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William Pfaff: Washington makes nice

William Pfaff on transatlantic relations, 2004 will be the year of reconciliation, but the US Administration will not forgive.

Two annual events in January provide useful forecasts about the coming trans-Atlantic weather. One is the annual seminar on security matters by the American ambassador to NATO. The other is the World Economic Forum in Davos.

This year the forecast is reconciliation – but not forgiveness.

Vice President Dick Cheney in Davos was sweet reason itself in explaining that America seeks neither a unilateral nor a multipolar world, only one that is free and democratic.

The butter remained unmelted in his mouth as he told his audiences how important trans-Atlantic cooperation and improved multilateral institutions are to the Bush administration.

Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns in Brussels told his fellow NATO ambassadors that the unpleasantness of the past year should be put behind us. A reunited NATO is needed in Iraq, to consolidate security there and contribute to reconstructing the Iraqi state.

This effort to relegate recent conflicts to history is also meant to blur the outlines of those clashes and dull their implications. The implied reading of past events is that the United States and the rest of NATO had really all been part of the Iraq freedom team from the start, merely playing different roles.

The Pentagon has set aside its established hostility to joint operations with NATO (which resulted from its Kosovo experience) because the United States needs the political and civic reconstruction skills of Europe’s armies, and it needs European manpower.

Virtually the whole U.S. Army, plus its reserve forces and those National Guard units considered functional, is tied up by Iraq: being either there, or on the way, or being rotated back, or refitting and retraining to go (or to go again).

Bodies and boots are badly needed to bulk out the coalition’s forces in Iraq, effectively under siege in a guerrilla war that has not been fading away but recently has seemed to be intensifying. That was never part of the plan.

The power transfer promised the Iraqis for the end of June is becoming steadily more complex to accomplish, and might have to be postponed – in part because of the security situation.

The edges of this unpleasant reality are being blunted by the use of a new vocabulary that puts the Iraq intervention back into the large and ambitious framework in which it was launched.

It now is being described in terms of an ongoing effort, which NATO is expected to support, to reshape the “Greater Middle East.” The Middle East today usually is taken to mean the Eastern Mediterranean and Gulf states. The dictionary tells us that in the imperial past it meant all of Southwestern Asia and part of Mediterranean Africa.

The “Middle East” then extended from the Balkans and Turkey (the “Near East”) to Afghanistan – and indeed beyond, to wherever the “Far East” was thought to begin, a movable frontier.

The Bush administration likes this redefinition because it identifies American action with a positive approach – a vision of unification and reform to Islamic civilization as a whole.

It also implies that the controversies that divided the allies during the past year – over the invasion of Iraq, Washington’s attacks on Germany and France, the deriding of the United Nations as “irrelevant” – were misunderstandings over specific and secondary matters, among allies who have a shared mission to reform and restructure a vast sweep of human society.

The appeal to support such an effort, under American leadership, is a powerful one to NATO governments and publics already accustomed to be followers.

When the United States formally proposes that NATO move into Iraq to take over “nation-building” and security, as it already has done in the Balkans and is now undertaking in Afghanistan, there is likely to be majority agreement.

There also is likely to be minority opposition, which at NATO means a veto. The new American language is essentially a rhetorical reaffirmation of the same policy proposition that produced the Iraq intervention last year.

It ignores the discredited assumptions that produced that intervention – highlighted by the Hutton Inquiry findings, just published in London – and by the fact that Iraq has yet to be pacified or given a new government. The scheduled partial transfer of power has yet to take place, might yet become stalemated, or fail to meet Iraqi nationalist expectations. The intervention certainly cannot at this point be guaranteed a successful outcome.

Washington’s new terminology represents what might be called an election-year – and virtual – version of what the French call a “fuite en avant,” or a headlong rush into something new to disguise or discount current setbacks.

The promised outcome in Iraq has not arrived – nor has there been the slightest movement toward peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. For that reason, a more ambitious version of the same policy solves nothing in the real world, and invites an even bigger version of the same failure.

Europe shouldn't compete with the U.S.

Jonathan Power with another good article on the transatlantic relationship. I could not agree with him more on his closing statement.

Will humanity ever learn from history?

While there can be no doubt that Europe badly needs its own single foreign policy, beefing up a collective military points in all the wrong directions. Europe has ample opportunities to make a profound contribution to dealing with the world’s trouble spots with the power it already has. It just has to learn to use it better – as it recently did with Iran in the successful attempt to persuade its leadership to open its nuclear industry to outside inspections.

