[OUTLOOK]The transatlantic war seems over

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[OUTLOOK]The transatlantic war seems over

The transatlantic war is over ― for the time being. Is it peace or merely an armistice? We can’t know for sure, but at the UN General Assembly last week, the protagonists ― George W. Bush on one side, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder on the other ― let their verbal guns fall silent. Or more accurately, they reloaded them with all kinds of niceties and friendly gestures.
The chancellor was the main target of America’s new benevolence toward its old allies. For a whole year, Mr. Bush had refused to meet or talk with Mr. Schroder; suddenly, it was first names again, plus broad smiles and handshakes. What a change from the last 12 months!
For a whole year, the chancellor was persona non grata in the White House. The president’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, had issued this guideline: “Forgive the Russians, punish the French, ignore the Germans.” This was Washington’s response to the attempt by those three countries to form a kind of anti-American alliance in the run-up to the Iraq war. With the Russians never quite openly opposing the United States, and the Chinese maintaining studious neutrality, the French and the Germans had labored hard to prevent a UN Security Council resolution in favor of the war, as requested by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.
But Mr. Bush’s anger is older than the dueling in the Security Council at the beginning of this year. He felt personally betrayed by Mr. Schroder, for he thought that they had a firm deal. Mr. Bush would not ask for German troops in the Iraq war; in exchange, the chancellor would not drag the war issue and the United States into Germany’s electoral campaign last summer.
It turned out very differently. Trying to save his sinking campaign, Mr. Schroder turned full force against the Bush administration, vowing that he would never support American “adventurism.” The straw that finally broke the camel’s back was a comparison between Bush and Hitler uttered by Mr. Schroder’s minister of justice. That turned a political conflict into a personal feud.
So why the sudden change? The best and shortest answer was given by Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican: “The forces of reality have set in.” This is the understatement of the year. Let’s look at America first, where Mr. Bush is in deep trouble. On the domestic front, there is economic growth, but the recovery remains jobless. Meanwhile, the federal deficit is exploding while the dollar is under assault around the world. The whiff of a one-term presidency is hanging in the air.
Abroad, American soldiers are dying daily in Iraq. To speed the country’s recovery, Mr. Bush has asked Congress for $87 billion, but he has been put on notice that he won’t get the money unless other nations contribute $42 billion. So far, he has pledges for only $2 billion. It is not just a matter of monetary assistance, but also of military help. The United States needs all the foreign troops it can get for the stabilization of Iraq. So, as Mr. Bush has put it: “Things have changed.” Rampant unilateralism during the first two years of his term has given way to a new realism, with a much greater appreciation for allies and friends.
The Europeans, too, have sobered up. Unable to stop the American giant, they cannot possibly want America to fail in Iraq. If the Baathists return to power, if a war of each against all breaks out in the country, Europeans will hardly feel safer. After all, Iraq is a lot closer to Naples than to New York. Hence, even the French have let it be known that they will not veto a new Iraq resolution. And they have stopped insisting on the immediate handover of sovereignty to Iraqi authorities.
This is all for the good after many months of name-calling and progressive alienation. The “last remaining superpower” and the Europeans have woken up to some enduring facts of transatlantic life. Though they don’t need each other as much as during the Cold War, when they faced a common enemy in the Soviet Union, they are realizing that they cannot do without each other even though the strategic threat has disappeared.
How do you deal with international terrorism? Only through the most intimate collaboration of police and intelligence services. How do you counter the dangers to free trade, as demonstrated by the collapse of the World Trade Organization’s Cancun talks? Not with more bilateral bargains, but by a renewed commitment to multilateralism. What about failing states, AIDS and currency turbulence? Neither America nor Europe can tackle these issues on its own.
Both the British statesman Lord Palmerston and the French President Charles de Gaulle were famous for saying that nations have neither permanent allies nor permanent enemies, only permanent interests. Europe and America are currently learning the opposite lesson. Interests keep changing in a rapidly moving world. Precisely for that reason, you need reliable, hence permanent, friends.

* The writer is editor of Die Zeit, a German weekly, and an associate at the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University.

by Josef Joffe
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