The D-Day Commemoration: The President's Chance to Remind the World of the Importance of the Transatlantic Relationship

Report Europe

The D-Day Commemoration: The President's Chance to Remind the World of the Importance of the Transatlantic Relationship

June 4, 2004 3 min read

Authors: Nile Gardiner and John Hulsman

On June 5, 1944 at 4 AM, General Dwight D. Eisenhower uttered the phrase, "OK, let's go." With those few words, he ordered that the invasion of Western Europe by 2 million men, 4,500 ships, and 12,000 aircraft be launched at Normandy the following day.


That evening-after there had been 6,000 initial casualties, but with heavy fighting on Omaha Beach, the landing had been secured-President Franklin Roosevelt spoke to the nation. Summoning his oratorical powers, Roosevelt relayed the efforts to retake Europe from Nazi barbarism as a prayer: "Almighty God; Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity."


The liberation of Europe had begun.


This is what President Bush crosses the Atlantic to celebrate. And while this colossal accomplishment should have nothing to do with the daily strains currently endemic in the transatlantic relationship, the President has an opportunity to bolster America's efforts at public diplomacy in Europe. For all the differences between America and Europe-based on different views of philosophy, culture, religion, politics, and economics-great truths still bind together their peoples.


America, far more than any other non-European country, has paid the price in treasure and the blood of its sons for the prosperous Europe of today. While it is within the rights of the current crop of European leaders to question and even dissent from American policies and to dislike American leaders, the rows of crosses and stars of David that leaders on both sides of the Atlantic will honor do render one such critique beyond the pale: It is wrong, and unseemly, to question America's commitment to the European alliance, for the price has been so dear.


A Chance for Public Diplomacy

It is time to stop denying that there are problems in the relationship between American and Europe. In the November 2003 Eurobarometer report, 55 percent of Britons polled said America was a threat to world peace; 42 percent disagreed. Britons cited the United States as the third greatest threat to global peace, behind Israel and North Korea and just ahead of Iran and Iraq. These numbers, coming from America's greatest ally, should end any doubts that anti-Americanism in Europe is at a zenith not seen since the Vietnam War.


The problem this time, however, may be even worse. What started as a critique of specific policies, mostly relating to Iraq, has since brought with it harsh criticism of America as a whole. Many Europeans now criticize Americans just for being Americans, as much as for what the United States actually does. It is a perilous time for the alliance.


To salvage the transatlantic relationship, it is time to return to first principles and to separate legitimate dissent from a rewriting of history. First, President Bush, with the beaches of Normandy as a backdrop, must remind the huge crowds of Europeans assembled and watching of American's sacrifices for Europe, from the Argonne in 1917 to Normandy through the Cold War. These shared experiences should give pause even to those who harbor the harshest strains anti-Americanism. America has sacrificed far too much to have its commitment to the European alliance called into question as is routinely done today in the European press. Second, the President ought to acknowledge that the U.S./European relationship is in peril and that he is authorizing a vastly improved effort at public diplomacy to begin to turn the anti-American tide in Europe.


The primary reason for these efforts is practicality. The stark reality is that if America will need to look to Europe to cobble together the ad hoc coalitions that characterize problem solving in the post-September 11th era, be the issue at hand al-Qaeda, trade, Iran, or the Arab-Israeli conflict.


But the President must also make it clear this reality applies even more to Europe, which wields less political, economic, and military power than does the United States. If Europe is to continue to have a say in the world, the only fruitful policy to follow would resemble the grand diplomatic strategy Britain has maintained since the 1956 Suez crisis: to agree with America strategically and try to shape collective responses tactically, from within. The French Gaullist pipe dream of balancing American power around the globe has left Paris, post-Iraq, with absolutely no influence in Washington. This is not a policy French geopolitical strategists such as Cardinal Richelieu would have approved of, as it leaves France without the ability to significantly impact global events.


It is America and Europe's shared history and the less sentimental present that will drive the transatlantic alliance into the future. President Bush would do well to remind the assembled dignitaries, from President Chirac to Chancellor Schroeder, of all that America has been, is, and will be for the future of the European continent.


John C. Hulsman, Ph.D., is Research Fellow in the Kathryn and Shelby Collum Davis Institute for International Studies, and Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy at The Heritage Foundation.


Nile Gardiner
Nile Gardiner

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow

John Hulsman

Former Senior Research Fellow