Friday, May 27, 2005

The Bush administration says, honest Injun, it does not want Europe's constitutional referendums to fail

European credulity can be challenged or even offended when the Americans insist a self-confident and united partner is preferable to a stumbling, negative, self-obsessed one
writes John Vinocur in the International Herald Tribune.
But officially, and in truth, there will be no flush of schadenfreude in Washington if the referendums in France on Sunday and then in the Netherlands on June 1 are voted down in demonstrations of democracy's eternal contrariness. (Although very private, off-message titters, perhaps 30 seconds' worth, may be tolerated in certain quarters here.)

… Indeed, there's just no desire, and no yield seen, in responding to the constant assertions from both the yes and no factions in France, spanning Marxists, proto-fascists and Jacques Chirac, that voting their way defends Europe from an American will to control it. The same goes for Gerhard Schröder's election-season linkage in Germany of anti-Americanism and anticapitalism.

The Bush administration very much wants to be seen as having healed itself of its rage over the French-German stance on Iraq, regardless of how that estrangement loops through daily European politics. Poking back directly in answer to the newest taunts from both sides of the Rhine seems limited to a comment by Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns on Europe's future: "Europe's challenge will be to reject the call of those who say Europe should be built in opposition to the U.S. and that the EU should be a strategic counterweight. That would be a colossal strategic error and would deny the foundation of 60 years of peace in Europe — its alliance with Europe."

This is the grainy other side of the best-friend-is-a-strong-friend talk: Europe shouldn't kid itself that George Bush or Dick Cheney regards the relationship in beatific terms. In fact, another administration official described the Europeans, a bit archly, as "fully capable of strategic irresponsibility."

Basically, what I'd say, based on conversations last week, is that America doesn't see the probability of a shift in European strategic attitudes as a result of the referendums. Indeed, like the Europeans, the day after a negative vote the Bush administration would be faced with insisting that everything in Europe was fine, nothing had changed, and that the EU's trans-Atlantic relations were a brilliant example of mature continuity.

On Europe's notional place in the world, the fact is the administration, quite rightly, can't imagine a new, chastened tone emerging that would differ from Chirac or Schröder's current honk on their distance from the United States. Or find any sudden European interest in completely abandoning its still possible arms sales to China, or in telling North Korea to behave, or insisting to the Chinese that they push the North Koreans in the direction of reason. …

James Steinberg, a former National Security Council official under President Bill Clinton, said, "China and Russia are counting on the Europeans not to go for sanctions. They want the Europeans to hide. If they're put on the spot, though, they won't defend Iran."

So the American yes on the EU referendums is not only coherent good sense, but also an investment. An official, sitting in his office here, couldn't have been clearer on the European constitution: "If they think it would get them a few yes points, we've told the French we're ready to condemn the thing in minutes."

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