January 31, 2003 | WebMemo on Europe
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently caused Paris and Berlin intense consternation by stating what should have been apparent to all: That the United States is not without allies in Europe when it comes to dealing with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Despite the impressions given by an American press myopically focused on Paris and Berlin, support among European governments is solid and widespread.
When asked to explain why 'Europe' was against American military action in Iraq, Secretary Rumsfeld flatly said that he didn't think 'Europe' was against removing Saddam from power. A Dutch reporter responded lamely that in any case Germany and France were against using military force to remove Saddam. Rumsfeld laconically replied, "Now you're thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't. I think that's old Europe. If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the east and there are a lot of new members."
The rhetorical storm that followed in Paris and Berlin can only be explained by the fact that Secretary Rumsfeld struck a nerve; he was right. The days of France's Charles de Gaulle and Germany's Konrad Adenauer deciding issues of state for the entire European Community are long gone. This can best be seen by the varied European reaction to the seminal issue of the day-the question of support for America's efforts to remove Saddam Hussein.
The new Europe Rumsfeld spoke about yesterday rose with one voice in support of the American position on Iraq. Organized by Prime Minister Blair of Great Britain and Prime Minister Aznar of Spain, the leaders of Italy, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Portugal and Denmark published a joint op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. In it they endorsed the Bush administration's position on Iraq, couching their support in gratitude for America's historic role in defeating both fascism and communism, rescuing Europe from the evils of domination by these two diabolical political systems. The message to Germany and France could not have been clearer. "The trans-Atlantic relationship must not become a casualty of the current Iraqi regime's persistent attempts to threaten world security." In other words, a line has to be drawn under the rising anti-Americanism in both France and Germany; there is simply too much at stake.
It should come as little surprise that this new Europe - the countries that surround the traditional Franco-German powerhouse - are more pro-free market, pro-free trade, and pro-American than the elites in Paris and Berlin. The dirty little secret in alliance politics is that the farther east one goes in Europe, the more pro-American you find both the political elites and public opinion.
Eastern European elites, having just shaken off the shackles of Communism, know all too well that force, for good or evil, continues to play a central role in history, a fact often lost in the cafes of Paris and Berlin. The Poles, Czechs, and Hungarians know that it is American military, economic, and political might that safeguards the world, not debating societies like the United Nations. From a European point of view, it stands to reason that to maximize influence, European countries must engage the sole remaining superpower if they are to remain relevant.
Which brings us back to France and Germany. Chancellor Schroeder's militantly pacifist position on Iraq may well have won him re-election, but German influence in Washington is negligible; relations have declined to the point where it makes news when the Chancellor even shakes the President's hand. Contrast this with Tony Blair, whose unswerving support of the American position on Iraq has made the UK once again the second most important country in the world. In fact, it was thanks to Blair's insistence that the Bush administration went down the UN diplomatic route in trying to solve the Iraqi crisis. What the Iraqi crisis has so clearly shown is that Europe speaks with more than one voice; and that is a good thing for both the continent and the United States.