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Europe Seethes as the U.S. Flies Solo in World Affairs

23 February 2002

Europe's unconditional solidarity with the Bush administration, declared so quickly in the shock after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, has faded almost as suddenly.

In public pronouncements and interviews, America's European allies are seething over what they see as a renewed American impulse to disregard them and go it alone as the Bush administration considers expanding its war on terrorism to Iraq.

The Sept. 11 attacks gave President Bush a defining cause and the wind of virtue, and both the European Union and the NATO alliance lined up solidly behind the United States.

But the Europeans thought that Washington's work to build a vast international coalition against terrorism meant a new willingness to work more closely with allies, in particular, to pay more heed to the Europeans themselves.

"But more and more of us now think we were wrong," a senior European official said. "That feeds some of the bitterness."

In Washington, a senior American official said: "It's pretty bad right now. It's a negative environment. The Europeans think that the United States is so powerful it can't be constrained."

Senior European officials are now trying to take the sting out of the bitter spat with Washington over Mr. Bush's formulation of an "axis of evil." But the new diplomatic politesse is merely a tea towel covering a serious dispute over American foreign policy that was suppressed by the international solidarity after Sept. 11.

Behind the heated accusations of unilateralism, arrogance, bad manners and oversimplification lie cultural and ideological differences made wider by the Afghan war and more vivid by the prospect of a new war in Iraq.

Mr. Bush, awake to new dangers, wants to change the world, American officials say; Europe, preoccupied with its own growing pains in a deepening and expanding union, wants to continue to manage it.

The Europeans, moreover, are not convinced that military means are the best way of doing either, and they complain that their offers of military aid were in any case largely spurned, and not always graciously.

They are trying, as best as they can, to influence Washington's debate, especially about Iraq, depending greatly on Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, the former general who helped build the coalition against terrorism, but whose moderating views, the Europeans fear, are being pushed aside.

In particular, the American proposal to build on the Afghan war and move to a new doctrine of pre-emption military action against Iraq, for example, justified by its potential danger alone has fueled European accusations that America is willing to ignore its best allies and even international law to defend its own global interests.

"Before Sept. 11, the U.S. and Europe were slowly drifting apart, but now it looks like they're on a collision course," said Ivo Daalder, a Dutch- born former Clinton administration official now with the Brookings Institution.

"While many hoped that U.S. foreign policy would be more to Europe's liking," Mr. Daalder said, "Washington has been even more unilateralist than before, more insistent on having its way and more dismissive of the perspectives of others whether it is on rebuilding Afghanistan, addressing underlying causes of terrorism, or broadening the scope of the war on terrorism."

Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, is asking both sides to behave like adults, for which he was thanked in a telephone call by Secretary Powell. "This relationship is too serious to play with, for us and for you," Mr. Solana said in an interview. "We have to maintain the sense of maturity on both sides."

But the Europeans themselves, after the successful introduction of a new European currency, the euro, are feeling more assertive, and with hard-fought elections this year in two of the largest European countries, France and Germany, left-wing politicians like the French foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine, and the German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, have been beefing up their base with attacks on Mr. Bush and his remarks about an "axis of evil."

The criticism cannot be dismissed as mere politics, European and American officials say. On Wednesday, a discussion on German television featured sharp criticism of American foreign policy across the German political spectrum.

"Solidarity no longer seems unconditional," a participant in the program noted. Even the German president, Johannes Rau, who is supposed to be above politics, warned Americans that international success depended on alliances.

"The success of future actions, both economically and politically, will not lie in isolation or policies of lonely decision-making," Mr. Rau said. "Especially when it comes to the use of military means, there has to be acceptance worldwide for it to be of lasting success. Partners have to be ready to speak with each other and listen to each other but then to act jointly."

European officials now sense that they must shout in order to be heard in a warlike, messianic Washington, and even then, wonder if it matters, and now think the shouting is counterproductive, particularly if it undermines Secretary Powell.

Culturally, too, the Europeans see their influence in the world as a product of their united voice. The instrument for that unity is the European Union, a model of shared and devolved sovereignty that is built on multilateralism and compromise.

Europe is a regional power with global ambitions, but those ambitions have more to do with civilian power, aid and trade, than military might. Only the United States sees its national interests at risk from Tokyo to Banff, giving Washington a different set of priorities and the desire and need for a much bigger, more mobile and sophisticated military.

Christopher Patten, the European Union commissioner for foreign policy, is sticking to his words. He had warned Washington about the dangers of "unilateralist overdrive" in the fight against terrorism and of abandoning constructive engagement with Iran and North Korea.

"I'm a real friend of America who doesn't happen to confuse friendship with sycophancy," he said in an interview.

Americans get annoyed when Europeans sound "hand-wringing and sententious and patronizing," he said. "And we get cross when we think America is throwing its weight around."

Part of the problem, Mr. Patten acknowledges, is that America's military weight dwarfs that of the rest of the world, and it is growing heavier, with Mr. Bush proposing a $48 billion increase in the Pentagon's budget that is a third greater than the total military budget of Britain, NATO's second-largest military spender.

Afghanistan was relatively easy. But the European-American alliance "is coming to some very difficult choices," Mr. Patten said. "Managing our relationship is going to require thought and care."

Asked if he felt he truly understood the change in the American psyche after Sept. 11, Mr. Patten paused, then said, "Even those of us who've subsequently been to New York and know America well and have vast sympathy for New York and for America after what's happened, I don't think quite get it."

"I don't think we fully comprehend the impact of a grand innocence and a sense of magnificent self-confidence and invulnerability being shattered in that appalling way," he added." I think that's a perfectly legitimate criticism to make of us."

He recognized, he said, that the Bush administration had found a cause. "And when you're fighting a big cause," he said, " `yes but' isn't necessarily the clarion call that people want to hear."

Still, he said, serious issues of alliance politics and international law were at stake, and sheer logic.

Iraq, Iran and North Korea are not an axis, he said, and they are not the world's only weapons proliferators.

Why, Mr. Patten asks, is constructive engagement to produce better behavior a good idea in China and Russia (both of them serious proliferators of dangerous technologies) but a bad idea in Iran? "I can't understand why people think we should give up on the reformers now," he said.

Why not make a stronger effort with the Russians to get weapons inspectors back into Iraq? he asked. Why not acknowledge foreign aid and nation-building as important tools in the fight against terrorism?

Most important, the United States has permanent friends and allies who need to be heard, he said.

Mr. Patten, in a literary way, gave a gentle warning about the hubris of empire. He recalled Kipling's "Recessional," with the line "lest we forget," which is used every year to remember the dead. But people forget the context, he said. Then he quoted from the poem:

Far-called our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget.

Kipling wrote the poem at the height of British imperial power, Mr. Patten noted. "It was a warning that was not, alas, heeded."

Steven Erlanger
Published in the New York Times © 2002 New York Times Company

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