View Full Version : How the West Can Be One

April 25th, 2003, 09:10 PM
April 27, 2003

How the West Can Be One


Dear American Friends: We must put the West together again. Our 60-year-old community of Europe and the United States, which we have called in shorthand ''the West,'' has been grotesquely split over Iraq. In recent months, a new Eurasian axis of France, Germany and Russia has squared up against a Euratlantic alliance of the United States, Britain and Spain. Now, after the victory in Iraq, the future of the West will be decided in the Middle East. If we care about the West, we need to work out together what to do about the Middle East.

For where the threatening Soviet East once united us, the Middle East divides us. Yes, I know we had some spectacular trans-Atlantic rows about how to deal with the Soviet bloc, but ultimately the Red Army always concentrated our minds on the need for Western unity. I recently heard a former British foreign secretary sigh, ''If only we had Brezhnev back!'' But there is no more Brezhnev to pull Europe and the United States together again.

We are now repeating, on a larger scale, the mistake we made in the Balkans for most of the 1990's: Western states that don't have fundamentally different interests in a region nonetheless pursue different policies there. Or can you explain to me how the vital interests of France, Germany or Britain in the Middle East differ from those of the United States? I mean vital interests, not the habitual incidentals of competition for oil, contracts and influence. Remember that several of the Al Qaeda terrorists who struck on Sept. 11 started out in Hamburg. The Arab and Muslim world is where the ''war against terrorism'' will be won or lost.

Americans and Europeans have an overwhelming common interest in seeing democracy, peace and prosperity spread through the Middle East -- not least, so that Israel is one day physically connected to the West by a patchwork of Islamic or post-Islamic democracies. This means handing back Iraq as soon as possible to the Iraqis and supporting their federal or confederal democracy. Then, and urgently, it means trying to make progress toward secure, viable states of both Israel and Palestine. One unintended consequence of the war on Iraq is that this can no longer wait. The Palestinian question is now, for the Arab and Muslim world -- and for many Europeans -- the litmus test of whether the Bush administration means what it says about liberating and democratizing the Middle East rather than occupying and colonizing it.

A genuine project of democratization also involves helping to make Iraq's neighbor Turkey worthy of membership in the European Union -- itself an international community with demanding standards of respect for human and minority rights. In countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, it means supporting reform, and perhaps ultimately what I have called refolution, that is, the mixture of reform from above and people's power from below that triumphed in Poland and Hungary in 1989. In all these places, we need to listen to the people in the countries concerned, as we did in Central and Eastern Europe during the cold war. Now those Poles, Hungarians and Czechs that we helped to liberate are themselves fully part of the West and ready to join us in doing for and with the oppressed of the Middle East what was once done for and with them.

This should not, by the way, be a division of labor where the United States does the hard war-fighting and Europe picks up the burden of peaceful reconstruction afterwards: ''America does the cooking; Europe does the washing up.'' That is unhealthy for any modern relationship, even if we accept (which I don't) that Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus. Europe needs to do more of the cooking; America, more of the washing up.

At the moment, Europeans and Americans don't even see the threat the same way. During the cold war, Berlin always felt itself to be more directly threatened than New York; now it's the other way round. I have no doubt that the collapse of the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, was the true beginning of the 21st century. The combination of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, whether by rogue states or rogue groups, is one of the greatest new dangers to all free countries. Americans have woken up -- been woken up -- to this in a way that most Europeans have not. Europe has not yet had its 9/11. There is both hypocrisy and an ostrichlike head-in-the-sand quality about much European discussion, or nondiscussion, of these issues. Tony Blair is the exception who proves the rule. Criticizing America, Europeans sometimes are, as Kipling famously put it, ''makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep.''

However, it is not simply that Europeans feel less threatened by Islamic extremism; in other ways, we feel more so. There are now at least 10 million Muslim immigrants living in the European Union, not to mention the more than 5 million who have lived elsewhere in Europe for centuries in places like Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo. European fears that this Muslim population could be radicalized by events in the Middle East are neither unfounded nor ignoble. Over the next decade, Europe will probably take in another 10 million Muslims, plus at least another 60 million if the E.U. delivers on its promise to include Turkey, which the United States has been urging us to do. As the native European population ages, we could soon find that 1 in every 10 Europeans is a Muslim. It is our elemental concern that peaceful, law-abiding Muslims should feel at home in Europe, and in the West more broadly.

