BERLIN, May 5 (UPI) -- The day after Baghdad fell, I was ordering coffee with a friend at Starbucks in Berlin. He is a freelance journalist and hails from Basra, Iraq. His wife still has family in Iraq. When we mentioned to the young woman on the other side of the counter that we were celebrating developments, she looked a tad horrified. Najem had already told me about the neighbor who had knocked on his door to offer condolences. He and his wife, Inaam, had said that yes, they were afraid for their relatives because of the fighting in Baghdad -- but they were elated that the American liberators had finally arrived. This provoked a lecture about an "illegal war of aggression."
Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus, says Robert Kagan. The Germans? They must be from Pluto.
It is easy to get a rise out of people in Germany. Just mention the 45-nation coalition that helped the United States and Britain in Iraq. "Yes, Micronesia and El Salvador!" comes the cynical, hooting reply. Or, bring up Tony Blair. There is only disdain for the British prime minister -- that "poodle" of the Americans -- and fury that other countries would support President George W. Bush. It is a source of great frustration that "real" countries joined the coalition -- nations like Japan, Australia, South Korea, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal.
"How could" -- Spanish Orime Minister Jose Maria -- "Aznar stab us in the back after all the subsidies we've provided over the years?" one Berliner wondered.
The old Atlantic alliance is crumbling. Germany's foreign policy is becoming more French, bent on rivalry and opposition to the United States. France is looking even more Gaullist. The European Union --that is to say, France and Germany or "Old Europe" -- was quick to pressure the United States about the United Nations' role in post-war Iraq.
But then there are those pro-American countries in "New Europe," which seek admission into the EU. Ten of them supported the U.S.-led war against Saddam Hussein.
Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, recently applauded renewed German and French efforts to build a European defense, adding: "I keep telling the applicant countries in Eastern Europe that in the long run they will not be able to seek prosperity from a united Europe and security from America." Does Prodi really mean that the East Europeans will eventually have to choose?
The French have chosen. For years, we had downplayed France's maneuvering against U.S. foreign-policy aims as "the French being French." Anytime the Americans were serious and our vital interests were at stake, the French might flirt with the enemy, but in the end they would always be solidly with us. Iraq was different.
It was ironic for France to demand more time for U.N. inspectors, since it abstained when the Security Council created UNMOVIC in December 1999. Paris was at that time joined by Russia, China and Malaysia. The major French oil companies Elf Aquitaine and Total had just signed lucrative contracts with Saddam's regime, and Baghdad was openly threatening to cancel the deals if Paris followed Washington's harder line.
France's frequent lament of American "unilateralism" and breach of international law is hypocritical in light of its behavior in Africa: Since 1960, France has intervened 37 times on that continent, always alone and without asking the U.N. for permission.
Paris had a valuable client in Saddam Hussein. France accounted for nearly 25 percent of Iraq's imports. But for France the Iraq debate was never just about Iraq. It was about two longstanding French ambitions: to tie down the United States and to lead Europe.
Poor Berlin! German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was so worried about being the junior partner of the United States that he ended up the junior partner of France. But old French Gaullism and Germany's new Euro-nationalism serve a common end: cutting America down to size.
Historian Arnulf Baring once wrote that the overwhelmingly positive view that Americans have of Germany stems from the fact that tens of thousands of servicemen and their families over the years have visited castles, enjoyed bratwurst, and cruised happily down the Rhine. If more had been able to read the editorial pages they might have had a different view.
To understand what makes today's Germany tick, one must keep two things in mind. First, Americans probably underestimated Germany's frustration at having to play a subordinate role during the Cold War. The rest of Western Europe was dependent on us, too, but the divided, emasculated Germans probably felt it -- and resented it -- more than most. Today, they are tired of playing second fiddle.
Alas, two facts keep getting in the way: American power and German weakness -- the first a near national obsession. The Christian Democrats' foreign-policy spokesman, Karl Lamers, rejected missile defense several years ago on the grounds that it would make the Americans "masters of the universe." A television poll before the Iraq war asked Germans whether they should "give in" to the Americans over Iraq -- a whopping 80 percent said no.
