WASHINGTON, April 4 (UPI) -- They once imagined that they had constructed a stronghold from which to defy America. Now that illusion is gone, blasted away along with Saddam's bunker by some well-placed JDAMs. Their dreams of dominion and defiance shattered by the Anglo-American war effort, they now struggle to retrieve as much as possible of their old vision, and wonder how to rebuild among the ruins.
Not the Iraqis. The Europeanists.
Since the end of the Cold War, we have been regaled with the Europeanist narrative ad nauseam. Soon, went this story, the new united Europe would quickly surpass America through the larger size of its single market, the wise planning of its industrial policy planning and the beneficent virtues of socially aware Rhenish capitalism.
The European single currency would create an equal counterforce to the dollar, making Frankfurt the new European financial capital. A common European foreign and security policy, backed by a unified European army and an integrated European defense industry, would give Europe the military-political throw-weight to match its rising economic clout.
Many of these hopes had always been problematic. Other items on the Europeanist wish-list had started to unravel before Sept. 11, 2001, if you took a close look. But it has taken the events of the period between Sept. 11 and today to pull the curtain away from the European Union, where instead of the Great and Wondrous Wizard of Brussels, there was only Romano Prodi furiously working the wheels and levers.
More than anything else, it was the centrality of the Anglo-American partnership to world events that has given the lie to Europeanism. Even with the Euro-enthusiast Tony Blair at the helm, Europe could not achieve sufficient consensus on the Iraq war to create, much less act upon a common European foreign policy. What Blair discovered was that the common language of internationalism he thought he had shared with the Continentals was in fact divided into two very distinct dialects.
That which he spoke came from the Anglosphere tradition of Wilsonian/Gladstonian politics, of robust democracy reaching beyond national borders to ultimately knit together a globe-spanning civil society. That which the Continentals spoke came from a much different tradition, harking back to Napoleon, the Caesars, and ultimately to Plato's vision of utopian dictatorship, of the state remaking man in its perfect image.
Ultimately, the Continental vision is of philosopher-kings remaking the man and the world, with democracy visible only in the occasional plebiscite designed to allow the masses to validate the vision of their guardians. (If they fail to deliver the right vote, they are merely made to vote over again until they get it right, like schoolchildren who have scribbled on their exam papers.)
Thus Blair discovered that calculations of power were more important to Chirac and Schoeder than any of their stated principles. Although Bush spoke from a different Anglosphere political tradition, that of Jacksonianism, Blair discovered that Colin Powell's pragmatic Wilsonianism give them a common lexicon, and that America had long ago learned how to make its Jacksonians, Wilsonians, Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians work together as a team in times of genuine urgency.
Blair was able to fit into that team quite effectively, and Blair's language, coming from the heart of one of Britain's central political traditions, was able to communicate effectively with the majority of the nation. Just as American Jacksonians and Wilsonians can work together when the chips are down, so Gladstonians of Blair's stripe and the Churchillian mainstream of the Conservative Party were able to set aside the bruising domestic combat of the past decades and unite in the fight against Saddam, leaving only marginalized leftists and a few paternalist Tories still bearing the grudge of Suez as ineffective opposition.
So now the question for Americans, British, and Continental European alike is, where to go next with Europe. There seem to be three possibilities.
One is to ignore everything that happened and pick up where things left off. This course would turn Iraq over to the United Nations, sabotage the critical de-Baathization of that country and continue creating a centralized European superstate that would prevent Britain from ever again siding effectively with the United States without Franco-German permission.
This would see Britain ceding its Security Council seat to Brussels, placing its foreign policy and military forces under joint European control and exposing its economy to a full-blown case of the European disease. This is obviously entirely contrary to the interests of the American and British people alike, and against the long-term interest even of the Europeans themselves.
The second course is to admit that the European Union is badly flawed, and in great need of reform, but to react by encouraging Britain to immerse itself even more strongly into European unification, in the vain hopes of it leading a coalition of "New Europe" against the "Old." This is undoubtedly the course that Blair is urging on Bush every time they meet. But it is illusory and, if implemented, disastrous. The European Union is inherently flawed. Its structures create a titled playing field upon which Britain, and all those who would ally with her in hopes of reform, will always, in the end, lose.
The third course is to admit that the European Union is flawed and badly in need of not just reform but wholesale replacement. The ideal of free trade and cooperation among European nations, and between them and the world, is true and desirable. But the European Union, as it stands, is not the means of achieving it. And the best remedy for its ills is competition.
The United States, its friends in Britain and Ireland, and those on the Continent who share their critique of the Europeanist disease must adopt a vigorous and aggressive policy of offering a viable alternative to the take-it-or-leave it policies Brussels hold out to old and new members alike. The United States must take the lead in offering free trade to every democratic European nation, whether it is in the EU or not.
Such a move would create a free trade structure that would allow every European nation inside or out of the EU the realistic choice of joining or not joining, staying or leaving. This trade structure, a Transatlantic Free Trade Area ("TAFTA"), would be destination of choice. Its availability would deprive Brussels of its ability to make members accept its whole agenda of centralized control in exchange for access to Western European markets.
The United States has now taken the first step in this direction. The Senate has approved overwhelmingly, by a two-to-one vote, a resolution offering Britain a full free trade agreement with America. Blair, still lured by the illusion of reform from within, will likely fail to act upon this opportunity. The United States must push ahead with a TAFTA initiative, making it clear to Eastern European nations that they would be welcome in it if they chose not to join the EU.
Sooner or later, Blair or one of his successors will see that such a TAFTA is the most effective, and in reality the only tool to rebuild Europe in such a way that it can dig itself out of its economic, demographic, and structural problems, and become a cooperative partner for, rather than rival to the United States. We must build up this option and continue to hold it out. The act of extending this invitation will gradually create a reality of its own in Britain, Ireland, and other places, expected and unexpected, in Europe. Such a move will truly enable the positive reconstruction of European institutions.
(The views articulated in James Bennett's weekly Anglosphere column for United Press International are his own and not necessarily shared by UPI.)