Please remember that the democratic politics of Europe have been rocked over the last few years by populist parties that won a large share of the vote essentially on one issue: hostility to immigration. In Europe today that means, especially, Muslim immigration: Moroccans in Spain, Algerians in France, Turks in Germany, Pakistanis in Britain. (I have just bought my newspaper from a Muslim news agent, picked up my cleaning from a Muslim cleaner and collected my prescription from a Muslim pharmacist, all in leafy North Oxford.)

America is much better than Europe at making immigrants of all creeds and colors feel at home. Obviously, it helps that almost everyone in the U.S. is an immigrant or the descendant of immigrants. America also has a capacious, civic national identity, whereas Europe has a patchwork of exclusive, ethnic national identities. Have you ever met anyone who identified himself or herself as a ''Muslim European''? It actually seems easier for religious Muslims to integrate into a religious but pluralist society like the United States than it is for them to integrate into the very secular societies of Europe. So here we can learn from you.

Yet the American-led war on Iraq has not helped to make Muslims, especially Arab Muslims, feel welcome in the West. I don't need to remind you that the U.S. has some six million Muslims of its own, with more to come. Sensitivity to the wider impact of what will be seen as an Anglo-American neocolonial occupation of an Arab land is not cowardice; it is a necessary weapon in the long-term war against terrorism.

Europeans also tend to have a different analysis of the threat, one that pays more attention to the political causes of Islamist terror and, in particular, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestine is the great symbolic cause of the Arab-Muslim world, repeatedly embraced by Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, the whole Arab League and the ''Arab street'' -- hypocritically, perhaps, but nonetheless effectively. Many Europeans feel that giving the Palestinians a viable state could be a bigger contribution to winning the war against terrorism than deposing Saddam Hussein. In this respect, Tony Blair is very much a European. He has extracted from Washington a commitment to revive the ''road map'' for the peace process between Israel and Palestine. I was deeply depressed the other day to hear from a well-placed American political insider, a Democrat, that no real progress on the issue can be expected until after the November 2004 presidential elections. The Bush administration now has to prove him wrong. Perhaps if Bush had not started the war against Iraq, Palestine might just have waited that long; but he did, and so it can't.

At this point, I should mention a charge made by some conservative commentators in the United States. This is that European support for a viable Palestinian state reflects hostility to a viable Israeli state, which in turn reflects Europe's ancestral, almost genetic anti-Semitism. Vicious attacks on synagogues and individual Jews in European cities are rolled into one poisonous European ball with reasoned criticism of both the Sharon government and the Bush administration's outspoken support for it. For a European to criticize Sharon is for him or her to be an anti-Semite. ''What we are seeing,'' wrote Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post last April, ''is pent-up anti-Semitism, the release -- with Israel as the trigger -- of a millennium-old urge that powerfully infected and shaped European history.'' He continued, ''What so offends Europeans is the armed Jew, the Jew who refuses to sustain seven suicide bombings in the seven days of Passover and strikes back.'' It's ''those people'' again, the Europeans.
I have no doubt that there is still anti-Semitism in Europe today. Broadly speaking, it's of three kinds. There's the virulent anti-Semitism of some Arabs living in Europe, a minority within that minority; there's the very nasty anti-Semitism of the old and new far right in some European countries; and there's the residual, mainly verbal anti-Semitism of parts of the wider population. Yet there are also many, many Europeans who are pro-Palestinian without being anti-Israeli, let alone anti-Semitic. Some of them take a grimly realistic view of Yasir Arafat and his weak, corrupt Palestinian Authority.

To tar such reasoned European critics of the policies of Ariel Sharon with blanket charges of anti-Semitism is offensive -- especially to those of us, Jewish or not, for whom the Holocaust remains central to our whole understanding of liberal politics. In particular, many of us understand the whole European project embodied in the European Union as being, at its deepest core, about the post-Holocaust ''never again.''

