US vs. EU

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Much
of the media coverage of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s
recent trip to Europe seemed to be preoccupied with the new American
chief diplomat’s winning style.

Apparently
"Chere Condi" has succeeded in charming even those "old" Europeans,
including French pundits. But while there is no doubt that Ms Rice,
the first African-American woman to lead the State Department, is
a very attractive figure who has won the hearts of many Europeans,
it’s not clear yet whether she has been able to change their minds
about the direction of US foreign policy under President George
W Bush.

In
a way, one should not be deceived by the good atmospherics that
dominated Ms Rice’s charm-offensive to Paris and Berlin and which
will probably be quite evident during Mr Bush’s forthcoming trip
to Europe. Both sides are trying to create the impression that all
they want is to kiss and make up, to put the Iraq war "behind them"
and to return to the good old days of transatlantic harmony.

There
will be a lot of talk about how the Europeans want to help bring
peace and prosperity to Iraq and a few suggestions on how the European
Union could assist in that process. Certainly, the perception of
successful elections in Iraq and the re-energising of the Israeli-Palestinian
peace process could contribute to the sense that the Americans and
Europeans are starting to mend the transatlantic rift over Iraq
and Israel/Palestine. But that the two sides could achieve some
level of cooperation on these issues shouldn’t divert attention
from the deep geo-strategic gap that will continue to set the former
Cold War allies apart. After all, the fact that China and the US
are also working together to resolve the North Korean crisis doesn’t
turn them into strategic allies.

The
strategic reality is that most of the Europeans, not unlike the
Chinese and the Russians, don’t want the US to succeed in Iraq.
In fact, what the Europeans (and the Russians and Chinese) want
"is for the US to continue to have a tough time in Iraq, thereby
discrediting Bush’s doctrine of making preventive wars on behalf
of disarmament and democracy," explains Nicholas Berry, director
of the Washington-based Foreign Policy Forum.

As
Dr Berry sees it, the European strategy is not to irritate Washington
with bygones, making modest contributions to supporting the creation
of a viable Iraqi state, publicly promoting good relations with
Washington, but keeping the protracted and expensive burden on the
US for "nation-building" in Iraq.

Hence
the European governments that opposed the US assault will not bail
out Mr Bush and rush to his aid. "Their aid in training Iraqi policemen
will be a small contribution – a token – which creates in America
the impression of support but which leaves the US with the heavy
burden of providing security and nation building in Iraq," Dr Berry
says.

"Our
Atlantic partners believe Washington is stuck with Iraq, and that
its occupation will continue to be costly in American blood and
treasure, thus taking the sheen off of Bush’s military crusade for
nuclear disarmament and democracy and countering Bush’s utopian
pledge ‘to end tyranny in our world’."

All
the Europeans want is to see the new Iraqi government asking the
US to leave, with no defence alliance with the US, no American military
bases, no control of Iraqi oil, no big success – compared to the
costs – for Bush, no matter how much he claims the success of his
war. At the same time, the Europeans – including Britain, which
is America’s leading ally in the EU – are insistent that diplomacy
rather than military threats still provides a better chance of reaching
a deal with Iran over its alleged efforts to develop nuclear military
technology.

The
Bush administration has viewed the European process, led by the
EU-3 (Britain, France and Germany), as futile and thinks Iran is
stalling. Ms Rice, during her visit, urged the EU to adopt a tougher
stance towards Iran, and to make it clear that Teheran risks United
Nations sanctions if it does not halt its nuclear programme. Most
observers expect a new crisis in the transatlantic relationship
if the US decides to take military action against Iran or give Israel
a green light to attack nuclear installations.

It’s
quite possible that a growing momentum promoted by Washington towards
an Israeli-Palestinian agreement would strengthen those Americans
and Europeans interested in seeing some sort of transatlantic detente.
But it’s more likely that developments in Iraq and Iran – not to
mention the willingness of the EU to defy Washington and lift its
weapons ban on China – all point to a new reality, in which the
US and the EU are being transformed from strategic allies to competitors.

February
19, 2005

Leon
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore
. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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