No Permanent Allies, Only Permanent Interests

IHT: Politicus: Europe in for a letdown if it’s counting on Kerry
If Joe Biden is this disturbed over Europe, it’s unlikely Europe will be much happier with Kerry. They will be somewhat happier — and their criticisms more muted — but ultimately Kerry will be answerable to the American people and we are very different from Europe.

Take the recent Spanish Capitulation. It’s hard to imagine the American electorate ever reacting to a terrorist attack by electing a Chamberlain. We would pick the Churchill every time and it isn’t limited to party (OK, Jimmy Carter is our Chamberlain). Kerry would deal with the UN more directly but would ultimately do what was in the interest of the U.S. Biden’s shots at Europe aren’t just window dressing. They’re part of the American character when we’re at our best and Europe will need to get used to it, or build their own military.

At one end of a marble hall in the U.S. House of Representatives’ Sam Rayburn office building, George W. Bush’s re-election aspirations were taking a jostling. Testimony before the Sept. 11 commission contended that the self-described war president had not paid attention early or fully enough to warnings about Al Qaeda’s murderous capabilities.

About 100 strides down the hall, at the same time last week, some of Europe’s grandest illusions about what a new Democratic administration might mean to the European Union were also being jarred, minus the din and camera lights next door. Congress’s leading Democratic voices on foreign policy, with a trace of the disdain that so rankles Europeans, suggested that their critical view of the European Union’s weaknesses was intact, and that in puckering up for a November embrace Europe might have to settle for a formalistic kiss.

This may come as a surprise in Europe, where wide segments of opinion, official and public, confidential or boisterous, want Bush beaten. Many influential Europeans seem to believe that Senator John Kerry in a Democratic White House would restore both respectful equanimity to the American side of the trans-Atlantic relationship and, perhaps more naïvely, aim to redefine U.S. interests in a way that did not seem so self-interestedly American.

Pushed to the extreme, this might be called the European School for Reforming America. In this notion, a needy United States seeks out European counsel, converts to multilateralism and submits get-tough inclinations to the United Nations for the veto-ready muster of China, Russia, and France. In the Rayburn Building’s Gold Room, such tones were unmistakably absent from the remarks of Senator Joseph Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and of Representative Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee. At a seminar sponsored by the University of Michigan, Biden and Lantos were joined by Henry Hyde, the Republican chairman of the House committee, and Madeleine Albright, secretary of state under Bill Clinton, to talk about the European Union and the United States before a group that included the German and French ambassadors in Washington.

In looking eternally inward, Biden said, the European Union’s leading members had for the most part had taken their eye off the ball about the rest of the world. Europeans misguidedly tended to regard the United States as an imperial power, he added. And their leaders offered no really constructive alternatives to the Iraq war. [Read that last sentence again — Ed.]

Recalling that he had talked to six European government chiefs about the war, Biden caricatured how they would have done things better. “Blah blah blah, international cooperation,” the senator mimicked. He added, in his own voice, “Give me a break, huh.”

When Biden offered the possibility, beyond more civility, of a future in contrast to the Bush administration, it was in a plague-on-your-houses context. He said of the two, Europe and Bush, “You have fallen in love with international institutions to the extent that this administration has fallen in love with unilateral action.”

For good measure, Biden threw in the view that the European Union will not have a unified foreign policy, and with it, the phrase, “I hope you do, I wish you well, but I see no evidence you’re going to spend the money needed” to create a serious European military force either.

Biden left the prospect of a trans-Atlantic emotional healing to Lantos, who was born in Europe. He saw none at hand. There was no hatred in America for Europe, he said, just “disenchantment and disillusion.” The new American college generation “couldn’t care less” about Europe.

Indeed, for Lantos, the European-American bond was now “a cold-blooded, cynical relationship.” Perhaps a bit ironically, he then explained the situation as a basis for optimism in that it perhaps made for more rationality on both sides.

All this, word for word, might not be Kerry’s party’s message in the strictest sense. Yet it came from the mouths of two influential Democrats who did not get to their leading roles in forming congressional opinion on foreign affairs by nonconsensual posturing or freaky one-man crusades. Indeed, Kerry would very much need their support if he wanted to reverse the Bush administration and participate in the International Criminal Court or the Kyoto Protocol on the environment – symbolic issues for Europe that European ambassadors here do not expect to rank high among the candidate’s priorities if elected. In fact, since getting cornered with a remark that many foreign leaders wanted him to win (and for reasons of discretion, not being able to identify them when pressed by the Bush campaign), Kerry has had effectively to disavow two such endorsements with an advisory that he would neither seek nor accept support from overseas.

Europe is going to have to get used to the idea that we are a sovereign country and that we’ll continue to act in our own interests, unless Carter is re-elected. Unless Europe is willing to actually develop a military of their own, I don’t see how they’ll ever be able to act as a counterweight to the United States. Also, it’s unlikely in the extreme that we’ll ever join the International Criminal Court or ratify Kyoto. We’d have to repeal the Invade The Hague Act before we could even consider joining the ICC and that would require both the House and the Senate acting before the Senate could even consider the ICC.

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