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Saturday, Aug. 16, 2003

Bridging the U.S.-EU gap


LONDON -- Prime Minister Tony Blair sees it as his duty to try to bridge the gap that has widened between America and Europe since U.S. President George W. Bush came to power. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, European support for America was instantaneous and sincere, but American attitudes and behavior over the past two years have aroused real concerns in Europe.

Meanwhile, European criticisms and, in the view of the U.S. government, the lack of adequate commitment to eradicating terrorism -- particularly the French and German refusal to back the war in Iraq -- have angered the Bush regime.

As he tried to make clear in his recent speech to Congress, Blair can help to rebuild closer U.S. relations with Europe only if both sides are willing to modify their positions. This will not be easy for either side, but it is probably going to be more difficult for the current neoconservative regime in the United States to give up on any of its policy fixations than for the Europeans to swallow their pride and accept that the Americans will be deterred from taking up extreme positions by practical realities, not by logic.

The main problem may seem to lie in different American and European perspectives over the war in Iraq, but the gap goes much deeper. If, however, weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, and the finding independently verified, and if U.S. forces could bring stability to Iraq, this would greatly help to modify European suspicions of U.S. policy in Iraq. Unfortunately, neither looks likely in at least the near future.

European opinion is increasingly skeptical of U.S. and British intelligence on Iraq and about the way in which this intelligence was used to justify the war. It now seems that the removal of an evil tyrant who had defied the United Nations will increasingly become the justification for the war rather than the credible threat to peace posed by a regime that was thought to possess weapons of mass destruction. This, however, raises the question of whether other tyrants should be removed by force and how this doctrine will affect international law.

Blair's position on the justification for the war is more difficult than Bush's. The suicide of Dr. David Kelly, the defense ministry weapons expert who apparently spoke without authority to the BBC, is a complicating factor. Even if Alistair Campbell, Blair's aide, was not personally responsible for sexing up the dossier about the Iraqi threat, he has developed such a reputation as a master of "spin" that there is a general tendency to treat all statements from the British prime minister's office with skepticism.

Public opinion in Britain, even though it supported British troops during the fighting, has never been as enthusiastic about the war as in America. Reports about the highhanded behavior of some U.S. forces in Iraq have also led to increased doubts about the war.

Blair can claim two significant successes in influencing U.S. policy in ways that are welcome to European opinion. The first involves the "road map" for a new peace initiative in the Israeli/Palestinian dispute. A few months ago it seemed unlikely that Bush would be willing and ready to use U.S. influence to reopen the peace process.

The second success lay in persuading Bush last fall to push for an international resolution of the Iraq issue through the U.N. Security Council process.

Separately, Blair may have persuaded Bush that British prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be granted increased safeguards in any trial by U.S. authorities, but so far he has not convinced Bush that the handling of the detainees there seriously undermines the America's case that it is acting in support of human rights and in accordance with U.S. constitutional principles.

In British eyes, Bush has prejudged the outcome of any trial by declaring the prisoners "bad men." He may also not yet have convinced the American government that military power alone will not defeat terrorism and that the "war" will only be won by ensuring that the ideals for which America stands are upheld everywhere -- not by the unacceptable doctrine that the end justifies the means.

European countries have other concerns. They neither understand nor accept U.S. opposition to the International Criminal Court and are dismayed by U.S. bullying of European countries to win acceptance of the U.S. position on this issue. They deplore continued American refusal to support the Kyoto Protocol and note that America's demand for hydrocarbon fuels continues to grow.

European opinion remains unconvinced of the American case in support of gene-modified food crops. American pressure tactics on this issue have been counterproductive and have played into the hands of the antiglobalization movement.

The changes needed in American attitudes and policies are not going to be easy to achieve, and European governments will have to compromise on some issues -- but not on the question of fundamental human rights.

For their part European leaders need to moderate anti-American rhetoric. They need to recognize the huge psychological impact of 9/11 on American opinion and bear in mind that the shock was particularly severe because America has not suffered a war on the North American continent since the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s.

Europe needs to recognize the importance of fundamental reform of the Common Agricultural Policy as an essential step for a successful Doha round of international trade negotiations.

The most important requirement now is further progress at the U.N. over Iraq. America needs the U.N. if an Iraqi settlement is to be achieved. The Europeans should not allow their doubts over the war to prevent them from taking up more of the peacekeeping burden in Iraq. A magnanimous attitude toward reconstruction in Iraq would help rebuild bridges and is very much in Europe's interest.

Japanese opinion has been generally against the Iraq war, but while Japan could not, for constitutional reasons, follow Britain all the way in Iraq, the Japanese government understandably decided to give its support to the American position in the war.

Japan and Britain both deplore American unilateralism and would like to see the U.S. more receptive to world opinion, but both recognize that in the light of the mood not only in the government but also in American opinion the wise course is to try to influence the Bush regime through pragmatic and patient diplomacy.

Hugh Cortazzi, a former British career diplomat, served as ambassador to Japan from 1980 to 1984.


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