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U.S., Europe drawing closer together
by James K. Glassman
Scripps Howard News Service


February 08, 2005

Amsterdam, Netherlands - "There is nothing Europeans want to hear from George Bush, nothing that will change their minds," wrote Thomas Friedman of The New York Times recently after he spent 10 days in Europe. "Mr. Bush is more widely and deeply despised than any U.S. president in history."

Well, I have just spent eight days in Europe, and I couldn't disagree more.

Sure, many Europeans still caricature and despise President Bush (just as many Blue Staters do), but European policymakers are excruciatingly interested in what he will be saying on his trip here in less than two weeks.

The truth is that, on the eve of Bush's visit, the United States and Europe are drawing closer together _ but not because Americans are acceding to the wishes of Europeans. Our policies haven't changed, but Europe has.

Why the difference, in such a short time?

First, Europeans are realists. They have finally come to understand that, with his re-election, Bush is here to stay. He's not changing his mind about the Kyoto Protocol or the International Criminal Court. John Kerry won't ride to the rescue.

Second, the elections in Iraq have had a profound effect. Le Monde, the left-leaning newspaper of France's intelligentsia, headlined Tuesday: "Franco-American Rapprochement After Iraq Elections." My dictionary says a rapprochement is "an agreement between two opposing groups."

Friedman wrote his piece on Jan. 27, before the vote, but it's a different Europe today. No, the French and Germans aren't sending troops to Iraq just now, but they are getting actively involved in security and reconstruction. The election gives them a rationale: It's the Iraqis who seek their assistance, not the Americans. Of course, the effect is the same. Europe now sees the same path to success in Iraq as we do.

Third, the president has formulated his foreign policy with more clarity, especially in his inaugural speech. It's a combination of principle and prudence, which, rather than being a destabilizing break with the past, is actually a continuation of American tradition.

Woodrow Wilson wanted to make the world safe for democracy. Bush wants democracy to make the world safe.

This clearer, more powerful formulation of policy would have been welcome before the Iraq war (instead, the United States emphasized legalisms in an effort to get U.N. approval), but it's better late than never, and it is being treated with respect among Europeans who previously saw U.S. policy as simply naive and cynical.

Fourth, the new secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is seen, unlike her predecessor, as speaking for the president. While the message she's bringing Europe in her visit this week is a continuation of policy she helped set in the first term, her tone is friendly. The very fact that she and the president are focusing so much attention on Europe in the first few weeks of the new term (in the first term it was Mexico) is viewed as a significant change.

Fifth, the European Union itself is different, with the accession last year of 10 new countries, mainly from Eastern Europe. Members of the European parliament from such countries recognize the role the United States played in freeing them from Soviet domination. Ronald Reagan is their hero.

Also, the EU has new leaders. The European Commission's president is Jose Manuel Barroso, former conservative prime minister of Portugal. He is pushing for U.S.-style liberalization of European economies, with allies like Charlie McCreevy of Ireland for internal markets and Neelie Kroes of the Netherlands for competition. Europe's economy is stagnating, and it is losing industries like pharmaceuticals because of price controls, taxes and regulations that restrict the movement of labor and the access of consumers to information.

But be clear: Europeans are not drawing closer to the United States because we're changing our policies to suit them.

As my American Enterprise Institute colleague, Danielle Pletka, wrote last week in the Financial Times: "Washington is setting not only the agenda but also the terms of debate." She says that Europe has moved toward the U.S. position on Iran as a nuclear threat, and on new leadership and democracy as preconditions for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Left Bank intellectuals will still ridicule Bush, but, in this new world, they are becoming just as irrelevant as their counterparts in Manhattan and Hollywood.


James K. Glassman is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute
and host of the Web site,
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service


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