Tuesday, June 29, 2004
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Monsieur Chirac, quel est votre problème?
The transatlantic relationship is one of those topics that provokes a lot of furrowed brows and tony conferences. I've been invited to my fair share over the past year, and the core question that inevitably pops up is, "How much of the transatlantic rift is due to clashes of style and how much is due to clashes of interests?'
The hip answer to give is the latter. According to this narrative, the important date in the relationship was not 9/11 but 11/9 -- the date the Berlin Wall fell, and the Cold War glue that held the U.S. and Europe together disintegrated. That was the date when NATO jumped the shark.
Me, I'm not so trendy, and think that the clash of styles is pretty important.
Part of this is due to George W. Bush. You could not have asked central casting for a better epitome of everything about the United States that Europe loathes -- Texas, conservatism, directness, religious devotion, and a lack of facility with most European languages -- including English.
That said, a very healthy dollop of the current clash of styles is due to Gerhard Schroeder and Jacques Chirac. The former appalled his foreign policy establishment by making Iraq the centerpiece of his re-election campaign, and by adopting a position that was more unilateralist than the United States. Mention Schroeder's campaign behavior to European foreign policy experts, and they tend to look down and shuffle their feet.
However, the real piece of work on the European continent is Jacques Chirac. His latest exhibit of pique comes in response to the official NATO statement on Iraq -- which is broadly supportive but pretty bland.
This, however, was too much for Chirac to stomach -- according to Judy Dempsey's account in the Financial Times:
This sort of behavior does nothing but weaken NATO -- something that Chirac did in spades last year. If the French president really had a problem with the language of the statement, he shouldn't have agreed to it -- which would have been better than his current course of action, which is erratic in the extreme.
The Bush administration has contributed its fair share to the lack of transatlantic comity -- but powerful Europeans are behaving even worse.
UPDATE: Greg Djerejian has further thoughts on just what NATO will do in Iraq.posted by Dan on 06.29.04 at 01:06 AM
It does beg the question -- would Kerry do any better? What folks forget is that French complaints about the Hyperpower began with that ol' unilateralist Bill Clinton.
This said, there's more to our troubles in Europe than France n' Germany. And the Euros just might pay attention to their contribution to our relatonship problems if they don't have George W. Bush to kick around anymore. Or they might not -- and we will end up knowing for certain that the trans-Atlantic bad feelings is more their fault than ours.posted by: Appalled Moderate on 06.29.04 at 01:06 AM [permalink]
Indeed, it does raise that question; in living color.Kerry's continuing bitch is that we didn't get others involved soon enough, etc. Does this resistance from France give us any feel for how long Kerry would ahve taken to overcome such as Chirac?
Perhaps being French looking would have given him an advantage, but I doubt it.
I went to hear Niall Ferguson speak some time ago and he said the same trendy thing: that the important date is not 9-11 but 11-9. And I remember thinking "dude that is some powerful crystal ball. You should buy lottery tickets." Ok, cheap shot. Sorry. Actually, the talk was fascinating. Apparently we (America of course) are an empire, don't know it, suck at it, should embrace our inner world hegemon anyway and follow the British example of empire. Now the British know from empire, people. As someone born on the subcontinent, I had a little trouble with that last part....posted by: MD on 06.29.04 at 01:06 AM [permalink]
What evidence is there historically - let's forget Iraq for the moment - that the French are anything but ambivalent about NATO itself ? DeGaulle pulled out of the military command in the face of the Soviets, a threat that no longer exists. What would compel Chirac to see a strengthening of NATO's international role as compatible with French interests ?
France seeks a position of arbiter - where by witholding her agreement until she can marshal international organizations like the EU, OECD, Council of Europe, UN - in line with longterm French interests. Obviously this is more difficult in venues like the UNSC and NATO where she must contend with both of " the Anglo-Saxon " powers instead of just Britain.posted by: mark safranski on 06.29.04 at 01:06 AM [permalink]
It may yet be possible for us to distinguish French interests from the personal conduct of one French politician. I'm not sure George Bush is the man to do it, though.