We, for our part, are worried by a tendency among conservative Republicans to celebrate and to exaggerate American power. In particular, they exaggerate the United States' capacity to deploy that power effectively outside existing alliances and international institutions. This hyperpower unilateralism seems to us a real departure from the post-1945 tradition of American foreign policy. It's yielding to the temptation that flows from finding yourself -- absent Brezhnev -- as the sole superpower after the end of the cold war.

The new American hubris combines an overestimation of the military dimension of power (to the neglect of the other two dimensions, economic and ''soft'' power) with an overestimation of what the United States can do on its own or in small ''coalitions of the willing.'' I recently asked a senior political figure in Washington how he imagined that the ''war against terrorism'' would end. ''With the elimination of the terrorists,'' he replied. His answer shocked me. Does he really believe that you can win the war against terrorism by military and police means alone? You can win the war against an established state like Saddam Hussein's Iraq, but you can't win the peace this way. We've been seeing that on the streets of Baghdad since Saddam's fall. As Talleyrand once said, you can do anything with bayonets except sit on them. To emerge ultimately victorious in the broader ''war against terrorism,'' it is the peace we have to win, first in Iraq, then in the wider Middle East.

To win the peace, we have to get the symbolism right. That unforgettable scene when an American soldier draped the Stars and Stripes over the head of the giant statue of Saddam Hussein, then hastily took it off, has fatally marred the ''fall of the Berlin Wall'' moment at the end of this war. The Pentagon seriously proposed that a former head of the C.I.A. should become information minister in the new occupation administration. (A satirical novelist like Evelyn Waugh would have blanched at such a crude comic device.) It also seems to me that it would be a crass mistake not to try the Saddamite mass murderers under international law. You couldn't find a better way to make ordinary Iraqis reject this as ''victors' justice.'' For heaven's sake, ask the U.N. to establish a special tribunal for Iraq, as it did for Yugoslavia. Then send Saddam's recently captured two half-brothers and Saddam himself in the unlikely event that we catch him alive, to sit in the Hague, up the corridor from Slobodan Milosevic.

Even the United States, now the most powerful country in the history of the world, cannot manage this process on its own. Militarily, yes, but not politically. I'm as ready as the next man to wallow in neo-Churchillian sentiment about our renewed Anglo-American comradeship in arms -- for approximately five minutes. Two Anglo-Saxon powers are not enough; adding Australia just makes it three WASPs in a desert. Ah, you may say, but that's not all: Washington claimed support in the Iraq war from 45 countries. Who needs France when you have stout Micronesia at your side? As for Europe, we are told that the United States can manage just fine with a combination of Blair's Britain, Jose Maria Aznar's Spain, Silvio Berlusconi's Italy and what Donald Rumsfeld calls ''new Europe'' -- that is, the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe that will shortly be joining the European Union. Now this is a serious point for the future of the West, seriously wrong.

My old friends in the post-dissident political elites of Central and Eastern Europe today are generally more pro-American than their French or German counterparts. They are grateful to the United States for its support in their struggle for freedom; some are still worried about Russia; they believe in the trans-Atlantic community of values, about which Vaclav Havel has spoken so well. Their publics and some of their political successors are already less sure. As these countries are integrated into the European Union, they will probably identify more with Europe. Above all, though, their message to Washington, on the one side, and to Paris and Berlin on the other, is ''Please don't ask us to choose between you!'' They are right. Let me say this as emphatically as I can: the West will include France and Germany, or the West will no longer exist.

Believe me, I hold no brief for Gerhard Schroder and Jacques Chirac. Every Western leader has miscalculated over Iraq, including Bush and Blair, but these two behaved especially badly. Schroder has opportunistically stoked the flames of pacifist opinion in Germany in order to remain in power. Chirac has been grandstanding in pursuit of a neo-Gaullist dream of France leading a rassemblement of the non-American world. His commitment to veto a second U.N. Security Council resolution, whatever its terms might be, was outrageous. His crude and arrogant criticism of East European support for the United States was as crass as anything Donald Rumsfeld has said about ''old Europe.''

