinks" tone of this piece, yet there is much truth in it. The EU agricultural policy is absurd, and French dreams of glory, manifested in the military parades down the Champs Elysées, are as unrealistic as the Arc de Triomphe celebrating Napoleon's imperial victories. Yet Europe remains the center of the world's land masses, a basic geopolitical fact. Its awkward steps toward creating a European Union are a replay of the early years of the United States. Europe should become united, although its unity will not be like that of the US. Finally, the confidence trumpeted in the article smacks of hubris, like the German overconfidence before World War I.

Ronald Hilton - 2/21/02


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