While George Bush was delivering his State of the Union address two weeks ago, a British cartoonist came up with his version of "the State of the Other Nation" and the state of that other nation, meaning Europe, looked pretty bleak in the drawing. The illustrator put the leaders of the continent around a large round table and showed them at their best: Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar was sticking a knife into the back of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who in turn was plunging a knife into the back of his British colleague, Tony Blair, who was smiling foxily at French President Jacques Chirac as he knifed him, and so on and so forth. So much blood being spilled, and no shots have yet been fired in Iraq.
There was only one element missing from the drawing, that of the conductor: the image of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, smiling happily behind the European scene could have made the picture perfect.
Rivers of ink have been spilled since Rumsfeld decided to call Germany and France "the Old Europe," as he defined it. Mountains of words have been written about the petition signed by the Gang of Eight - Spain, Britain, Italy, Denmark, Portugal, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic - meant to prove Rumsfeld's point, that there is a new, dynamic Europe, one that supports Uncle Sam's positions unquestioningly.
Rumsfeld didn't initiate the petition, nor apparently the one signed by 10 East European leaders, which was published after Colin Powell's appearance at the UN. But Rumsfeld's spirit was no doubt hovering over the two declarations. Last weekend he took another step, when he included Germany in an equation with Libya and Cuba, and defined France as "a country that has turned disagreement with everyone else into a tradition."
The trans-Atlantic vulgarity benefited from some comic relief when the German Interior Minister Otto Schily hinted the ugliness might have something to do with a Freudian complex resulting from Rumsfeld's origins: "His forefathers lived in the Bremen area in northern Germany, where the people are known for their eccentric statements," said the German minister.
A more serious effort to identify the true motives behind Rumsfeld's statement about the "Old Europe" was made by the Financial Times, which revealed conversations that were held recently in Brussels between American diplomats and military officials with their European colleagues. According to those conversations, the roots of the Bush-Rumsfeld policy in Europe are about a much deeper and substantial problem than the management of the war in Iraq. Ultimately, the war will end with an American victory. Washington will get cooperation from Europe, including France and possibly Germany. But long after the new Iraqi order is in place, the question of the new European order will echo in the capitals of the continent - and that's what really worries Rumsfeld and Bush.
The petitions by the 8 and the 10 are evidence of a severe European identity complex: Eastern European countries, which will be joining the EU next year, continue to reveal their deep affinity for Washington. However, the U.S. is afraid that the Paris-Berlin axis will ultimately overcome both the yea-sayers in the western part of the continent and the herd of Trojan horses coming from the East. The Financial Times report indicates that behind Rumsfeld's "Old Europe" declaration was a lot less contempt and braggadocio than fears about where France and Germany want to take Europe.
In the past the U.S. regarded the French-German alliance as one of the most important developments of the postwar era. Now it explains to those two countries that their policies are dangerous; in the past Henry Kissinger complained there was "no telephone number" to call in Europe on urgent international matters. Now, Washington is nervous about a German-French initiative to create the position of a foreign minister who would be parallel to the American secretary of state; in the past the Clinton administration encouraged Europe to deepen its involvement in Kosovo and other conflicts in "Europe's backyard." The Bush administration would be happy if all the new initiatives by the EU to formulate a common defense policy were to fail.
The vision of the "Old Europe" bothers Washington. Europe's federalist plans, as reflected in the draft constitution presented over the weekend, threaten the world order of American hegemony. Rumsfeld wants to remove that threat; he wants an end to history in Europe. He'll beat Iraq. But he'll have a more difficult time with history.
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