Yet the French-bashing in Washington has gone too far. (A French-American friend points out wryly that while the French fries on the menu on Capitol Hill have been renamed Freedom fries, the menu is still called menu.) It's odd that this should need restating, but France is one of the classic lands of Western liberty, or as the French once put it themselves, liberté, égalité and fraternité. France remains the second most important military power in Europe, after Britain. No serious European policy can be made without it. During the disastrous diplomatic prelude to the Iraq war, some Americans may have wished that Churchill had never succeeded in persuading Roosevelt to give France a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. But Churchill was right: the Europe we want cannot be built without France. So Washington should not indulge in the old imperial pastime of divide et impera, divide and rule. A divided Europe is not in our interest or yours.

A more united Europe and a less arrogant United States should work together with all the peoples of the Middle East to do for them what we did with and for the peoples of Middle Europe during the cold war. This can be our trans-Atlantic project for the next generation. Here's how we put the West together again.

Shall we talk about it?

Timothy Garton Ash is director of the European Studies Center at St. Antony's College at Oxford and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. He is working on a book about relations between the United States and Europe.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

April 26th, 2003, 02:41 PM
The author makes one important assumption: that the road to democracy in the Middle East will follow the same route as the Eastern Bloc.

The wild card is Islam (as practiced in the Arab states). The connection beteen government and religion has produced societies that are stuck in the middle ages.

May 7th, 2003, 12:32 PM
> In recent months, a new Eurasian axis of France, Germany
> and Russia has squared up against a Euratlantic alliance
> of the United States, Britain and Spain.

Isn't exactly true. While popular sentiment in Europe is against the war, well really against any war of any kind anywhere for any reason with anyone... the European "street" is basically knee-jerk pacifist... Every European government backed the war in Iraq except Germany, France and Belgium. The one thing that held these three (Germany, France, Russia) together was their own economic ties to Bagdad. Iraq's three largest foreign trading partners were Russia, France and Germany, in that order. French Ministers refer to Iraq as "the Gas-Pump" in much the same way as American diplomats look at America's relationship with Saudi Arabia.

> ...[C]an you explain to me how the vital interests
> of France, Germany or Britain in the Middle East
> differ from those of the United States? I mean vital
> interests, not the habitual incidentals of
> competition for oil, contracts and influence.

Anybody who thinks a nation doesn't consider its oil sources a "vital interest" is naive. The split with France goes to show just how vital France does consider its source of oil.

I agree with the aurthor's sentiment, but not with much of his premise.

May 30th, 2003, 05:44 AM
May 30, 2003

Are You With Us? Are We Against You?


When President Bush speaks tomorrow in Krakow, Poland, he should give the whole of Europe this message: we, the United States, want a strong, coherent European Union. By the time he leaves the Group of 8 meeting in Évian, France, next Monday, European leaders should have responded with this message: we, the dynamically expanding European Union, want to define our new identity through a partnership with the United States, not through opposition to it.

The future of the West depends on the clarity and conviction with which these two strategic messages are delivered. Of course, everyone will make some polite noises of this kind — even Jacques Chirac, at which Tony Blair will doubtless take a large pinch of salt in his Évian water. But can the two sides convey to the other that they really believe it? Do they, in fact, believe it?

Since the president last visited Poland, in June 2001, each side of the Atlantic has given the other serious cause for doubt. Throughout the cold war, Western Europe could count on the United States as a consistent supporter of European integration. As the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the best single characterization of our common goal was given by President George H. W. Bush: "Europe whole and free." Yet Europe and America were no longer held together by the common enemy — the Soviet threat — and divergences of view increased in the 1990's. These, however, were kept in check by the liberal internationalism of the Clinton administration, and by the personality of Bill Clinton, himself a former Oxford student and, so to speak, an honorary European.

