BUDAPEST, Hungary, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Thursday in Europe there was a dramatic development in the transatlantic relations --- greatly helping President Bush on Iraq and potentially transforming the Atlantic alliance into a stable dominant world power under American leadership.
But, first, the story so far.
Every six months or so France or Germany -- or in the latest case, both -- announce some policy hostile to the United States either explicitly or implicitly -- or in the latest case, both -- and this elicits a vast torrent of indignant abuse from Americans. Donald Rumsfeld dismisses it as the vaporings of "Old Europe;" op-ed pages denounce "the Europeans" as anti-Semites, oil-hungry appeasers, and elderly socialists; the Blogosphere seconds these attacks, adding they are also "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" or some such; and White House leaks suggest the president has finally had it up to keister with these unreliable allies.
After which --- nothing happens.
In particular, the U.S. State Department continues its 50-year-old policy of encouraging all European nations, large and small, to integrate economically and politically into a European Union structure that is dominated by France and Germany and inspired by an anti-American vision of creating a rival European superpower to check U.S. hegemony. Still more multilaterally, in order to soothe European feelings hurt by the White House leaks, the president is persuaded to give a strong endorsement of European "integration" on his next speech in Paris, Berlin, Rome or London.
After which France or Germany --- or both --- repeats the offense. And the process begins again.
Last week saw an especially dramatic round of this harlequinade. France and Germany made three joint announcements in quick succession. First, they called for the EU to have two presidents in a plan that looked likely to benefit the larger EU members over the smaller. Second, they announced a plan for joint Franco-German citizenship with hints that a full Franco-German federal union might follow. And, third, they jointly declared that they were opposed to any U.S. military liberation of Iraq except under highly unlikely conditions (the French) or under any conditions at all (the Germans).
Taken together these moves look like a power grab. A permanent Franco-German bloc --- with a total population more than 140 million people -- is telling the rest of Europe that it intends to dominate the EU indefinitely. And it wants to make this a fait accompli now.
This new Leviathan is in a hurry because its actual voting power in an enlarged EU will be quite modest -- only 58 votes out of a total of 321 in the most powerful collective EU institution, namely the Council of Ministers. If it is to establish its legitimacy as the central "motor" of European integration, it needs to generate momentum by winning over a significant number of smaller EU members to its essentially anti-American vision of "Europe." It has chosen to do so by exploiting the popular surge of anti-American feeling across the continent over Iraq. And its first step has been pre-empt the so-called Common European Foreign Policy by openly opposing U.S. intervention in advance of any collective discussions on a common line and despite the fact that other major European nations support U.S. policy. If these tactics succeed, as they well might, then the EU will be headed towards becoming a rival superpower with an anti-American agenda.
For the first time in EU politics, however, the Franco-German steamroller has been seriously challenged and perhaps halted. Thursday morning eight European leaders -- the heads of government of Britain, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Poland, Hungary, Portugal and the Czech Republic -- issued a statement of support for the United States over Iraq and, more broadly, for the role of America as the leading power in the Atlantic alliance. The next few months are likely to see a long-drawn-out battle between these two alliances for control of the expanding EU. And the victory of the Franco-Germany entity cannot be ruled out -- if only because it will have the support of the Brussels bureaucracy, the European social democratic Left, and those nations such as Sweden that want the EU to be a "counterweight" to American power in world politics.
How might the United States defend its interests in these circumstances? Current policy is no longer a sensible option; some new direction is needed. For State Department inertia -- i.e. European "integration" by default -- would foster the rise of a power hostile to American values and purposes.
The temptation for diplomats will be to place modest obstacles in the way of this development. Washington might, for instance, encourage pro-American EU members, including new members such as Poland, to block the implementation of those forms of integration, such as a common foreign policy or the European rapid reaction force, that are damaging to U.S. interests and to alliance cohesion. France, Germany and the Brussels bureaucracy fear just such a change in U.S. policy -- which is why they regularly petition the White House to endorse integration on his trips to Europe.
