March 9, 2005
By Peter Brookes
It's been almost a full year since Spanish
voters re jected the chosen successor of Prime Minister Jose Maria
Aznar. Aznar had cultivated a warm relationship with President Bush
and committed troops to Iraq - and Spain went to the polls just
days after a vicious terrorist strike.
But Aznar's having no second thoughts about his policies or
America's dominant role in the world.
On the contrary, in a recent visit to The Post, Aznar said he sees
American power as more important than ever, especially considering
the independent, "soft power" foreign-policy agenda being pushed by
Europe's dominant powers, France and Germany.
Aznar continues to buck Europe's prevailing (liberal) wisdom. In
fact, he believes that it's Europe that needs the U.S. now more
than ever - not the other way around.
Aznar's attitude is refreshing, if not surprising.
Remember that a year ago this Friday, al Qaeda operatives brutally
attacked Madrid commuter trains with 10 bombs, killing 191 people.
The attacks stunned the world . . . and, just days later, sent
Aznar's popular, right-of-center government down to defeat in
national parliamentary elections.
Aznar's successor, socialist Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero, quickly
withdrew 1,300 Spanish troops from Iraq, cooled relations with
Washington and lowered Madrid's high international profile.
For its part, al Qaeda could claim a small, but significant,
series of victories: It had cracked the Iraqi Coalition, helped
bring down Aznar's pro-American government and deepened the ongoing
But having survived a 1995 Basque ETA terrorist attack himself,
Aznar isn't one for going soft on terrorism - or America. In fact,
today he appears more convinced than ever of the importance of the
transatlantic relationship and America's role in the world.
And for good reason: A number of European powers now downplay the
need for military "hard power," while overselling the efficacy of
diplomatic and economic "soft power" in resolving global
challenges, such as Iran's nuclear-weapons program.
Europe's declining defense budgets and military capabilities are
eroding its potential global influence. Europe cannot guarantee its
own security, in Aznar's opinion, much less guarantee the security
He's also deeply concerned about European "unilateralism" - a
growing inclination (and French obsession) to go it alone, without
the United States. Aznar views this approach as counterproductive
to European interests.
In Aznar's calculus, European "soft power" alone - no longer
pairing itself with America's military might - won't be sufficient
for Europe to maintain (much less increase) its global
Aznar's absolutely right on these accounts. And, fortunately, the
intellectual chasm between U.S. and European views may actually be
The narrowing of the divide isn't due to the recent diplomatic
charm offensives by both sides, though they certainly didn't hurt.
But what's really making a big difference in mending U.S.-European
ties are a number of far more dramatic events: Lebanon's Cedar
Revolution; Elections in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Saudi
Arabia; talk of political openings in Egypt; Syrian promises to
withdraw from Lebanon, and Iranian nuclear negotiations.
It's starting to dawn on European "soft power" advocates that
military "hard power" isn't passé after all. Even France's
newspaper, Le Figaro, has now asked the once-unthinkable question
about Iraq: "What if Bush was right?"
It's reasonable to conclude that American (and Coalition) "hard
power" in Afghanistan and Iraq is - at least partly - responsible
for sparking the mind-boggling, positive changes that parts of the
Arab and Muslim world are experiencing today.
Make no mistake: The ability to back up "soft power" with the
credible threat of "hard power" makes a big difference in
international affairs, especially when dealing with prickly states
like Iran, Syria or North Korea. Europe seems to have forgotten
this important canon of international affairs.
Perhaps, equally important is that the success of American efforts
in the Arab and Muslim world is changing European minds about
President Bush and the wisdom of his brand of forward-leaning
American foreign policy.
A greater appreciation for the White House's approach will not
only bridge the transatlantic divide, but will hopefully result in
greater U.S.-European consultation, coordination and cooperation on
a broad range of international issues, from Burma to
And, finally, perhaps, the Europeans, will come around to sharing
Aznar's fuller understanding that a strong America and a strong
transatlantic relationship will amplify - not diminish - Europe's
voice on the global stage.
Peter Brookes is
a Heritage Foundation senior fellow. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
First appeared in the New York Post
It's been almost a full year since Spanish voters re jected the chosen successor of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
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