Call it Tony Blair's fondest dream the hope that George W. Bush will repay the British Prime Minister's loyalty by throwing America's weight behind the search for Israeli-Palestinian peace. A grand gesture, such as the appointment of a special envoy, would help Blair at home, where the biggest obstacle to re-election next year isn't his moribund Conservative opposition but his own party's scorn for his unswerving allegiance to Bush's agenda. The gesture would also help rehabilitate Blair in Europe, where his basic argument that by staying close to Bush he boosts the European Union's influence is looking pretty threadbare.
Last week in Washington, Bush had some hopeful things to say about the Middle East (see cover stories). But words are cheap. Blair didn't get his grand gesture, at least not yet and that failure underscores not just his dilemma, but Europe's, as it looks ahead to four more years of a U.S. President not given to taking outside counsel. "The Middle East is one issue on which the Europeans all agree," says François Heisbourg, director of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research. "Even in Paris, it is clearly understood that the peace process can only move forward if America and Europe work together. If the Americans spurn this opportunity, it'll be 10 times worse than [the U.S. rejection of the Kyoto treaty] for America's image."
The Middle East isn't the only issue on which American and European collaboration is vital. Rebuilding Iraq, stanching nuclear proliferation, and finding ways to engage with the Muslim world the E.U. believes it has contributions to make on all these fronts. But after years of schism caused by the war in Iraq, should Europe redouble its efforts to work with the second Bush Administration or go it alone?
French President Jacques Chirac made one of the most ardent postelection declarations of European independence. "Now more than ever, [Europe] has the need, the necessity, to strengthen its dynamism and unity when faced with this great world power," he said on Nov. 5. Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero told Der Spiegel that Europeans should "have faith in the prospect of becoming the most important global power in 20 years." Of Europe's three most prominent antiwar leaders, only German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder urged cooperation. His congratulatory telegram to Bush pointed out that "our security and stability are threatened by international terrorism, the risk of the spread of weapons of mass destruction, regional crises, poverty, climate change and epidemics. These challenges can only be met together."
No matter which way Europe goes toward sharper opposition to America or common effort with it the E.U. can't avoid the U.S. America's power and strategic reach make it a factor no matter what. But Europeans are pessimistic about the chances for improved relations with Washington. A new Time/cnn poll finds that 82% of those surveyed in Britain, France and Germany expect worldwide respect for the U.S. now at an all-time low to stay the same or get worse over the next four years; only 11% think it will improve. And many Europeans concur with Chirac and Zapatero that the E.U. should become a counterweight to America. In the U.S. German Marshall Fund's Transatlantic Trends survey, conducted in June, 71% of Europeans polled said the E.U. should become a superpower like the U.S. But almost two-thirds of them wanted the E.U. to cooperate with the U.S. rather than compete with it. "The idea that Europe can coalesce around opposition to Bush is just wrong," says Toomas Hendrik Ilves, vice chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament and a former Estonian Foreign Minister. Only when Europe is united around a positive, not arrayed against a negative, Ilves argues, will it find its way to unity.
A first key marker on that route would be kick-starting Europe's economic growth, says Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform in London. He argues that narrowing Europe's persistent growth gap with the U.S. would provide the pride and the resources to increase Europe's influence. "You have to revive the sense of economic dynamism," he says. "Ultimately, both soft and hard power depend on it." While Europeans remain stingy about increasing defense outlays, European troops have become more readily deployable in trouble spots. If E.U. countries manage to ratify the European constitution over the next few years, an E.U. Foreign Minister and diplomatic corps could help cajole member states into a more cohesive and effective foreign policy.
Until that happens and it's a more distant prospect than Chirac's rhetoric suggests Europe will face an America that has a far clearer sense of what it wants. Bush's promise last week to visit Europe early next year "to remind people that the world is better off, America is better off, Europe is better off, when we work together," he said might be seen by some as more of a threat. The re-elected President still hasn't spoken to Zapatero, who pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq in May. His predecessor, José María Aznar, a charter member of Washington's "coalition of the willing," last week made a visit to the White House while in Washington for a speaking engagement.
The Big Three Germany, France and Britain were engaged last week in an effort to prove that E.U. diplomacy backed by U.S. power can resolve the dangerous standoff over Iran's ongoing efforts to enrich uranium, a process which the U.S. and Israel insist is a bid for nuclear arms. Last week some E.U., Iranian and U.N. officials were hailing as a potential breakthrough an agreement in which Iran would suspend its enrichment activities in exchange for additional nuclear technology and guaranteed fuel deliveries for a civilian nuclear capability. But at week's end, the optimism was fading. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said that there had been no breakthrough, and French negotiators said they were "still analyzing" the latest Iranian counterproposal.
In the end, Europe's diplomatic overtures to Tehran may prove more futile than Tony Blair's to Washington. Any E.U.-Iran agreement would have to win the backing of the U.S., but last week, U.S. officials were sounding as skeptical as ever. Speaking in Vienna, Stephen G. Rademaker, a U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for arms control, argued that Iran "is seriously embarked on an effort to develop nuclear weapons" and compared the country to North Korea. While a deal would avert a showdown between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Association at its meeting in Vienna later this month, Iran would still not have agreed to suspend enrichment indefinitely, which the U.S. insists it must do to avoid the case being referred to the U.N. Security Council for possible economic sanctions.
The war in Iraq has demonstrated America's dominance and the limits
of its power. Though it can win the military battle, Washington needs international help to ensure that Iraq becomes a stable, peaceful country. International collaboration is also crucial to other global challenges, such as terrorism and global warming. For Karsten Voigt, the coordinator for German-American relations in the German Foreign Ministry, a stronger E.U. is one that doesn't define itself "against the United States," but rather "as a partner of the U.S." Fair enough. But if the Bush Administration isn't ready to treat the E.U. as a serious partner and if the Europeans remain unwilling or unable to offer credible alternative policies what some have dismissed as an unhappy blip in transatlantic relations could deepen into a permanent depression. That won't be good for Europe, America or the planet.