Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Bush in Europe

President Bush is visiting Europe, and all governments concerned, ours included, are doing their level best to portray the whole thing as a love-fest, despite small annoyances like wacko demonstrators in Brussels. But Mark Steyn, writing in this morning’s Daily Telegraph online, is quite correct: the whole thing resembles nothing so much as a meeting of the Commonwealth of Nations, where “. . .talking about enduring ties became a substitute for having them.”

The United States and Europe have not been estranged for frivolous reasons these past couple of years, they are divided because there are real reasons to quarrel. Most obviously, Europe no longer needs us – Soviet tanks do not sit in central Europe, and the Americans are not needed to keep, as the old phrase went “the Russians out, and the Germans down.”

But it goes beyond this. The French politician Clemenceau is supposed to have said that he loved Germany so much he wished there were two of them. We would have done well to reflect on that statement. The State Department, with questionable wisdom, promoted European integration and unity for years, and now we’ve got it. A united Europe is going to be a powerful economic competitor, as anybody who rides an Airbus or drives a BMW should know. The Euro could replace the Dollar as the world’s reserve currency this decade, if East Asia decides to let this happen by selling dollars. To be sure, Europe has its own economic problems (its pension problems make ours look positively rosy)

Geopolitically, it’s hard to imagine that the Europeans (really, the French and the Germans), are going to be able to resist the temptation to tie down Gulliver by cooperating overtly or covertly, to varying degrees, with America’s enemies.

There are two canaries for us to watch. Europe is currently deliberating lifting its arms embargo on China, which has been in place since Tiananmen Square. President Bush today in Brussels expressed the US Government’s “deep concern” at this idea, diplo-speak, for “don’t do it.”

El Jefe would bet that the embargo will be lifted. From the European perspective this is good sense: Chinese defense outlays are growing about 12 percent a year, and they have quite a shopping list – everything from fighters to warships. Moreover, the growth of Chinese military power gives the Americans something more to think about, and makes it harder for Uncle Sam to throw his weight around. Anybody who doesn’t think this is a major concern and goal for France and Germany is fooling himself.

The other indicator to keep an eye on is the European policy towards Iran. The European pattern with developing threats such as the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program is to ignore the issue as long as possible, then declare that nothing can be done because it is too late. The Americans favor a more activist policy, but Washington is going to be disappointed here also. We are alone in dealing with Iran. All the other players, except Israel, are comfortable with the Ayatollahs acquiring the bomb.

It’s time to move on. America and Europe need a divorce, not to make up. Far from hoping the Bush European vacation goes well, we should hope it craters. The only diplomatic missions of any importance in western Europe for the moment are covertly sniping at the EU, encouraging the British all we can to avoid joining a United Europe, and sabotaging that project as best as possible. Otherwise, there is nothing left to do but obtain as amicable a divorce from NATO and the other European entanglements as possible.

We need allies, however, specifically Japan and India, and if possible, Russia. The Russians in particular are important, because they have as much an interest as we do, if they are thinking straight, in containing the Europeans and Chinese, and in combating Islamic fundamentalism – also a concern of India’s.

In Asia, friendless Japan fears the rise of China, and the coming unification of Korea. China’s rise is a firm basis for US-Japanese cooperation, and Saturday’s joint U.S. and Japanese statement of concern on the Chinese-Taiwanese dispute is a welcome sign that both countries recognize this. Incidentally, North Korea’s declared membership in the nuclear club means that Japanese rearmament in a big way is coming.

But forget Europe. The Europeans, now under French and German management, are no longer allies, but competitors. The rivalry does not have to be military, but it certainly exists.

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