Of course, this changed sharply with the advent of the second Bush administration. In the crisis over Iraq, the West split down the middle. The dividing line, however, ran not down the Atlantic Ocean but through the heart of Europe, with the central part of the original European Community — France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg — opposing the United States over the Iraq war, while a sickle line of states — Britain, Spain, Italy, Poland and most of the smaller countries in Central and Eastern Europe — supported it. Or at least, their governments did.

Three things were new here. First, the extent of the disunity and the vehemence of the criticism were unmatched in even the worst trans-Atlantic disputes of the cold war. Second, in this larger Europe, including the post-Communist countries soon to join the European Union, there was a standoff between two groups of European states that were roughly balanced in power. Third, and crucially, Washington encouraged and exploited this division.

Famously, Donald Rumsfeld remarked that the United States didn't need "old Europe" (that is, France and Germany) as allies in the Iraq war, when it had "new Europe" (the states on the sickle) on its side. If pro-American European states provided the sickle, Washington was the hammer.

Indeed, from the outset, the Bush administration was ideologically suspicious of international organizations and multilateral structures, of which the European Union is perhaps the world's most advanced exemplar. From the start, the administration had a tendency to work with a few favored nations in Europe: Britain, Poland, Spain, and — until Gerhard Schröder blew it completely — there might have been Germany. The United States military wasn't comfortable fighting the Kosovo war in a complex multilateral alliance. At the same time, Europe's growing economic strength has increased Washington's reluctance to endorse wholeheartedly a strong, integrated Europe.

Asked to characterize Washington's current approach to Europe, a senior State Department official recently responded with one word: "disaggregation." That means favoring some countries, like Poland, and punishing others, like France. Or, as the Romans used to put it, "divide et impera," divide and rule. Today, with a single hyperpower and a larger, more complex Europe, the United States could certainly go on pursuing this classic imperial strategy. The question is, does it want to? Is it consonant with the values, history and habits of cooperation that Europe and America share? Is it in the United States' own long-term national interest, when the West as a whole faces such major challenges, in the Middle East and elsewhere?

Yet Europe also has to answer a hard question, and answer it frankly. Does it want to be a partner or a rival to the United States? There has always been a strong tradition in the mainstream of European integration, the Gaullist tradition, which saw a strong Europe, in close partnership with Russia, as a counterbalance to the hegemony of "les Anglo-Saxons." In the Iraq crisis, aided by a weak and confused German leadership, Jacques Chirac produced a crude, reach-me-down version of this Gaullist vision, in the Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis of refusal. But there are deeper forces pushing in this direction too.

For 50 years, democratic, integrating Europe defined itself against two sinister Others — the Soviet Union, and Europe's own bloody past. Now the Soviet Union is gone and most Europeans are too young and ignorant of history for the memory of that bloody past to be a psychological driving force of integration. So Europeans are casting around for another Other, against which to define the enlarged European Union — which is trying to give itself a new constitution and a clearer identity. Significantly helped by George W. Bush, and even more by the European caricature of him as a Texan cowboy, many have found the new Other in the United States.

Strong claims are made about the qualitative differences between an American model of a brutally individualistic "market society" and a European model of social solidarity and the welfare state. Some suggest that one can identify a set of "European values" that are quite distinctive from, and better than, American ones. Robert Kagan's brilliant neo-conservative caricature of Americans as warlike Hobbesians and Europeans as pacifist Kantians is warmly greeted by the anti-American European left. Altogether, Europeans like to wallow in what Sigmund Freud called "the narcissism of minor difference." So Europe, like the United States, has a very serious temptation it must resist.

These are profound, strategic choices for both sides. There's no point in pretending they don't exist for the sake of a smiling group photo. Each side's answer to its big question obviously depends on the other's. In the memorable words of Ronald Reagan, another American president whom Europeans loved to caricature, but who ended up paving the way to our Europe whole and free: it takes two to tango.

Timothy Garton Ash is director of the European Studies Center at St. Anthony's College, Oxford, and a fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

June 2nd, 2003, 01:09 PM
Agreed, Donald Rumsfeld didn't help anyone (least of all, America) is his forever infamous "old Europe" remark. He should have taken the high road and let Chirac continue to make an ass of himself. Instead he chose to show his own ass, too.

