American Enterprise Online
February 23, 2005
By Alan W. Dowd  

Alexis de Tocqueville, arguably America’s favorite Frenchman, observed that when an American visits Europe, “he at once finds out that we are not so engrossed by the United States and the great people which inhabits them as he had supposed, and this begins to annoy him.” 

As President George W. Bush travels across Europe, the roles are reversed. Bush represents an America that is increasingly indifferent about Europe, while his European counterparts are increasingly annoyed—if not alarmed—by the United States.  

Consider some of the reactions to Bush’s inaugural. “Despair around the world,” howled one European newspaper. The world “looks back at him with concern,” cried another. Or consider the “Transatlantic Trends 2004” survey, which found that 76 percent of Europeans disapprove of the Bush administration’s international policies, with sizable majorities in Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Slovakia saying that “strong American leadership is somewhat or very undesirable.”   

Evidence of US indifference about Europe is more anecdotal, but as the old saying goes the plural of anecdote is data. After canvassing the US heartland on behalf of the American Foreign Policy Council, former Pentagon official Wayne Merry notes that “Europe as the locus of American attention and anxiety during the cold war is entirely a thing of the past.” Europe’s “obsession with American power,” he concludes, “has no counterpart in America.” 

Yet there are important reasons for Americans to care about Europe. First among them is the stubborn fact that US security still runs through Europe.  

After all, Europe is a key jumping-off point for the US-led war on terror, a war that is far from over. Current and future operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, around the Horn of Africa and beyond depend on decades-old infrastructure in places like Fairford, Lakenheath, Ramstein and Aviano.  

Of course, Europe is more than a garrison for US troops and arms. European countries are making contributions to the war, especially in Afghanistan, where some 9,000 non-American NATO troops provided security for last fall’s elections.

Beyond Afghanistan, French soldiers have made room for US troops in Djibouti, extending America’s reach into the lawless lands of eastern Africa. Key EU nations, including France, Germany, Italy and the UK, have joined the US in forming the Proliferation Security Initiative to intercept weapons of mass destruction and their precursors while in transit.  

Transatlantic cooperation even extends into Iraq. Although most Americans view Iraq as part of the war on terror and most Europeans view it as a diversion, several European nations are doing their part. In fact, fully 21 of the EU’s 25 members supported the campaign in Iraq. US Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld notes, with more than a little glee, that 17 NATO members have deployed troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq. And even France, while stopping short of sending troops, has committed to training an Iraqi gendarme. 

Yet there are plenty of reminders that coalition warfare is not easy: Although there was wide agreement within the alliance to augment NATO’s commitment in Afghanistan with elements of the new NATO Response Force (NRF), French President Jacques Chirac predictably balked. “The NRF is not designed for this,” he unilaterally declared. “It shouldn’t be used for any old matter.” (Americans might take issue with the notion that the security and long-term stability of the very place that incubated al Qaeda is just any old matter.)   

Of course, the global anti-terror campaign represents only part of Europe’s contribution to US security. The nascent international missile defense system is built around a strong transatlantic core, with Britain agreeing to radar upgrades at Fylingdales, and Denmark approving similar upgrades in Greenland. The Polish and Czech governments are negotiating with Washington on the deployment of new radar stations on their soil. Other European states are also cooperating to varying degrees on elements of missile defense.   

Just as Americans need to maintain their interest in Europe, Europeans need to temper their annoyance with America. If you listen closely, Washington is increasingly speaking the language of diplomacy and multilateralism, the language of the EU. Consider the recent comments of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has vowed “to strengthen our alliances, to support our friends, and to make the world safer.” She cites NATO and the EU as America’s “strongest partners in this vital work.” Even Rumsfeld recently conceded that “one nation cannot defeat the extremists alone.” 

Historian John Lewis Gaddis notes that the Bush administration’s “multilateralism outside of Afghanistan and Iraq is insufficiently acknowledged” and “inadequately explained.” In fact, the list of multilateral efforts endorsed or prompted by Bush is noteworthy:  

Bush has assembled a multinational quintet to deal with North Korea’s nukes. He has blended soft and hard power to disarm Libya, assist the countries devastated by the tsunami, and stabilize the Middle East.  

By playing bad cop to Europe’s good cop, Bush has strengthened the EU’s hand in slowing Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. And this week, he explained that “Iran is ... different from Iraq. We're in the early stages of diplomacy.” 

One could argue—in fact, Bush did—that America went to war in Iraq, at least in part, to restore the UN’s credibility, which had been trampled by more than a dozen un-enforced resolutions.  

Bush laid out a roadmap for Palestinian statehood and genuine security in Israel—a roadmap that relies on the UN and EU. Building on the momentum of post-Arafat elections and his own reelection, Bush dutifully dispatched Rice to jumpstart the Middle East peace process earlier this month. 

He has outlined a Greater Middle East Initiative to transform the region through the power of Western investment, institutions and ideas. As Rice observed, Europe and America are already working together through the Forum for the Future “to support and accelerate political, economic and educational reform” from Morocco to Pakistan. 

In short, Europe and America may not agree on everything, but nor do they disagree on everything. The transatlantic partnership continues to pay dividends, even in these times of annoyance and indifference.