William PFAFF

International Herald Tribune

On the Transatlantic Relationship under Bush II

Cicero Foundation Seminar for Experts
Paris, 17 december 2004

Paris - The refrain in European foreign policy circles since George W. Bush's victory in the American presidential election has been that of reconciliation and new starts.
Tony Blair stated it with the greatest emphasis when he said that the Europeans had to work with "a new reality" -- American popular confirmation of George W. Bush's policies, and accusing some Europeans of living in a state of denial, which certainly was true of those Europeans who had thought that the first Bush administration constituted a highway accident on the freeway of Atlanticism.
There were many Europeans before November 3rd who thought that: least of all the French, by the way, and most of all the faithful Atlanticist Dutch and Danes.
A Netherlands university professor remarked to me in 2002 that the political class in his country had convinced itself that Donald Rumsfeld had locked up in a dark room all the Washington Atlanticists with whom they had been dealing for years, but that those Americans were still there waiting to be let out by a new election, to come blinking forth, ready to pick up where they had left off in intimate Euro-American relations.
French foreign minister Michel Barnier last week offered The Wall Street Journal a florid tribute to the great American nation's devotion to peace and freedom, its help to France as ally and liberator, the two nations' "destinies intertwined," before getting down to serious matters.
Those were that "French-bashing" has to stop in Washington, the EU respected and consulted as a major partner, and American policy change on Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Iran, etc. Others in Europe have made the predictable call for a return to multilateral consultation in international crises (known in today's Washington as submitting American security needs to UN decision). All this is highly improbable, to say the least.
American Atlanticists have declared that the transatlantic strains of recent years have to be stopped, since the economic interdependency of Europe and the United States continues to increase, and that neither side can afford a transatlantic divorce.
The economic dependence is true but could also merely embitter the divorce. During the campaign, the Bush administration relaunched the conflict over subsidies to Airbus and Boeing. Its only trade concession to Europe was made to please American manufacturers about to be damaged by European sanctions following a European victory at the World Trade Organization in a complaint over tax concessions to U.S. exporters.
While miracles happen, there has been no sign that American foreign policy is likely to be modified in any basic respect by a second Bush administration in order to please European sensibilities or acknowledge European priorities.
An interesting case in point has already been proposed by Tony Blair, who says that his priority for a revivified transatlantic alliance is action by Washington to dust off the abandoned Middle Eastern "roadmap," with new action by the "Quartet" (the UN, EU, Russia and the United States) to sponsor creation of an independent Palestine and Israeli withdrawal from most of the Palestinian territories. This is still another profound improbability.
A new secretary of state, assuming there will be one, will probably be even more courteous to the Europeans and other allies than Colin Powell has been, and it seems that Donald Rumsfeld might be moved to a new post in which he would have less to say in public about the allies.
However the same thing has to be said about Bush II as some of us argued would be the case with a Kerry I administration. Either one of them would continue the essentials of Bush I foreign policy, which is interventionism in the Middle East in the belief that this can pacify and democratize the region; efforts, military if ultimately necessary (and militarily feasible), to prevent further nuclear proliferation, and further development of the existing global network of American military bases and security alliances to wage the "war on terror," still conceived of as a threat susceptible to military solution. This is the consensus belief of the American foreign policy community. Allies are expected to assist the United States in these undertakings, accepting American leadership.
This will divide Europe. Most of the European governments will accept Washington's leadership and act accordingly. Some - as is the case today - will not, and will attempt to develop a European counter-power.
This will not be a military counter-power. The conflict between this part of Europe and the United States is not military in nature, and it scarcely is imaginable that it could become military. It will not be global, in that Western Europe's global interests are commercial and economic. The European Union's major members today add up to greater financial and economic power than the indebted United States now possesses.
It will be political in those cases - such as Iraq and Palestine-Israel today - where the Europeans believe that Europe's economic power, political leverage and influence, and "soft" or cultural and persuasive power can make a difference. Its thrust will be to affirm European interests where they conflict with or diverge from American interests. Its purpose will not be to "defeat" the United States, merely to create an international system with more than one center of power and influence. China and possibly Japan, as well as emerging alignments of power elsewhere in Asia and in Latin America, are likely to find encouragement and advantage in this.

9 December 2004