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Scenes from an Italian Conference

A meeting between Americans and Europeans brings an end to the rift. Sort of.

12:00 AM, Jun 18, 2003 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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Another German journalist thought the problem might have to do with different sets of cultural values on issues like the death penalty. Asmus pointed out that "if Harry Truman asked me about these deep differences between Europe and America and my answer was the death penalty and genetically modified organisms, he would laugh and say we were crazy and ask about the real issues of war and peace." Mark Brzezinski, a former director at the National Security Council, explained to the Europeans the difference in threat perceptions after September 11, which had Americans "feeling more unsafe than at any other time in recent memory while Europeans in the post-Cold War are feeling more secure than ever."

And not all Europeans shared the same mind. Jan Ross, a writer for Die Zeit, took some by surprise when he recalled the events of 1989. "What were the two most important lessons of that year? First, that freedom matters. Second, that change can be better than stability." He asked everyone to think about this when discussing Iraq. Cem Ozdemir, another fellow at the German Marshall Fund and the first member of the Bundestag of Turkish descent, was critical of how some of his fellow Germans were thinking. He pointed out that some of his countrymen scoffed at the idea of German peacekeepers serving under Polish command and believed the widespread notion that the Middle East cannot be democratized because Arabs are not yet enlightened.

Even some of the stronger critics of America, like Thomas Gutschker, the foreign editor of Rheinischer Merkur, conceded that while they disagree with the Bush administration, they don't consider the president to be ignorant (anymore). "After reading Woodward's book, it is clear that Bush is not dumb. He is just not an ideologue--he listens to both sides and then comes to a decision."

(Gutschker has really had it, however, with E.U. farm subsidies. "The European Union spends almost half its budget on farm policy. It would be great if the United States applied even more pressure on us and ridiculed our current policy.")

Michael Jansen of the Christian Democrats added that "even though we might not agree with your government, we would not have turned it into a personal thing or called the action immoral, which is what Schröder did. It went too far."

Everyone noted how soft-spoken the two French attendees were, neither of whom really defended Chirac. More outspoken were non-E.U. representatives, like Romana Vlahutin of the Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who chastised both sides of the Atlantic, claiming that the pressure on her country to take a position was like "forcing a child to pick who she loves more, mommy or daddy. We were beginning to like neither."

While discussions were spirited at times, they never turned caustic--that is, except for one incident, in which Isabella Falautano scolded the heathens for having the temerity to mix meat and pasta on the same plate. "You just do not do that in Italy," she stated. One American retorted, "That's not true. What about spaghetti and meatballs?"

Judging by Isabella's deadening stare, we found it best to back down, enjoy the ravioli alone, and turn our attentions to less controversial matters, like foreign affairs.

Victorino Matus is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard.