The Magazine

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
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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.