What the world needs most, as new powers like China and India come on to the scene, is at least one power that has learned through its own history of fratricidal wars that there is a better way to go than building up military strength.

France and America: Opposites, but still attracted

One way of understanding how the French really feel about the United States these days is to ask them not about Iraq but about Arnold Schwarzenegger.

When the Austrian-born actor won the governorship of California, some politicians and commentators said that his victory reflected a dangerous American populism.

But many French shared the enthusiasm of Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s law-and-order interior minister.

Sarkozy is said to harbor presidential ambitions, but the fact that he is the offspring of Hungarian immigrants and never went to an elite school puts him at a distinct disadvantage.

In a remarkably confessional interview with RTL radio, Sarkozy said of Schwarzenegger: “That someone who is a foreigner in his country, who has an unpronounceable name,” can become the governor of the biggest state in the United States, “is not nothing!”

The current French-American rift, born of differences over Iraq but rooted in deeper post-cold-war friction, is more complex than it may appear. Bitter feelings remain strong on both sides of the Atlantic, and there is a sense that something fundamental in the relationship has failed. In many areas, anti-Americanism – of the kind President George W. Bush will encounter in a visit to Britain next week – is at a high pitch.

But a close look at French attitudes toward America suggests that repulsion and disenchantment are at least equaled by attraction, curiosity and outright envy.

Huge swaths of the relationship – in the realms of business, intelligence and even military affairs – still work. Criticism of the Bush administration, given full voice in the media, is offset by a French business ethic that often lauds the United States, and by a strong feeling, particularly among the young, that America remains a land of opportunity.

“When someone says, ‘I’m going to work for a big corporation in New York for two years,’ well, we all want to live that life,” said Martin Coriat, 24, a student at a business school.

It is true that in strategic terms, the countries often seem to have parted ways.

France’s unease with the extent of American power has been bubbling since the end of the cold war dissolved the glue of trans-Atlantic relations: a shared threat assessment of Soviet power. No such common threat assessment has existed since then.

Indeed, if Sept. 11, 2001, is now the date of reference for America’s security outlook, France and all of Europe tend to look more to 1989 and the end of the cold war. Even as America feels more threatened, Europe and France feel less so. With Iraq, these differences exploded.

“The Americans used the equation ‘Iraq equals terrorism’ to create a sort of debt of loyalty,” argues Stanley Hoffmann, the Harvard historian, in his new book, published in France last month, titled “America, Truly Imperial?” But, he adds, the French government failed to “appreciate how much the context was new.”

What also is new is that France, like much of Europe, has relinquished some sovereignty, embracing multinational institutions like the European Union and the World Court.

As a result, France seeks to maximizes its influence by becoming part of a bigger whole. By contrast, the Bush administration prefers to make decisions unilaterally, working with others only when necessary, as with the invasion of Iraq. Tensions inevitably grow.

They are accentuated by the fact that France still believes, like America, that is it has a global mission to spread democracy and liberty. But French “republicanism” requires adherence to the notion of the ideal citizen and does not celebrate diversity or ambition. That, says Michele Lamont of Harvard University, “limits possibilities.”

The lure of America The view of America as a land of possibility is strong at L’Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales in Jouy-en-Josas, a leafy town 25 kilometers, or 15 miles, from Paris. At this school of business and commerce, the goal is to teach students how to compete in a globalized world where American business models set the standard. Gone is France’s historic unease about discussing money.

“Profit is the driver,” said Bernard Ramanantsoa, the school’s dean and a professor of strategy and business policy. “Money is the key.”

Here, the dream among many French students is not to put down roots at home but to sail away – to America, a mythical place, perhaps, but one of boundless energy and possibility.

For Florian Bressand, 23, America offers “the right to fail that does not exist in France.”

The exodus of young French to Silicon Valley is so dramatic that it has led to the creation of organizations like Interfrench, a nonprofit group of 5,000 French-speaking members who share business intelligence and even advice about French restaurants.

The departures reflect a measure of self-doubt. A slim volume titled “La France qui tombe,” or “France in Free Fall,” is on the best-seller list; France’s troubled economy has sparked a fierce debate on the wisdom of a law limiting workers to a 35-hour week and whether the French work hard enough. A recent poll found that 63 percent of the French believe their country is in decline.