Foreign audiences react much more negatively to Bush's undoubted personal boorishness than they do to his lack of sophistication or even his policies -- neither Nixon nor Reagan were fluent in more than one language, and both followed deeply controversial policies while retaining the respect of European governments -- and challenging the French and German governments on things like collective security, promoting democracy and preventing genocide would require the kind of sustained engagement that Bush, outside the context of his election campaigns, has never shown much appetite for in anything. Nor has he shown himself willing to delegate allied relations to his Secretary of State, who is well regarded as someone who listens to European concerns but is not seen as the driving force behind American foreign policy.
John Kerry will not do better if he seeks to give the impression that he will differ from Bush by agreeing more often with French and German politicians. That approach will inevitably lead to disappointment; any American President in these times will find it necessary to clash with inward-looking European governments in order for NATO and other organizations to produce anything of value. Taking direction from European governments and treating their views and interests with respect are two different things. I don't know whether Kerry sees the difference, r whether he would be able to make it clear that he does during the pressure of an election campaign.posted by: Zathras on 06.29.04 at 01:06 AM [permalink]
That George Bush is a caricature of what the French - and lots of Europeans - love to hate does not make George Bush responsible for that hate.
In a 'race' context, you'd recognize that as "blaming the victim."posted by: BradDad on 06.29.04 at 01:06 AM [permalink]
Let's not forget that in the mid 90s France quickly walked away from enforcement of the no fly zones protecting the Kurds and reestablished ties with Iraq so that French companies could suckle on Saddam's nipples. They left the the U.S. and Britain holding the bag. Instead if they had pushed for the getting rid of Saddam, the containment of Iraq might have ended during the Clinton adminstration and a large number of the excuses that bin Laden used in justifying attacks on the U.S. would have been eliminated.
One thing that bothers me about Europe, and specifically about the American liberals' views on Europe is that they have yet to lay the well deserved blame on Europeans for allowing Islamic terrorists and extremists to infest their lands. Europe was a critical safe haven for al Qaeda operatives. Without Europe as a base, the 9/11 attacks probably wouldn't have been successful. Considering the trillions of dollars the U.S. has spent on the reconstruction and defense of Europe, they could have done a better job of watching our back.posted by: Atm on 06.29.04 at 01:06 AM [permalink]
'One thing that bothers me about Europe, and specifically about the American liberals' views on Europe is that they have yet to lay the well deserved blame on Europeans for allowing Islamic terrorists and extremists to infest their lands. Europe was a critical safe haven for al Qaeda operatives. Without Europe as a base, the 9/11 attacks probably wouldn't have been successful'
That is a bunch of baloney -- really nonsensical Europe bashing.
What about America as a base ? The fact that we allowed Al Qaeda to infiltrate and form cells, the lack of airport security and the inability to co-ordinate on September 11th. Or even before that, when we allowed Ramzi Yousef and others to create a cell in Jersey city ?
America and Europe were both blind before September 11th. But given the America was the main target, that we actually sent visas (!!) to the Sep 11th hijackers 1 year after Sep 11th, the greater blindness seems to be clearly on the US side. The terrorists came from all over the world -- the fact that a few Hamburg is not an indictment of Germany (which, it must be remembered has not had a terrorist threat on its soil since the Baader Meinhoff) ? I should point out too that allies such as England had their own Islamic extremists on their soil. By their very nature, democracies are unusually vulnerable to such small cells, or even to fiery preachers.
Now, we could solidly criticize Europe if they refused to take action after the attacks, but the did not. They have cracked down on the mosques. In the long term Germany, France, Sweden and England will have to deal with a burgeoning Muslim population on their soil, and they will have a tough task. I would expect full co-operation on this matter, but I don't expect to have detected a threat that we ourselves did not detect.posted by: erg on 06.29.04 at 01:06 AM [permalink]
"neither Nixon nor Reagan were fluent in more than one language, and both followed deeply controversial policies while retaining the respect of European governments"
Am I wrong, or did Reagan most specifically not retain the respect of European governments?posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw on 06.29.04 at 01:06 AM [permalink]
You are wrong, Sebastian. The European left, which in those days meant Europeans mostly out of power and susceptible to Soviet propaganda, professed to loath and dread Reagan. European governments, however, recognized his respect for their concerns even when they disagreed with his administration's policy.
