WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- America's eagerness to go to war with Iraq, to oust Saddam Hussein from power, has brought about increased tension between the "old Europe" and the United States.
Much like jilted lovers, senior government officials and diplomats from both sides of the Atlantic have been exchanging bitter, and often undiplomatic words over the last several days.
First, Dominique de Villepin, France's foreign minister, criticized the United States at the U.N earlier this week, saying that France would not support a unilateral American attack on Iraq. De Villepin asked that more time be granted to the weapons inspectors, and that the Jan. 27 deadline -- the date by which U.N. chief arms inspector Hans Blix is due to deliver preliminary findings to the Security Council -- should not be regarded as a point of no return.
Germany, which is due to take over the chair of the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 1, and with whom France is currently having an unprecedented love affair, jumped into the fray, saying it, too, would not support a U.S. military expedition in Iraq, and would vote against it.
Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, immediately fired back, saying that France and Germany were part of the "old Europe," and that the U.S. would instead turn for support to the new Europe: read here, the former Warsaw Pact ex-communist countries of Eastern Europe who have been newly admitted, or are about to be admitted, into NATO.
Using a very American idiom, Joschka Fischer, Germany's foreign minister, shot back: "Cool it," he said.
Speaking on French radio, Roselyne Bachelot, the French minister for ecology, said what she thought would be too offensive to say on radio. "I am from the Loire," she said, "and we have a celebrity in the Loire called Cambronne."
Bachelot was referring to Gen. Count Etienne Cambronne, a French commander of the Old Guard who fought in the battle of Waterloo. When asked to surrender rather be annihilated, Cambronne is purported to have shouted back "merde!" ("Shit!") Politely referred to as "le mot de Cambronne," this phrase has become as celebrated as the "nuts" uttered by U.S. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe in Bastogne, when asked by the Germans to surrender the besieged town during WWII.
Bachelot was not the only one to fire back at the American defense secretary. France's finance minister, Francis Mer, said in a television interview, "I want to remind everyone that 'old Europe' has resilience and is capable of bouncing back."
And Martine Aubry, a former minister of labor and a socialist, shot back that Rumsfeld's remarks, "show once again a certain arrogance of the United States."
"It is time stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world," writes Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in his new book, "Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order.
"That is why on major strategic and international questions today, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus. They agree on little and understand one another less and less," writes Kagan.
Indeed, during a recent visit to the "old Europe," these differences were evident. Europeans -- who have lived with terrorism far longer than Americans -- failed to understand the Bush administration's resolve to go to war without proof either of Iraq's involvement in terrorism, or that Saddam is hiding weapons of mass destruction.
Still, many Americans like to remind the Europeans, especially the French, that it was American G.I.s who bailed them out of two world wars. To which the French like to respond: "Ah, yes, of course, but was it not the Marquis de La Fayette, a Frenchman, who helped George Washington and the colonists defeat Great Britain, and win their independence?"
As Robert Kagan points out, "Europeans, because of their unique historical experience of the past century --- culminating in the creation of the European Union --- have developed a set of ideals and principles regarding the utility and morality of power different from the ideals and principles of the Americans, who have not shared that experience."
So, much like estranged lovers, Americans and Europeans continue to squabble.
(Claude Salhani is a senior editor with United Press International. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org)