George W. Bush arrives in Europe next week to commemorate the glorious victory over fascism that began with D-day, but let's face it: this doesn't feel like a time for celebration. The 60th anniversary of the Atlantic alliance's greatest triumph comes at the lowest point in its history. The inevitable comparison--between the righteous, successful American-led invasion and occupation of Europe and the divisive, troubled American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq--will surely launch a thousand newspaper columns.
When Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair gather in Normandy with the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Russia and 10 other countries, all will praise the achievements of history's most durable alliance. But Iraq will never be far from their minds. Bush and Blair saw Iraq as a key battle in the defining struggle of our times--the war on terrorism--but failed to persuade most of their principal allies or the European public. and as most Europeans see it now, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and the chaos in Iraq have only confirmed the wisdom of their opposition to the war. President Bush does not accept a single element of this critique. Yet his administration, which originally disdained help from countries that doubted him, now would welcome their soldiers and money. But help is not on the way. France and Germany have made it clear that they won't send troops, and last week German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder said he had "doubts" about whether any NATO forces should go. Britain is reluctant to send more soldiers.
All this leaves the alliance in need of medicine much stronger than the bromides likely to be doled out on June 6. If the grand partnership that beat the Nazis and the U.S.S.R. Is going to last, it must find its way to common ground. There's no better place to start the search than Normandy, and no better time than now. The allies meet three times in the next month, not only for mood music in France but also for substance at a g-8 summit on Sea Island, GA., and again at a NATO meeting in Istanbul. George Robertson, the British former NATO secretary-general, says that "with everyone in the same room at the same time, they won't be able to run away from the problems." Don't expect a Marshall Plan for the Middle East by the end of June, but if leaders want to begin healing the alliance, here are a few things they should try.