February 10, 2005

February 10, 2005 | Commentary on

Rice Dazzles Europe

Europeans have been known to value style over substance. In Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, they got both.

Over the past week, during her visit official trip as America's chief diplomat, Miss Rice blew away the grumpy old men of Europe with her style, elegance, poise, combined with high intelligence and the authority that comes with having the confidence of the President of the United States. And she gave her first major foreign policy speech in Paris, to boot.

To great applause Miss Rice said Tuesday in France that it is time to turn away from past disagreements. "It is time to open a new chapter in our relationship and a new chapter in our alliance." Her speech, which took place at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris, called for freedom throughout the Arab world.

In the course of one highly successful trip -- during which Miss Rice managed to meet with the leaders of Britain, Germany, Poland, Turkey, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Italy and France -- the new secretary of state reorganized the pieces on the bumpy landscape of transatlantic relations and helped breath life into Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Since her appointment, Europeans have been highly curious and rather suspicious about what to expect from Miss Rice. Most were highly distraught by the fact that Mr. Bush was re-elected at all, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell was widely regarded in Europe as the one sane man in the Bush administration. The news of his departure was therefore greeted with crying and gnashing of teeth.

As national security advisor Miss Rice had not had a public speaking role and was a relatively blank slate for European news organizations at best. At worst, she was considered simply a "yes-man" for the President Bush. Hopes of "moderation" of American foreign policy alternated in news coverage with hysterical fear of "neo-conservative dominance."

Few in Europe seemed to understand that as the architect of President's Bush's foreign policy during his first term, including the National Security Strategy of 2002, Miss Rice's views and policy recommendations were already there plain for all to see.

(Interestingly, Democrats here echoed European condescension during Miss Rice confirmation hearings. As columnist Colbert King remarked in The Washington Post, taking to task fellow liberals like Barbara Boxer and Ted Kennedy, "Slurring her as a hollow-headed marionette controlled by Bush? What's that all about?")

Especially impressive is the fact that Miss Rice's staunch defense of American principles and policies, couched in forthright terms, but said with a smile, seems to be causing soul-searching in European capitals. As she stated during her first stop in London, "There cannot be an absence of moral content in American foreign policy," she said. "Europeans giggle at this, but we are not European, we are American, and we have different principles."

Mr. Bush and Miss Rice have articulated a powerful vision for American foreign policy, based on the spread of freedom, which is hard for Europe's far more cautious technocrats to compete with. (Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry ran into the same problem.)

The European instinct is to negotiate and avoid confrontation at all costs, understandably in some ways after the experience of two world wars on European territory. When action is called for to set wrongs right, it falls to the United States to take the lead. During her European trip, Miss Rice made clear that there is a division of labor between Europeans and Americans that is real and here to stay.

The success of the elections in Iraq last Sunday gave that the Bush-Rice vision content and impetus. Thus German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who won his last election on opposition to the U.S. president and the war in Iraq, stated at a news conference with Miss Rice on Friday, "Irrespective of what one thought about the military intervention in Iraq in the first place," Germany is "strongly ready . . .to help Iraq to get toward this stable and hopefully democratic society."

"Strange is it not, how sweetness and light are bursting out all over -- even before spring is here? Iraqis go to vote . . .and the United States and Europe suddenly cannot get enough of each other's company," wrote the British Independent newspaper.

This is not to say are no tough issued between us. When President Bush travels to Europe in late February Iran's nuclear program will be on the agenda. So will EU plans to end the arms embargo on China, which is fiercely opposed in Washington. His visit sends the right signal, at least, and the road has now been well-paved for him.

Helle Dale is director of Foreign Policy and Defense Studies at the Heritage Foundation. E-mail: helle.dale@heritage.org .

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in The Washington Times