Friday, February 18, 2005

THE POST-IRAQ WAR RELATIONSHIP between the United States and Europe reminds me of a marriage that used to be warm and intimate but has had the life sucked out of it by miscommunication and betrayal. Once you were so close you could complete each other's sentences; now, even when you don't fight, all that's left is politeness.

Pres. Bush and Condoleezza Rice have been trying hard to woo Europe back, bringing it flowers and saying, "Let's not fight. No hard feelings, okay?" but when the feeling's gone, it's gone. European leaders have spoken soothing words about leaving the past behind, but the house is empty, the furniture is gone, and all that's left is the walls.

These thoughts came to me as I was reading "Bush Visits a Europe Ever Further Away," in the Christian Science Monitor. The rift between Europe and America is about more than the disagreement, significant as that was, over the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Those events only exposed a disconnect of values, purpose, priorities, and expectations that had been growing for some time. Given Europe's growing sense of itself as a result of the European Union, divisions that were already there could only get stronger.

Running down a list of causes of the transatlantic drift - NATO's struggle with the end of the cold war; the rise of the EU, now 25 nations strong; the divergent impact of 9/11 on the two sides of the Atlantic; and generational changes that have meant the end of what he calls "true Atlanticists" - Mr. Kupchan says, "It already would have taken a great deal of hard work to keep this alliance together."

But along came George W. Bush, who ushered in dramatic changes to US foreign policy, at the same time as European leaders no longer felt the need always to follow the US lead, but rather felt enough strength to strike out on their own. The result, Kupchan says, is that the "liberal internationalism" that guided transatlantic relations for more than 50 years - in which Europe accepted American leadership in return for America's willingness to compromise and work through international institutions, "is now gone."
And then there is the estrangement caused by values that are profoundly different on both sides of the Atlantic, and that seem, if anything, to be widening. Abortion, the death penalty, the concept of "moral values" espoused by the radical religious right that places opposition to gay marriage, prayer in public schools, the Ten Commandments in courthouses, and the like, on a higher level of importance than putting food on the table and making sure everyone has at least basic health insurance.

Stark differences characterize American and European perspectives on everything from the death penalty, religion and secularity, to preferred economic and social models.

"Europeans see in America a huge gap between rich and poor and the lack of a safety net," says Fraser Cameron, director of studies at the European Policy Center in Brussels. "These differences become examples of what they don't want."
With differences as fundamental as that, it will take more than pretty words or "wishful thinking about transatlantic halcyon days" to put the life back in this marriage.

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