John Vinocur had an interesting article in the IHT yesterday.
Basically, what I’d say, based on conversations last week, is that America doesn’t see the probability of a shift in European strategic attitudes as a result of the referendums. Indeed, like the Europeans, the day after a negative vote the Bush administration would be faced with insisting that everything in Europe was fine, nothing had changed, and that the EU’s trans-Atlantic relations were a brilliant example of mature continuity.
This week, Burns [Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns] will be in Brussels for what is the start of a so-called regular senior-level “strategic dialogue” between the United States and the EU. It’s not supposed to supplant NATO’s “core” function, but to get political Europe talking to the administration in a way that will flatter the Europeans’ notions of their unity and importance, while bringing them into real consultations on things like American policy on Asia.
Obviously, for the Bush folk, this sharing, attentive, out-reaching, Europe-sensitive America couldn’t be one to revel in or look for profit from the implosion of a major Europe project like the constitution.
Just as obviously, there are hopes that in exchange the Europeans would be attuned to assisting the administration on Iran, perhaps the most pressing of the nuclear issues.
Perhaps wishfully, the Europeans (specifically, Britain, France and Germany) are now described locally as tired of being played for patsies by Iranians – which means the Americans believe that they not only will go along with referring the Iran matter to the United Nations but very possibly vote for sanctions in the Security Council.
Two other Council members and sworn supporters of the European constitution and the European Union – China and Russia – may not find these sanctions close to their heart. The issue is what the Europeans will do, loved to death these days by the Americans as well.
James Steinberg, a former National Security Council official under President Bill Clinton, said, “China and Russia are counting on the Europeans not to go for sanctions. They want the Europeans to hide. If they’re put on the spot, though, they won’t defend Iran.”
So the American yes on the EU referendums is not only coherent good sense, but also an investment. An official, sitting in his office here, couldn’t have been clearer on the European constitution: “If they think it would get them a few yes points, we’ve told the French we’re ready to condemn the thing in minutes.”
The French vote will be interesting, but I really do think that at least one country, if not two or three, will vote down the Constitution. The question is, what then? Will they do a ‘Nice’ on it like they did here?