An Alliance of Two
From the November 22, 2004 issue: Bush, Blair, and the problem of Europe.
Nov 22, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 10 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
"PRIME MINISTER BLAIR wants to talk about Iraq, and we want to talk about Iran. Which is why we allocated two days to his meeting with the president," one high-level Bush official told me in advance of the Anglo-American summit last week. So all was not sweetness and light, probably a plus for Tony Blair, eager to be seen as an equal with his own agenda, rather than as "Bush's poodle," as it has become the habit of lefties in his party, and increasingly wobbly-on-the-war Tories, to dub him. Bush's praise--"a statesman . . . visionary leader . . . unshakable convictions"--will do Blair no good at home.
Still, it would be difficult to imagine two men with views more in sync. They came together with different but related mandates. The British prime minister has a mandate from his parliamentary party to persuade the president to throw his weight behind a renewed push for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. George W. Bush has a mandate from his electorate to win the war on terror. Each got what he wanted.
Blair got the president to agree to spend some of his ample political capital to bring the Israelis and Palestinians to the table, the president saying that the death of Yasser Arafat might provide a "new opening for peace," and that the United States will help the Palestinians organize free elections so that they can have a democratic, terror-free state. But no international conference until the Palestinians opt for democracy. Blair can now claim he has gotten a commitment from the president to reengage in the Middle East "peace process." And Bush got Blair to renew his commitment to use Britain's effective military and his own soaring rhetoric to support Iraq's efforts to conduct a reasonably democratic election early in 2005, and to promise to continue to press Iran's mullahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions. (Though the president refused to say what he would do if the Europeans failed to persuade the Iranian regime to abandon the development of nuclear weapons.)
The social democrat prime minister and the compassionate conservative president probably don't agree on how to combat crime or meet the health care needs of their constituents, but when it comes to foreign policy they are almost as one. Blair is convinced that Britain's long-term interests are served by a firm alliance with the United States; Bush believes it is in America's interests to preserve the special relationship.
But that alone is not what is driving this relationship. As Blair made clear in a speech in Chicago in 1999, he believes that it is Britain's obligation to assist in spreading democracy and Western values around the world, and sees that as the ultimate defense against terrorism. He is with America in Iraq not only to maintain the Anglo-American alliance, but out of a conviction that Bush is right to attempt to build a stable, model democracy in a region in which stability and democracy are in short supply. Put these two resolute, conviction politicians together and you get the sort of leadership that has succeeded in attracting other nations to their banner. So close are the views of Tony Blair and George Bush that it is not unreasonable to say that we are all neoconservatives now. Here's Blair on the subject:
When the Americans say we want to extend democracy to these countries, or extend democracy and human rights throughout the Middle East in the Greater Middle East Initiative, people say, well, that is part of the neoconservative agenda. Actually, if you put it in different language, it is a progressive agenda.
At last week's meeting, their 22nd but the first since the June NATO summit in Istanbul, the president and the prime minister might not have had before them decisions as globally significant as those faced by their famous predecessors, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. And no matter how warm their relations--Blair tells me that Bush is one of the most intelligent and trustworthy politicians with whom he has ever dealt, and Bush repeatedly makes clear his admiration for Blair's steely steadfastness and reliability--they are not having anything like the love affair that blossomed whenever Ronald Reagan met Margaret Thatcher. But the Bush-Blair meetings are in the long tradition of the get-togethers of their famous predecessors: These face-to-face meetings provide the glue that holds the relationship together--regular video conferences aren't quite the same thing.
Blair now must prepare his own reelection campaign--and try to persuade his European colleagues that "The [U.S.] election has happened, America has spoken, the rest of the world should listen." France, Germany, Spain, and others are in a "state of denial," he says. They must adjust to the reality of four more years of George W. Bush, and at minimum "start . . . a sensible debate about why people in America feel as they do." Blair scored points with his European critics by getting the president to declare that he would work to deepen transatlantic ties, and would visit Europe soon after his inauguration.
