WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 (UPI) -- Whatever happens in Iraq, be it war or compliance or messy compromise, there will be a day after. And while the Bush administration has been doing some important spade work on its responsibilities in Iraq in the aftermath of a war, nobody has yet given much thought to the aftermath of crisis with Europe.
Optimists in Washington and London and Brussels note that the Atlantic alliance has been through such crises before and got over them, and that however hopeless relations with Paris and Berlin may look now, diplomats earn their pay by overcoming such crises.
Such optimism has to confront two crucial facts. First, in the aftermath of Iraq, the other Middle East crisis will immediately jump to the top of the agenda. Israel will have a new coalition government. Yasser Arafat has already agreed to appoint a new prime minister. Israelis and Palestinians have to talk peace again.
But the United States and its European allies are almost as far apart on Israel as they have been over Iraq. Even worse, while the United States could count on stout British support over Iraq, on the issue of Israel Tony Blair and his government are not in agreement with the Bush administration.
Under the name of the 'Quartet,' the United States, Russia, EU and United Nations, are all supposedly working together on the next step of the Middle East peace process. The Bush administration will shrink from applying the kinds of pressure upon Israel and its settlements in 'Palestinian' territory that the other three members want. And given the emotional and political force that Israel generates in the United States, this could very soon rival the current row over Iraq. We had all better start seeking ways to ensure the row does not get out of hand.
The second ugly reality of the Iraqi aftermath is that the Europeans are at one another's throats. When he sneered at Germany and France as 'Old Europe' and hailed the pro-American 'New Europe' of Poland, Hungary, Czechs and Baltic states, U.S. Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld defined a real cleavage -- and put 'New Europe' in a very difficult position. They are loyal to America, but dread having to make a choice between the United States and their new partners and paymasters in the EU, dominated by Paris and Berlin.
Eastern Europeans complain of dark hints that their future budget support and favors in the EU will depend on their stance in the current Atlantic row between the Stars and Stripes on the one side, and the EU blue flag with its gold stars for each new members.
"These countries have to decide which starred banner they want to stitch their stars onto," Ulrich Stockmann, the EU representative of German's ruling Social Democrats, told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
French Ambassador to Bulgaria Jean Loup Kuhn-Delforge told an audience in Sofia last week that Bulgaria's support for the United States over Iraq "could pose problems" for its EU membership because public opinion in Western Europe might turn against the candidates. "Bulgaria has to consider carefully where its long-term interests lie," the ambassador said. "When people live in Europe they should express solidarity and think European-style."
Eastern Europeans spent too many years under Soviet domination to relish being told how to think. And no matter how bad transatlantic relations seem today, they will be a great deal worse in the aftermath of Iraq if this kind of thought control and loyalty test starts to take hold.
Think about the example of Britain. They are with the United States on Iraq but probably not with them over Israel. Forget about the merits of each case and focus on the principle. The British are free people who want to have it both ways, as loyal members of NATO, good Europeans and firm friends of America.
And why not? The reason that the Atlantic alliance prevailed in the Cold War is that NATO was a partnership of free and sovereign nations. When France asked U.S. troops to leave its soil in 1966, they did. When the Hungarians in 1956 and the Czechs and Slovaks in 1968 tried to leave the Warsaw Pact, the Red Army tanks rolled in. That was why the West deserved to win.
It is the same today. If the French and Germans cannot support war in Iraq, that is their free choice. And if Bulgarians and others want to back the United States, that is their right, just as the British are free to differ from Washington over Israel. If we cannot all agree on that bedrock principle as the Iraqi aftermath looms, then the Atlantic alliance may not be worth saving.