PARIS — “Forgive the Russians, ignore the Germans, punish the French.” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice didn’t appreciate being reminded of this famous statement, which she made in 2003 while serving as U.S. President George W. Bush’s national security adviser. The purpose of Rice’s recent visit to Europe, and that of Bush a few days later, was to end the trans-Atlantic quarrels ignited by the Iraq War and restore a climate of confidence between Washington and its European allies.
It would be an exaggeration to say that, as a result, a trans-Atlantic “partnership” will be fully achieved and operate harmoniously. Still, the climate has greatly improved.
Considering that an overwhelming majority of Europeans would have preferred to see Sen. John Kerry win the 2004 battle for the White House, few would have bet trans-Atlantic ties could improve this much so quickly. The turnabout can be attributed to several factors.
First, there was the magnitude of Bush’s election victory. Unlike in 2000, Bush won a clear mandate in November despite the ongoing conflict in Iraq and his failure to prove that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had possessed weapons of mass destruction. Europe quickly concluded that Bush wasn’t likely to change his Iraq policy.
Furthermore, Europe realized that a rapid withdrawal of coalition forces would likely lead to a civil war between Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni communities. This left it with little choice but to back the U.S. plan to hold Iraqi elections. The success of the elections appeared to validate Bush’s policy.
Whatever their stance at the time of the invasion, European leaders now have little choice but to back Washington in Iraq. This doesn’t mean that France or Germany will send troops there, but they will take part in training — outside Iraq — Iraqi army and police officers, and write off most of the huge debt Baghdad accumulated during the Hussein era.
Second, rather than criticize his European hosts for their past behavior, Bush turned on the charm. He and Rice praised Europe’s contribution to the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and promoted democratization as the panacea for most of the world’s problems.
The death of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is a third factor. Neither Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon nor Bush ever trusted Arafat, but most Europeans, including the British, thought that supporting him would help to soften the anti-Western feelings of most Arabs, including those in Iraq.
New Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is eager to end decades of bloody confrontation between two peoples that are sentenced to live side by side. The outcome of the Palestinian election and Sharon’s decision to end Israel’s occupation of the Gaza strip and several West Bank cities has helped to narrow the gap between U.S. and European policies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A final factor was the Feb. 14 assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri. In the past the U.S. and France disagreed on how to deal with Syria in relation to Lebanon. But the killing of Hariri, for which some have implicated Syria to some degree, has brought their policies in this area closer together.
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