Bush is smart enough to know that such a trip is unlikely to ease tensions with the Europeans, who already have made clear how they plan to adjust to four more years of Bush. This adjustment will occur not because Europeans have suddenly fallen in love with the gun-toting, abortion-hating, hang-'em-high, antiterrorist, toxic Texan. Far from it: Their disdain for everything from his syntax to his religiosity remains undiluted. Nor is it that they expect a second term to bring out the conciliatory side of the president's nature: Colin Powell, Europe's favorite American diplomat, made it clear last week that the president has no intention of abandoning his "aggressive" foreign policy, and that he shares Bush's view that the challenges facing the world need "to be dealt with by the nation with the most power in the world."
Rather, European elites see the antipathy of their citizens to the American president as a decided asset in their fight to forge the "ever closer union" for which they have been striving for decades. It has long been the goal of France to create a counterweight to the American hegemon, a goal that can only be achieved by persuading other nations to sign on to a common foreign and security policy. Germany, terrified of the foreign policies it has found attractive in the past when left to its own devices, has also favored a common European foreign policy. It was Helmut Kohl who saw that if he failed to submerge Germany in Europe--to create a European Germany--the world might witness a renewed attempt to create a German Europe. With anti-American sentiment stoked to a white heat by Herr Schröder, Germany is now more eager than ever to be part of a united Europe that can cock a snook at America--without, of course, devoting any resources to the creation of the military capability that is essential to undergird such a policy.
Those who favor a more tightly unified European foreign policy are convinced the Bush victory strengthens their position. The president's ability to win a substantial majority of the popular vote demonstrates that he does indeed represent the views of a majority of Americans. Not that this diminishes European antipathy in the slightest. The Times (London) reports rumors of a row over an E.U. text that "warmly" congratulated President Bush on his reelection, with the French leading the charge against "warmly." Not to be outdone, and proving once again that Tory opportunism is the response to Blair's conviction politics, Tory leader Michael Howard accused the White House of being "protective" of Tony Blair, and refused to congratulate the president on his reelection.
Europeans would have been less depressed if they were able to attribute the president's victory to the successful prosecution of the war in Iraq, or to an unquestionably robust economy, or to some other achievement of his first administration. Alas, such is not the case. Bush returns to the White House despite continuing problems in Iraq, and despite an economy that has been battered by job losses. He won't be moving back to Crawford, Texas, because most Americans agree with the way he sees the world--as a dangerous place that can only be made less dangerous by a victory in the war on terror; as a place in which religion has a role to play in public life; and as a place in which the individual is to be exalted over the collectivist state. To say that Europe's leaders don't see things quite that way is to understate the chasm that exists between George Bush's America and Jacques Chirac's, Gerhard Schröder's, and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's Europe.
France has unleashed its able ambassador, Jean-David Levitte, to assure television audiences here that his nation desires nothing more than to "heal the wounds" that scar Franco-American relations. Believe that, and I have an Eiffel Tower to sell you. Michel Barnier, the foreign minister, took Bush's reelection as the occasion to emphasize France's desire to create an E.U. that will be a counterforce to America: "Our world needs several powers. . . . We are in the process of gathering the pieces and the will to become another power." Barnier was merely echoing his boss's view. "Europe today," intoned Chirac, "has more than ever the need and necessity to reinforce its unity. That is the goal of the constitution." Increased unity, he continued, is necessary "when faced with this great world power."
Spain's Zapatero last week revealed the endgame: a European defense system to replace NATO. "Europe must believe that it can be in twenty years the most important world power. . . . Naturally, it will still last some time until we [Spain, France, and Germany] develop a closed defense policy. . . . The E.U. constitution is an important step in that direction." So much for the willingness of Europe's leaders to reconcile with America, rather than creating the multipolar, NATO-free world of Chirac's Gaullist dreams.
The positioning of the E.U. as an anti-American force has not been lost on Washington's policymakers, who now realize that this country's historic support for a united Europe is dangerously contrary to U.S. interests. Most of the president's foreign policy team has come to understand that the united Europe that is taking shape intends to subvert American interests. True, some of the newer members of the E.U. are still grateful to us for helping them to shed the Soviet yoke. But they do not have enough economic heft to offset the core countries that have the E.U. financing Palestinian terrorists while berating America for supporting Israel's efforts to wall off those terrorists; encouraging the North Korean regime to defy efforts of the United States to persuade it to drop its nuclear program even though it is America, and not the E.U., that has troops stationed on the Korean peninsula; and that is using its clout at the U.N. to reward horrific regimes with seats on important committees, while marginalizing the United States.
