Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The message from Europe was that a fresh start in trans-Atlantic relations would require the U.S. to swallow European viewpoints hook, line and sinker

As the new U.S. secretary of state dashed around their capitals, Europeans sat comfortably auditioning Rice for the new role they want her to play in drawing the Bush administration closer to Europe
writes Reginald Dale in the International Herald Tribune (where he is sorely missed — the editor of the policy quarterly European Affairs doubling as a media fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University used to have a weekly feature on common sense economics in the IHT, but that ended after the New York Times took over the Washington Post's part of the global paper).
They produced copious reviews of her performance, from the glowing to the snide. But none felt the need to step up on the stage themselves.

The overwhelming message from the audience was that a fresh start in trans-Atlantic relations would require the United States, and not Europe, to make all the concessions. Typical was the comment of an EU diplomat, who demanded "a complete convergence of views," meaning that Washington should swallow European viewpoints hook, line and sinker.

…If, however, the Europeans think they do not need to do anything to respond to Bush's conciliatory efforts, then the rebirth of the alliance will be stillborn. Rice made that clear in responding to this much-quoted remark by Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair: "If America wants the rest of the world to be part of the agenda it has set, it must be part of their agenda too." Her riposte came in Paris: "America stands ready to work with Europe on our common agenda, and Europe must stand ready to work with America."

Bush has been loudly signaling his wish for better relations with Europe. [He] first sent out doves across the stormy Atlantic waters last May. U.S. officials muzzled their previous anti-European rhetoric; Bush bowed to European insistence that he work more closely with the United Nations, and Iraqi reconstruction contracts were opened up to noncombatant countries. These doves did not return with any sprigs of greenery, at least in part because many European leaders wanted Senator John Kerry to win the U.S. elections.

Now, with Bush due to visit Europe this month, it is time for the Europeans to step up to the plate. The obvious place to begin is Iraq, the main source of animosity, where the recent elections have opened the way for a new approach.

It is not necessary for France and Germany to send soldiers there if they do not wish. What is needed is that the Europeans raise the tone of the dialogue far above the nickel-and-diming over such issues as where NATO should train Iraqis, and whether a few more trainers should be added. It is time to show genuine, overarching political support for what Washington is trying to achieve in Iraq and the broader Middle East, without petty, nit-picking reservations.

…That is what France, Germany, Spain and other European critics of the United States must now offer. Their governments say they want to put past disagreements behind them. If they mean it, they should not be calling for better relations one minute, and fomenting anti-Americanism the next.

(Emphasis mine.) John Vinocur follows this line of thought through with his Politicus column, taking the Germans as an example as he writes from Munich:
Diplomacy in action. Here was Condoleezza Rice scooting to Paris and Brussels and Luxembourg, deftly working the idea that Europe mattered and the United States respected it. And here was a group of heavyweight American pols in town for a postscript, attending the weekend's yearly seminar of defense and security experts (Don Rumsfeld and John McCain among the Republicans, Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton for the Democrats) and thinking, fair traders all, there might be some signs of a quick and generous European response.

The fact was that a speech by Gerhard Schröder, billed as a German-take-on-the-world and read out by Defense Minister Peter Struck (Schröder called in sick), grated. The Bush folk, trying so hard to be Europe-amenable seven days before the president's arrival, suddenly found themselves laboring not to look too wrong-footed, embarrassed or provoked by a message from the chancellor they did not fully expect.

What they got from Schröder was a complaining five pages, mostly about the unsatisfactory state of trans-Atlantic relations. His call for an umpteenth blue-ribbon panel to assess what to do followed. …

His text restated his determination that Germany get a UN Security Council seat cum veto power. It fled any mention of his quest to have the European Union lift its embargo on arms sales to China, a proposal that has enraged Congress across the board. And it urged an end to Iran's isolation and consideration for the mullahs' "legitimate security concerns" — on a day when James Woolsey, a Clinton administration director of U.S. central intelligence, was asking a seminar panelist if he knew of a single shard of fact indicating that Iran was not about to produce atomic weapons. (No answer.)

In fact … there was something both detached and harsh about Schröder's speech.

Its tone was nonconciliatory exactly at a time when America was trying to be. Contradictorily, it came at a point when Germany's increasing ambitions on the world stage are most strikingly complemented, as Gunther Hellmann of Frankfurt University has said, by its declining social and economic competitiveness. And the speech's icy edges were such that Schröder talked of Russia with more palpable warmth than the United States.

[A] Clinton administration Democrat described Rumsfeld, who spoke to the conference on Saturday, as sounding more open and flexible than the chancellor.

"The thing that quite amazes me," said Wolfgang Schäuble, the man who may have the sharpest political intellect within the German conservative opposition, "is that Americans are disappointed with what Schröder said, that they found no givebacks. That's quite naïve. There's nothing to expect except a man looking at poll numbers all day and still thinking he'll stay in power if he turns every election into one in which he runs against George Bush."

… in terms of feeling, Schröder's speech was an even less hearty view of trans-Atlantic relations than one offered by Jacques Chirac, mulipolarity included, in London earlier in the year.

Not to mention the hard issues: Iraq, China (where Schröder's commercial interest is great and his responsibilities nil), Iran? Any indication of new German support from the chancellor? No. …

All this forces the question about what happens if Bush comes to Europe and gets precious little in return. Schäuble has said, considering the people in place in Germany, it's no small possibility. Awkward stuff. Not good.

The American in the marble hallway, upbeat on Europe in the administration's current mode, considered that everything might turn around by the time Bush gets to Mainz on Feb. 23.

The American said Schröder had an important regional election next Sunday, and considering that he won in 2002 opposing the Iraq war, he wasn't going to cross anybody up by sounding America-friendly a week ahead of time.

Not anybody, just George Bush. And perhaps not just momentarily.

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