Yet such doubts coexist with a French sense of cultural superiority to America that often seems overwhelming. Only 24 percent of the French are inspired by the American economic system, 13 percent by American culture, 10 percent by lifestyle and 8 percent by American foreign policy, a poll by the BVA group last found in February.

The disdain for things American is expressed in a variety of ways. Mayor Bertrand Delanoë of Paris, for example, protested the death penalty in the United States by bestowing honorary citizenship on Mumia Abu Jamal, a former Black Panther sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of a white Philadelphia policeman.

The Americanization of France

Dreams of America do not exist in the worker bars just outside a Michelin tire plant in Clermont-Ferrand.

Here, the smell of cigarette smoke masks that of rubber and glue in the medieval-turned-industrial city in the heart of France. The conversations about America among assembly line workers just off the night shift tend to focus on the dangers of a world driven by the American quest for profit.

“The United States, many people say it’s so good. But the bottom line, the only thing that counts, is money,” said Jose Fernandes, 45, a 26-year veteran at Michelin. “Retired people are forced to go back to work. The lowest workers don’t get paid vacations. If your boss doesn’t like you, you’re fired.”

Fernandes added that Michelin management “would copy the United States if it could. But it can’t. Here, we have laws.” He was referring to French regulations that often make firing an employee impossible, guarantee six-week vacations and provide comprehensive pensions and health care.

The scene is rather different inside Michelin’s corporate headquarters. Here, managers use American team-building models and are driven by a fierce competitiveness that has put Michelin ( barely) in the position of No. 1 global tire manufacturer.

Michelin may be one of the most secretive companies in France, but it is also one of the most global, with operations in 18 countries. Only about 30,000 of 130,000 employees worldwide work in France.

“The culture of Michelin is not to be too French,” said Jean Laporte, director of Michelin’s internal communications. That means talking about profit all the time, he said, adding, “Maybe it’s a little bit of an exaggeration to say that the French never talk about money.”

Last spring, in the face of an American campaign to boycott all things French, Michelin itself went to war. It answered every letter, e-mail message and phone call, informing its potential enemies that Michelin is as American as it is French, that it employs more than 20,000 Americans in 17 American factories and produces tires for U.S. Army armored personnel carriers.

The public relations offensive worked; the boycott – at Michelin, at least – failed.

What works, what doesn’t

Just as Michelin has gone on selling tires in America, swaths of the France-American relationship have continued to run smoothly. When the French police in June arrested Christian Ganczarski, a German Al Qaeda sympathizer with links to the bombing of a Tunisian synagogue in April 2002 and the Sept. 11 attacks, it was the result of an American-inspired sting operation with Saudi and French cooperation.

“The cooperation with the CIA and FBI has become even stronger since September 11 when the United States understood – as we did long before – the war against radical Islam,” said Pierre de Bousquet, the head of France’s counterintelligence service. “Nothing has changed because of Iraq.” But more than six months after Bush declared the war against Iraq over, the extreme friction with France is not. On several issues – from the environment to the death penalty – France and America do not share the same values.

The Bush administration remains in an unforgiving mood, French diplomats say. White House officials remind their French counterparts that the relationship is seriously damaged, and that they are sorely disappointed that France is refusing to contribute to Iraq’s reconstruction.

Cognizant of the damage, President Jacques Chirac has stopped using the expression “multipolar world,” which had enraged Bush administration officials because it seemed to envision a power to oppose rather than support America.

But privately, many of Chirac’s advisers have concluded that they will have to wait for a new American administration before the rift can be repaired.

By both American and French accounts, when Bush and Chirac met in New York in September, they had a remarkably cordial chat – until conversation turned to Iraq.

Chirac said that he knew from “bitter experience” not to underestimate the power of Arab nationalism, and that a swift transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people was crucial, said two senior officials familiar with the conversation.

“Jacques, I have listened carefully and I strongly disagree,” Bush was paraphrased as responding.

Chirac backed off, saying that he was making the point as a friend. Then he added ominously, “History will judge.” For France and America, the rift is not quite complete.

Europeans are worse than cockroaches

There is a Cold War between the US and the EU, says Mark Steyn, and it will end with the collapse of Old Europe.

The trick is to manage the relationship until the Europeans, like the Soviets, collapse. Europe is dying, and it’s only a question of whether it goes peacefully or through convulsions of violence. On that point, I bet on form.

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