> we, the dynamically expanding European Union, want to
> define our new identity through a partnership with the
> United States, not through opposition to it.

But, at least from the French perspective, they don't. According to Chirac, France feels the proper role of the EU is, 'to counterbalance the hegomony of American hyper-power...'.

In other words, that the primary cause for a united Europe is to assume the former role of the USSR.

I think a lot of EU member states have banded together to strengthen trade relationships that will help grow their economy. They have a rational that is either benevolent to, or in alignment with American interests. France has a broader agenda than this. It clearly and absolutely does not see itself as America's ally. Occassionally nations can agree to disagree (unless they disagree with Chirac, then they're told how they, 'missed a fine opportunity to Shut up...'). Chirac wants to construct a World order where Europe is diametrically opposed to America, with France at its helm.

Germany can largely be forgiven for opposing a war in Iraq... or a war anywhere. It was America who imposed a picifistic constitution on Germany after WWII. However, Shroder cannot be forgiven for whipping up xenophobic tendencies to win his own reelection. He should be held personally responsible.

Russia's opposition, however two faced, was handled with the most diplomacy. Putin let some of his ministers lash out at the US, but for the most part kept his own tone down to a disagreement among friends.

I've read that the policy being pushed by Condoliza Rice is "Forgive Russia, Ignore Germany, Punish France."

June 5th, 2003, 06:59 PM
U.S. Must Fight for Europe's Soul

Financial Times, June 2, 2003

Philip H. Gordon, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies

As reprinted by Brookings Institute:


Last month's Security Council vote authorising the American-led occupation of Iraq was seen by many in Washington as vindicating a certain style of American leadership: if we lead they will follow. While the US could not win United Nations or Nato support for starting the Iraq war, its military victory has left others with little choice but to acquiesce to US designs.

It is true that nothing succeeds like success. Those who tried to prevent American intervention before did not dare attempt to deny it legitimacy this time round. But Americans would be mistaken in believing that Europe's Iraq debate—or Europe's America debate—is over. It is striking how differently the war's outcome is perceived on each side of the Atlantic. While this gap persists, so will questions about the transatlantic alliance—and Washington's ability to win European support in the future.

Most Americans think victory has freed the Iraqi people, eliminating a threat that has dogged us for more than a decade. According to a Gallup poll last week, 80 per cent of Americans now see the conflict representing a "turning-point" or a "major achievement" in the war on terrorism.

Nearly 70 per cent believe military action was justified and that the world is a safer place as a result. Even the failure to find weapons of mass destruction has not tarnished President George W. Bush's aura of victory.

Europe's assessment could not be more different. While Europeans are hardly nostalgic for Saddam Hussein, large majorities in France, Germany and even Britain believe the world is now more dangerous. Only in a few European countries do a majority think the war was justified. The European press describes Iraq as on the verge of chaos, facing the spectre of radical Shia rule, ethnic clashes and threats against occupying troops.

In Paris two weeks ago a senior French official told a delegation of Americans that France's prediction that an Iraq war would create "a thousand new Bin Ladens" was being confirmed with the recent terrorist attacks in Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Chechnya. And where, Europeans ask, are the weapons of mass destruction? Where is the proof of Mr Hussein's alleged ties to al-Qaeda? Did America lie to its European allies in order to sell a war it was determined to wage?

The next time US officials solemnly step forward to present intelligence-based accusations of misbehaviour—on Iran's nuclear programme, or Syrian support for terrorism, for example—Europeans will be even more reluctant to believe them.

Americans should not be complacent about Europe's take on the war, dismissing it as the same sort of misguided or irrelevant Euro-whining that led some allies to oppose it originally. If it is true that the desire to side with the US led some European governments to override public opinion and back the war, it has not spurred the faith in American leadership that Washington believes it deserves. The bruising experience has only fuelled desires to build Europe as a counterweight to the US. Round one in the contest with Paris and Berlin over Europe's future went to Washington and London. But decisive battles over Europe's soul lie ahead. If the leaders who backed America on Iraq are not prepared to do so next time—or, worse, are booted from power—America will be forced to act alone.