THE ADMINISTRATION'S belated awareness of the threat posed by E.U. hostility may be the rock on which the Blair-Bush entente eventually founders. One high administration official told me last week that Blair will not be able to straddle the divide for very much longer. America, he continued, must develop a policy towards Britain that will tip it in our direction when Blair is finally forced to choose between the Europe in which he so dearly wants to play a--no, "the"--leading part, and the special relationship with America. Naturally, we hope he chooses America. But choose some day he must. As Graham Watson, a member of the European parliament and leader of its pro-Europe Liberal Group, puts it, Britain will soon be forced "to decide which side of the Atlantic it is on."
That choice would not be necessary were it possible for the president to establish more cordial relations with Europe, which he would very much like to do. But either the price is too high--abandonment of America's historic alliance with Israel, withdrawal from Iraq before democracy is established, acceptance of a role for the U.N. in determining when America will be permitted to use its military power to defend itself--or such a thawing is simply unattainable, given the long-term Franco-European goal of reining in American power and influence.
After all, no president can be indifferent to the insults that Europe's core countries continue to heap on him and his country. Chirac's latest was his refusal to meet with American ally and Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi, preferring instead to rush to the deathbed of America's enemy, Yasser Arafat, whom he called "a hero." Spain's foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, is more vulgar, calling Bush "a complete dickhead," and Schröder more shrill, delivering himself of anti-American rants designed to pander to his electorate and divert attention from the massive failure of his and the E.U.'s domestic policies. Just to let Europe's cranky trio know what he thinks, Bush took time from a schedule so crowded that he could not return Zapatero's congratulatory phone call, to invite José María Aznar, the prime minister unseated by Zapatero after the Madrid bombing, to the White House for a long, leisurely chat.
Europe's anxiety at the increasing gap between the material gains flowing from the E.U. and the U.S. economic models cannot be overstated. The gap might be closed, of course, were the E.U. to adopt reforms that bring them closer to the Anglo-Saxon model they so detest and fear. But it is now clear that Chirac and his "old Europe" colleagues have no intention of implementing the economic reform agenda solemnly agreed to by all E.U. member states in Lisbon four years ago. Even Peter Mandelson, Blair's partner in bringing the Labour party to accept many of Margaret Thatcher's reforms, and now an E.U. trade commissioner who was expected to carry the banner of reform from London to Brussels, tempers his calls for "more American-style dynamism" with a warning that Europe should not emulate "the raw divisions" of U.S. society. As John Sunderland, chairman of Cadbury Schweppes and president of the Confederation of British Industries, last week told the trade group's annual conference, "The snail's pace of change is making a mockery of the Lisbon agenda and the drive for economic reform."
Bush probably doesn't spend a lot of time worrying about the E.U.'s over-regulated, over-taxed economy, even though faster economic growth in Europe would increase American exports to that region, and just might lessen the envy that underlies much of the hostility towards America. Instead, the president is concentrating on two things. First, he needs the continued cooperation of Europe's security establishment, which the self-interest of France, Germany, and other countries assures he will have. Those countries are keenly aware that they have rabid Islamic extremists in their midst, and that not even the tolerant Netherlands is immune from their violent displays of disagreement with Western values.
Second, and belatedly and reluctantly, Bush has come to realize that--like it or not--the U.N. is seen by the world as an institution that can convey legitimacy on international actions, especially the use of force. This is puzzling: The U.N. is, after all, corrupt (as its administration of the oil-for-food program in Iraq demonstrates) and obsolete, having been structured when it was thought humane not to humiliate France by relegating it to the second rank that its performance in World War II warranted, and before Japan, India, and Brazil rose to economic and political prominence.
