Analysis: No early thaw

By RICHARD TOMKINS, UPI White House Correspondent  |  Dec. 29, 2004 at 5:21 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- The year 2005 will likely prove a disappointment for those looking for an early thaw in U.S.-European relations or wishing to see a chastened President George W. Bush go hat-in-hand to estranged allies in an effort to mend the tear that developed over the Iraq War and gain more European help in stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq.

The facts are the fissures between the United States and Europe appear more than temporal. They extend beyond Bush's controversial decision to invade Iraq. And Bush, despite his repeated mantra of shared values and nod to the principle of multilateralism, doesn't appear ready to put on a hair shirt to appease leaders of countries that grew and prospered under the U.S. Cold War military umbrella but now view the United States with alarm -- if not outright hostility.

"America always prefers to act with allies at our side," Bush said in Canada following his re-election. "Yet the success of multilateralism is measured not merely by following a process, but by achieving results. The objective of the U.N. and other institutions must be collective security, not endless debate."

His administration would continue to reach out to allies, but when the chips were down protecting the United States would be first and foremost in his decision making, he said.

"America First" is a natural sentiment for a U.S. president. But for a Europe no longer the central focus of international politics, dwarfed by U.S. power and influence and no longer facing a threat from a Soviet East, such American pronouncements and actions are a cause for angst -- with a capital "A."

For a country like France, which analysts believe wants to be the political lead in the 20-plus member European Union, it's also a sentiment that helps fuel its argument for an empowered EU to act as a counter to U.S. hegemony as the world's sole superpower. A survey by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, for example, recently showed 71 percent of European respondents wanted an EU superpower -- as long as it didn't mean spending money to gain a military force a superpower needs. Majorities in Spain (76 percent), France (73 percent), Germany (60 percent) and Italy (56 percent) saw strong U.S. leadership in the world as somewhat or very undesirable.

How those sentiments can be ameliorated in the months ahead is an open question. This is especially true since more than politics is at play. Europeans and people in the United States may indeed share values such as freedom, democracy and individual liberty and may even recognize issues and circumstances as threats, but beyond generalizations there are gaps in perceptions over what actions are acceptable and under what circumstances.

Take the use of force. According to the survey, 82 percent of people in the United States said they believe that under some circumstances war is necessary to obtain justice. Sixty-nine percent of British respondents agreed and 53 percent of the Dutch. Less than half those from other Western European countries, however, felt the same. Splits were also present on using force to remove a regime that abuses human rights. Forty-four percent of Europeans overall agreed it was justified to use force without U.N. approval when vital interests were involved compared to 59 percent of Americans.

"There is a major divide between the two continents on international organizations," said Nile Gardiner, an expert on European politics with the conservative Heritage Foundation. "In the United States there is increasing hostility to the idea that international legitimacy rests in the hands of international institutions. Whereas in continental Europe in particular, the conventional wisdom remains that only the U.N. can confer legitimacy upon the use of force."

Marcel van Herpen, head of the Cicero Foundation, a pro-EU think tank, said U.S.-European gaps spread over six broad categories. One of the most striking is the gap in perception over the war on terror.

"Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States is at war," he said. "This fact is evident for all Americans ... the war on terrorism is a real war" not like earlier metaphorical wars such as the war on drugs and the war on poverty, he said in a paper on the growing transatlantic divide.

Van Herpen continued: "For Europeans it is not. After the successful campaign in Afghanistan a general feeling in Europe emerged that enhanced vigilance and international police cooperation would be enough to contain a terrorist threat."

Part of the perception gap on the terror war comes from Europe's experiences with combating homegrown leftist terrorists in the '60s, '70s and '80s.

"I think there is a strong culture within continental Europe of treating terrorism as a law and order problem, particularly in France and Germany, where this is the predominate thinking," said Gardiner. "And at the same time there is a widespread belief that Europe just seeks economic solutions to the terrorist problem, this belief that one has to address poverty in the Third World in order to reduce the threat of terrorism."

Added to the mix affecting U.S.-European relations is a cultural backlash. While Europeans may embrace many things American -- from movies to fast food -- it doesn't mean they do so happily.

"There is a cultural backlash in parts of Europe against a perceived American dominance," Gardiner said. "It is not only a protest against American military and political power but a rejection of what is seen as American culture and what is seen as American values."

Van Herpen and Gardiner both pointed to divisions within Europe working to Bush's advantage. Many of the EU states have a troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, albeit token forces when compared to the United States, and many governments do not share Germany's militant pacifism or France's anti-U.S. sentiments. Government-to-government relations, where wrinkled, can be ironed out in the months ahead, but public opinion may take longer.

"I think most of the damage is with the populations of Western Europe, especially in France it is relatively deep, also in Germany. In the rest of Europe I think it is less. It is more or less anti-Bushism and not anti-Americanism," van Herpen said. "The best he can hope for is that the wave of anti-Bushism caused by the Iraq War will calm down and we will have some kind of normal cooperation. It won't become very warm, I think, but it will be less, not as bad as it was at the end of the Iraq War."

Added Gardiner, "I think a major problem for the Bush administration remains European public opposition, which is why a huge diplomatic offensive is absolutely necessary" in the new year.

Bush has been pilloried in Europe over the invasion of Iraq, which was seen as part and parcel of his administration's willingness to act without broad multilateral support. Bush's decision to end U.S. participation in the anti-ballistic-missile treaty with the defunct Soviet Union, his opposition to the Kyoto environmental accords and opposition to giving an international court jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel in cases of alleged atrocities had already sparked European ire. In the 2004 presidential contest polls showed Europeans favored Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts overwhelmingly. Bush's re-election garnered reactions of shock and horror and even disparagement of the mental competence of Americans.

In his speeches of late Bush has held out the hand of friendship. He acknowledges many in Europe do not support his decisions but also says he'll still present his arguments to them to ensure dialogue and understanding.

Bush may want more European support for actions in Iraq and cooperation in the war on terror, but not at the price of U.S. freedom of action.

"The hand of friendship will be extended across Europe, but there will be no dilution of key principles that guide American foreign policy," Gardiner said. "Bush has been given such a huge mandate by the American public that most European leaders recognize he is a force they have to do business with, like it or not. And I think you will see Bush making a few gestures to win over friends in Europe, but at the same time he will not be in a mood to compromise."

Charles Grant, director of the London-based Center for European Reform, believes greater U.S. engagement with Europe in the policy decision-making process would help heal wounds with allies, starting with a summit meeting over Middle East peace to achieve a unified approach. Grant also believes the U.S. should support greater European integration as exemplified by the EU, something Gardiner rejected.

"The future of U.S. policy towards Europe lies in terms of dealing with coalitions of the willing," he said. "And I think that a united Europe, with one common foreign and security policy, would be a nightmare scenario for Washington. It would give a veto, for example, over British foreign policy to minor countries like Belgium."

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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