The US needs to do more than rely on raw power if it wants to ensure a Europe that is not hostile to its aims. The first requirement is to succeed in Iraq. The administration's failure to prepare for chaos and looting was a gift to its critics. If Washington wants to win over sceptical Europeans, it must make it impossible to argue that the war was not worth it. We remain far from that. Particularly if no weapons of mass destruction are found, the legitimacy of invasion will be judged on whether we leave Iraq in better condition than we found it.

Second, Washington needs to give others a stake in success. If not, critics—at least subconsciously—will wish for failure to justify their opposition and curb American arrogance. The new UN resolution and willingness to involve Nato are a good start. The next steps should include sending UN weapons inspectors back to Iraq and then to deploy a Nato force, including French and German troops. Just as the west overcame its divisions in the Balkans only once Nato deployed on the ground, in Iraq we shall remain divided until we have a collective interest in stability and success.

Last, it is time for Washington to stop the silly practice of "punishing" those who did not support the war. French policy on Iraq was not helpful and it was disappointing that Paris chose to lobby against the US at the UN despite acknowledging the validity of the American legal case based on Resolution 1441. But French policy was also the legitimate expression of the will of a democratic ally. It does America no good to try running the Atlantic alliance as if it were the Warsaw Pact. Petty retaliation against the French by the Pentagon—including cancelling joint military exercises—only undercuts our friends in Europe and provokes those who want to build up the EU as a counterweight.

A dose of magnanimity in victory could mend some frayed ties and begin to focus a vital alliance on the future

March 13th, 2004, 07:32 AM
March 13, 2004


Across a Great Divide


On its March 4 cover, Der Spiegel posed the question "Will America Become Democratic Again?," stating that it is "5 minutes to 12 for George W. Bush."

The New York Post ran this picture on Feb. 14, 2003.

BERLIN, March 12 — The war in Iraq has made the Atlantic seem wider. But really it has had the effect of a magnifying glass, bringing older and more fundamental differences between Europe and the United States into focus.

These growing divisions — over war, peace, religion, sex, life and death — amount to a philosophical dispute about the common origins of European and American civilization. Both children of the Enlightenment, the United States and Europe clearly differ about the nature of this inheritance and about who is its better custodian.

Start with religion. The United States is experiencing a revival of the Christian faith in many areas of civic and political life, while in Europe the process of secularization continues unabated. Today the United States is the most religious-minded society of the Western democracies. In a 2003 Harris poll 79 percent of Americans said they believed in God, and more than a third said they attended a religious service once a month or more. Numerous polls have shown that these figures are much lower in Western Europe. In the United States a majority of respondents in recent years told pollsters that they believed in angels, while in Europe the issue was apparently considered so preposterous that no one even asked the question.

When American commentators warn about a new fundamentalism, they generally mention only the Islamic one. European intellectuals include two other kinds: the Jewish and Christian variants.

Terms that President Bush has used, like "crusade" and "axis of evil," and Manichaean exclusions like his observation that anyone who is not on our side is on the side of the terrorists, reveal the assumption of a religious mantle by a secular power, which in Europe has become unthinkable. Was it not, perhaps, this same sense of religious infallibility that seduced senior members of the Bush administration into leading their country into a war with Iraq on the basis of information that has turned out to be false?

Another reason for Europe's alienation from the United States is harder to define, but for want of a better term, I call it American narcissism.

When American troops in Iraq mistakenly shoot an Arab journalist or reduce half of a village to rubble in response to the explosion of a roadside bomb, there will inevitably be a backlash. Only a fool would maintain that an occupying power could afford many such mistakes, even if it is under constant threat of suicide attacks. The success of an occupation policy — however temporary it is meant to be — depends on the occupier's ability to convince the population, by means of symbolic and material gestures, that it is prepared to admit to mistakes.

In its use of the language of power the Bush administration has created the opposite impression, and not just in Iraq. The United States apparently cannot be wrong about anything, nor does it have to apologize to anybody. In many parts of the world people have come to believe, fairly or not, that Americans regard the life of their countrymen as infinitely more valuable than the lives of any other of the earth's inhabitants.