The corruption, Bush will argue, demands the creation of systems for auditing and controlling U.N. expenses, since self-regulation clearly doesn't work. Sensible auditing procedures won't stop every U.N. kleptocrat from dipping into U.N. funds, but it might just reduce the illicit outflow from a flood to a trickle. As the U.N.'s largest financial supporter, Bush is in a good position to have his way.
MODERNIZING the obsolete structure will prove more difficult, which is why it is only one of the two tracks on which the administration will be proceeding: structural reform and marginalization. Start with structural reform. Paradoxically, the new E.U. constitution, signed in Rome on October 29 by the heads of state of all 25 members of the union, is the tool that can be used to build a new U.N. That is the very document Chirac is counting on to produce a foreign policy around which all of Europe will unite, creating a powerful alternative to America's policies.
The constitution is a document of monstrous length and often indecipherable prose. It calls for "a common foreign and security policy covering all areas of foreign and security policy. . . . The Member States shall support the common foreign and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity." A "Minister for Foreign Affairs" is to "express the Union's position in international organizations and at international conferences," including at meetings of the U.N. Security Council.
If this is not to result in massive double-dipping, it seems obvious that any U.N. members that adopt the E.U. constitution should cede their seats to their E.U. foreign minister. That would have two practical consequences: It would preserve Britain's seat, since voters are likely to use the promised referendum to remind their prime minister that the E.U. constitution is a bridge too far on the road to the surrender of national sovereignty; and it would clear the way for the accession of some or all of Japan, India, and Brazil to the Security Council in place of France and any E.U. members who might have temporary seats. In short, it would restructure the U.N. to reflect the realities of the 21st century.
This restructuring would not assure America of the blessing of the Security Council for all of the actions it will have to take in years to come to protect itself--and other countries--from terrorists. But it would go a long way towards eliminating German spite, Gaullist dreams of multipolarity, and Spanish cobardia as barriers to U.N. endorsement of America's policies.
And reform of the U.N. might create a model for restructuring of financial institutions. The finance ministers and heads of state of the world's leading industrial countries--the G-7, or G-8 when economically puny Russia is included--meet periodically to discuss the state of the world's economies, and to plot strategies for interest rates, exchange rates, and other key economic variables. But countries that have traded in their own currencies for the euro no longer have any control over interest or exchange rates. Their place at the table is a historic anachronism. So goodbye France and Germany, hello China, India, and others who can act upon any decisions taken by the world's leaders. A seat should, of course, be reserved for some representative of the E.U., perhaps Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the European Central Bank, which sets interest rates for all E.U. members, and is responsible for controlling inflation in euroland.
Is reform of so venerable a set of international institutions possible? Perhaps. After all, Asian and developing countries surely favor an expanded role for nations such as Japan, India, and Brazil, and therefore might line up behind modernization of the U.N. structure. Other countries, seeing the choice as between a transformed U.N. and an organization consigned to the dust-heap of history by American hostility or merely benign neglect, might also go along. If not, and until the development of alternative institutions to replace the U.N. as a source of international legitimacy, there are always ad hoc coalitions of the willing as an alternative for a Bush administration determined to wage a relentless and winning war on terror.
Parallel with the effort to restructure the U.N. may well come an effort to marginalize it. More than one of the policy wonks scattered throughout the administration is giving serious thought to a radical change proposed almost 10 years ago by Charles Krauthammer (a contributing editor to this journal): marginalization of the U.N. At a conference last week in Washington, sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, Krauthammer re-floated that idea. The U.N. can't be eliminated, its gleaming tower converted to higher-value uses. So parallel institutions should be created. Over time, these new institutions--which will consist only of the world's democracies, if Soviet dissident and Israeli minister Natan Sharansky has his way with the Krauthammer proposal--will replace the U.N., which will wither into irrelevance.
That won't mean that America will always have its way. But it will mean that the new body will consist of nations whose main incentive is to produce better lives for their voters, rather than create external enemies as excuses for impoverishing their people. Right now, the development of these alternative institutions is only a gleam in the eye of far-thinking policy types. Rather as the U.N. was in the 1940s.
Irwin M. Stelzer, a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, is the editor of Neoconservatism, a collection of essays just published in London (Atlantic Books).