Like the French, many Germans seemed more interested in containing America than in containing Saddam Hussein. A recent editorial in the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel sums it up this way: "The superpower was supposed to be put in its place ... (but) morality and world opinion were useless. America can do whatever it wants."
Second, the old icons of German identity -- such as late chancellors Konrad Adenauer and Ludwig Erhard, who helped integrate Germany into the West, establish a successful market economy, and form close ties to the United States -- have been replaced by nationalists or national pacifists with ambivalent views on markets and America.
The new icons come from left and right and include such figures as Egon Bahr, the architect of Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik; the late Rudolf Augstein, longtime publisher of the popular weekly Der Spiegel; novelist and Nobel laureate Günter Grass; and former president and Christian Democrat Richard von Weizsaecker. Von Weizsaecker berated America recently for its "increasing unilateralism." After 9/11, Augstein demanded that "Germany rethink its relationship with the United States," since the Americans had begun to bomb a "starving country" like Afghanistan.
I recently attended a performance of the great composer Gustav Mahler in Berlin. Imagine, I thought to myself, that you were German. Thirteen years of Nazism ruined forever the reputation of the country that gave the world Bach and Beethoven, Goethe, Schiller and Schopenhauer. Imagine further that a young country -- whose contributions to civilization include McDonald's and Michael Jackson -- defeated the Nazis, rebuilt the country, protected the West Germans during the Cold War, and helped them to re-unite once the Wall was down. What is the saying? If you want to make someone your friend, let him do you a favor, and not the other way around.
Perhaps we can begin anew with the East Europeans. We helped liberate them. We have pushed for the EU to open its doors to them. We are admitting nearly all to NATO. The United States believes that the new Europeans will stick by America in the future, just as they supported us in the Iraq war. We are also convinced that their pro-American passions will transform the European Union.
The French and Germans, both now very allergic to the idea of American leadership in Europe, have another idea. They also believe time is on their side. The East Europeans are "definitely not" more pro-American than pro-EU, says Günter Verheugen, the German who is in charge of enlargement at the European Commission in Brussels. In the case of Iraq, candidate countries "did not want to endanger ratification of their membership in NATO by the U.S. Congress," he adds. Maybe.
In any case, Paris and Berlin have their own influence. There are the endless subsidies after which EU applicants salivate. There are the more than 80,000 pages of regulations and "harmonization" that countries have to swallow before they are permitted full membership in the club. And it is plain now that there is a heavy price to be paid for "immature" behavior -- Chirac's word -- over Iraq. "We've made clear to (the East Europeans) that this will never happen again," says an adviser to the coalition government in Berlin, a reference to the letter of the "Vilnius 10" pledging solidarity with the United States before the war.
It is easy for wishful Americans to forget the near-sacred status of EU membership. Even the Thatcherite Vaclav Klaus, the new Czech president, has softened his criticism of Brussels in recent years. The Czech government supports French and German aims for a separate European defense.
The Poles, often accused of being America's "Trojan horse," are conscious of the need to be good Europeans. "Buying F-16s from the U.S.," says Adam Krzeminski, a columnist with the Warsaw weekly Polityka, "is balanced by purchasing other aircraft and radar from Finland, Britain, Italy, or Spain." EU membership is crucial to "prosperity and modernization of our country," he says.
Yes, Poland supported America on Iraq. But a majority of Poles did not. In Hungary the socialist government did; the conservative opposition did not. The center of gravity seems to be shifting, and "New Europe" could help the United States in the future. It is important that Washington find ways to reward its friends. But after EU enlargement, the line between Old and New Europe is likely to blur. The EU has its own cards to play. And opposing America feels so good.
(Jeffrey Gedmin is director of the Aspen Institute Berlin. This article is reprinted by permission of National Review.)