Of course, even in Europe only a pacifist minority denies the existence of necessary, unavoidable, justified wars. The interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan were supported by many European nations, even if some took a long time to make up their minds. European soldiers took part in those wars and continue to play a part in the peacekeeping aftermath.

What arouses European suspicion, though, is the doctrine of just, preemptive wars President Bush has outlined. Anyone who claims to be waging a preventive war in the cause of justice is confusing either a particular or a partisan interest with the interests of humanity. A president who makes such a claim would be arrogating the right to be the ultimate arbiter of war and peace and to stand in judgment over the world. From there it is but a short step to dismissing a basic insight of the Enlightenment, namely that human judgment and decisions are fallible by their very nature. This fallibility cannot be annulled or ameliorated by any political, legal or religious authority. The same argument goes for the death penalty.

Animosity isn't the only feature of the trans-Atlantic relationship. Europe is rightly envious of America's multicultural society. There can be no doubt that the United States has produced the world's most varied and integrative culture, and it is no accident that it is the only one to have a worldwide appeal.

But the American multicultural model also generates an illusion. Since Americans really have come from all over the world, in the United States it is easy to believe that you can know and understand the world without ever leaving the country. Those who were born and brought up in America forget that these people "from all over the world" first had to become Americans — a condition that new immigrants generally accept with enthusiasm — before they could celebrate their cultural otherness.

This is why it is always an American version of otherness that is encountered in the United States. You will not necessarily learn anything about the culture and history of Vietnam by working alongside a Vietnamese doctor in the teaching hospital at Stanford. You can sit next to an Indian in the same dot.com company in Los Angeles for years without learning much about the manners and customs of India. And going to a French restaurant in Atlanta is no guarantee that you will be served French cuisine.

Foreign films account for less than 1 percent of the American film market, and the figures are similarly low for books and news from abroad.

The impressive integrative power of American society seems to generate a kind of obliviousness to the world, a multicultural unilateralism. The result is a paradox: a fantastically tolerant and flexible society that has absorbed the whole world, yet has difficulty comprehending the world beyond its borders.

These differences and irritations add up to a substantial disagreement on the joint origins of American and European civilization. Europeans think that Americans are on their way to betraying some of the elementary tenets of the Enlightenment, establishing a new principle in which they are "first among unequals."

And Washington accuses Europe of shirking its international responsibilities, and thus its own human rights inheritance.

After all, what is the point of international law if it prevents intervening in the affairs of a brutal regime to stay the hand of a tyrant? Who is the true advocate of human rights: the one who cites international law to justify standing by while genocide is being committed or the one who puts an end to the genocide, even if it means violating international law?

Unfortunately, we cannot expect the news media in the United States or Europe to present a nuanced view of this dispute. In 20 years of traveling back and forth between Germany and America I have become convinced that news broadcasts usually confirm their audiences' views: in Europe, about America, the "cowboy nation," and in the United States, about Europe, the "axis of weasels."

These disagreements will be influenced but cannot be resolved by the the American presidential election in November. The divisions are too deep, and Europe cannot meet the United States halfway on too many issues — the separation between church and state, the separation of powers, respect for international law, the abolition of the death penalty — without surrendering its version of its Enlightenment inheritance.

On other contentious issues the United States feels as strongly: the universality of human rights and the need to intervene — if the United Nations is unable to act — when there is genocide or ethnic cleansing, or when states are failing.

So are we standing on the threshold of a new understanding or a new historic divide, comparable to the evolutionary split that occurred when a group of pioneer hominids thousands of years ago turned their backs forever on their African homeland?

So far it has usually been the Americans who have had to remind the Europeans of these common origins, which the Europeans, in turn, have so often betrayed. Maybe this time it is up to the Europeans to remind the Americans of the promises of the Enlightenment that the United States seems to have forgotten.

Peter Schneider is a German novelist and essayist. This article was translated from the German by Victor Homola of The New York Times.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company