And they didn't disagree all that often on the major issues. Reagan's friendship with Margaret Thatcher is well known, no German Chancellor was ever going to argue with "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," and Francois Mitterand came together with Reagan's insistence on deploying theatre missiles in Europe early on. Gorbachev has lately spoken for himself on his relations with Reagan. It's also worth remembering that Reagan employed two Secretaries of State (Haig and Schultz) with vast experience in European affairs, and particularly in Schultz's case delegated considerably more authority to manage America's allied relations that Bush has ever given Colin Powell.posted by: Zathras on 06.29.04 at 01:06 AM [permalink]
It's worth noting that Bush has taken the opportunity to support Turkey's bid for admission to the EU (http://news.myway.com/top/article/id/412043|top|06-29-2004::07:06|reuters.html)
I'd say this is a wise move on various counts: it supports an important ally (at absolutely no cost to the US), explicitly molifies Islamic sentiments by saying that the EU should not be excluded to one religion (and implicitly race - the "rich white guys club"), while giving a sharp poke in the eye to Chirac that can be credibly denied as intentional. Indeed, it's almost French in its use of diplomacy to say FU. Now if only Cheny could learn ...posted by: Gene on 06.29.04 at 01:06 AM [permalink]
Supporting Turkey is a good idea, but it runs the risk of pissing off the Greeks, no ?posted by: Jon Juzlak on 06.29.04 at 01:06 AM [permalink]
Spanish is still a Eurpean language. G. W. Bush is more fluent in Spanish than any President in recent history. If there were any demographically more important European language than English it would be Spanish.posted by: David on 06.29.04 at 01:06 AM [permalink]
'That is a bunch of baloney -- really nonsensical Europe bashing.
What about America as a base ? The fact that we allowed Al Qaeda to infiltrate and form cells, the lack of airport security and the inability to co-ordinate on September 11th. Or even before that, when we allowed Ramzi Yousef and others to create a cell in Jersey city ?'
America was the target, not a base which the terrorists treated has a safe haven. Anyway most of the hijackers, except for the pilots, infiltrated the country relatively late in the game. That we did not sufficiently check these people out and allowed them in the country is our own fault, though it is not clear to me that we would have been able to identify most of these people as a definite threat. It still doesn't change the fact that Europe was used as a base and a recruiting center. Don't forget Massaoui and Reid. Don't forget how al Qaeda set up different types of support operations throughout different European countries.
Unfortunately it appears that France and Germany and other European countries have used the same strategy that Arab countries have used to deflect unhappiness in their Muslim communities about their own conditions away from those countries: pander to them with anti-U.S. and anti-Israel rhetoric. Yet at the same time they continue to treat them as second class citizens or residents. I fear that European Muslim unrest and European anti-muslim sentiment could be a greater threat to the U.S. security. Massoui was just the tip of the iceberg.
'It's also worth remembering that Reagan employed two Secretaries of State (Haig and Schultz) with vast experience in European affairs, and particularly in Schultz's case delegated considerably more authority to manage America's allied relations that Bush has ever given Colin Powell.'
Where is the "interests rather than style" argument hip? Certainly not in Europe, where everyone insists there were no real problems in the Clinton days and that a Kerry election will make everything all better now.posted by: William Sjostrom on 06.29.04 at 01:06 AM [permalink]
Colin Powell travels plenty. He also listens well. His problem is that just listening isn't enough for a Secretary of State; he has to be seen either as the driving force behind American foreign policy or as the unquestioned spokesman for the President. Powell isn't either of these things.
It's isn't wrong to say this is a reflection on Powell as much as it is a reflection on his chief. Powell excelled earlier in his career as the balance wheel between forceful personalities -- no small achievement. But the role of a Secretary of State is different. Powell isn't the first great staff man to fall short of being able to fill the big chair.posted by: Zathras on 06.29.04 at 01:06 AM [permalink]
I'm not defending European intransigience, but let's not forget that we embarked on an unprecedented process of either alienating or sometimes outright provoking our European allies ("Old Europe"). It may be wrong to not help someone out whose in trouble, but if the person in trouble has just gone around town insulting everyone well it's unrealistic to just think that bygones are going to be bygones without a lot of crow being eaten.posted by: oldman on 06.29.04 at 01:06 AM [permalink]
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