But the "central powers" in the EU could probably frustrate any such moves. After all, they are able to offer new members in Eastern Europe powerful incentives for cooperation, such as subsidies and market access, which Washington cannot match as long as it backs the EU status quo. To be sure, the check -- in the form of a higher regulatory burden and loss of economic sovereignty -- would be high. But it would not be presented until much later. And by then Washington would have lost a series of battles -- and might be facing an EU gradually coalescing around the Franco-German bloc and an anti-American agenda.
If this is to be permanently avoided, there must be changes in the structure of a uniting Europe as well as in the opinions of temporary political leaders.
So something very dramatic is required --- something that drowns the EU in an ocean of Atlanticism. Try this thought-experiment. Suppose, for instance, that at their meeting Friday Bush were to seek to persuade British Prime Minister Tony Blair to lead the Atlanticist cause in Europe rather than the European cause in Britain -- not just on Iraq but on the whole transatlantic relationship. He might then take Blair away from their advisers for a quiet walk around the garden and say something on the following lines:
"Look, Tony, I cannot thank you enough for the support you have given America on liberating Iraq. Everyone here knows it has cost you scarce political capital, and until last week I was intending to reward you with strong support against the French, the Germans and the British Tories in your battle to put Britain 'at the heart of Europe.'
"But this Iraq crisis -- and all new alignments are hammered out on the anvil of crisis -- forces us both to choose. We in the U.S. will no longer give mindless support to anything called 'European integration.' So, we will no longer support a common foreign policy that is likely to be a Franco-German device for forcing our European friends to oppose us -- or at least not to help us. But we will back free trade and free movement of capital in Europe -- and across the Atlantic.
"I will therefore be announcing a major U.S. drive for a Transatlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA) after Baghdad is liberated. It will include NAFTA, the EU, any European country that wants to join, and of course Turkey. And it will create a Euro-American free trade community to match the Euro-American defense community of NATO.
"Let's be candid, it is America that has kept the peace in Europe through NATO for 50 years -- not the EU. So I will also ask our European friends to make NATO the sole European defense organization and not to continue with their divisive EU army -- at least until they have met all their obligations to NATO which on current expenditures will be many years hence.
"The French and Germans may not like that. So I will gradually start moving American bases out of Germany and into Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and other new friends. We think they are more reliable when the chips are down.
Now, Tony, we here think that Britain could play a pivotal role in this new Atlanticism --- if you make the right choices today. The first choice is to back our plans for TAFTA and NATO -- and to lead those EU members that don't want to be governed by Paris, Berlin and Brussels into pushing them through. You made a great start yesterday.
"Your second choice, Tony, should be to exploit the discussions on the proposed new European constitution as an opportunity to redesign Europe. We should both want an 'a la carte Europe' so that France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and others can forge a new federal superstate if they wish -- but Britain, Italy, Spain, and the other five nations can retain free trade while getting rid of the excessive regulation, the costly agricultural cartel, and all the rest of that Old Labor socialist baggage.
"With TAFTA and an a la carte Europe, Britain would then be at the heart of an Atlantic civilization, politically stable but economically vibrant, guaranteed by and supporting U.S. power, in which the Franco-German bloc with its old-fashioned regulatory interventionism and structurally high unemployment would constitute the 'slow lane.'
"One more thing, Tony. We don't forget our friends. If you choose Atlanticism and then lose the fight in the EU, there will be a safety net for you and Britain in the form of membership of NAFTA and free trade with the U.S. -- and also for the other European nations that reject the EU's neo-socialism. What do you say, pardner?"
Or words to that effect. I may not have caught the president's tone of voice precisely in the above paragraphs. Even in the president's Texan tones, however, would it sway the prime minister?
We can imagine Blair being both tempted by -- and fearful of -- such an ambitious reversal of policy. And, to be sure, it might not work -- the Franco-German entity has a strong hand. But it would surely be more hopeful than our present approach of helping our rivals to build an anti-American fortress and then complaining that they keep firing arrows at us from its battlements. And after the last week Colin Powell may favor it too.