- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium. — After a taste of the sour political mood in Brussels, I can only wonder how President Bush felt during his annual summit meeting with leaders of the European Union. As these meetings were held in the White House, Mr. Bush hardly had much of a choice — short of sending Laura down to see these gentlemen instead.

It is certainly time to find a more civilized tone between the United States and the European Union, whose member countries found themselves in massive disagreement over U.S. policy in Iraq — with France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg lined up against the United States and just about everybody else on the other side. At least, Mr. Bush will not have to deal with the acerbic EU commissioner for external relations, Chris Patten, whose job was made pretty impossible by these disagreements and who chose today to go to Oxford University, where he will be sworn in as chancellor. (Bill Clinton must be eating his heart out.)

For some, unbelievably, the United States is the greatest problem faced by the world today. At last week’s conference, “National Sovereignty and Universal Challenges: Choices for the World after Iraq,” organized by the Commission on Globalization, you would think that al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were minor blips on the radar screen. Instead, the United States was presented as the real threat, a rogue power running rampant over the world and directed darkly from Washington by a neoconservative cabal headed by Richard Perle and Robert Kagan.

Unpleasant though it is to expose yourself to this arrant nonsense, it does help to explain the reactions of foreign public opinion, which has force-fed such opinions in a steady stream. As a result, anti-Americanism is reaching high-water marks reminiscent of the Vietnam War. Here, the war in Iraq is not described as a success, but as a quagmire, and every single American killed in Iraq probably receives more sensationalist attention than in the U.S. press.

Speakers derided the lack of democracy in the United States, bemoaned the supposed fact that the United States is in “the grip of its dark side” and compared the Bush administration to the scourges of SARS, AIDS and genocide in Rwanda. One particularly delusional speaker called Guantanamo Bay “a mini-Auschwitz” and likened the Bush administration to the Third Reich. (It was at this point that an Anglo-Saxon contingent in the audience walked out in protest.)

As one Russian participant endearingly pointed out, “This sounds just like what I used to read in Pravda 50 years ago.” And David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union, blasted back that Brussels, the site of the meeting, is “a city built on the bones of dead Africans,” a reference to Europe’s own bloody colonialist past.

With all this, a theme did emerge that deserves some attention here in Washington. Even as American liberals and many Europeans denounce the use of American power, it is clear that the global international institutions they prize so highly will be no more than ineffectual coalitions of the willing without the participation of the United States, the only truly global power today. And they know it. Much as they may complain, they have to come to Washington because that’s where the means for global action are. They are constant supplicants in Washington, if resentful and suspicious ones.

This is not a very healthy mindset, to say the least, but it should provide some food for thought for the U.S. government. For Americans, the overriding issues in years to come will not really be transatlantic hissy fits and food fights between rich nations, but something far more menacing: the threat of terrorism and radical Islam. We cannot fight this war alone.

As noted by former CIA director James Woolsey, “We are engaged in a very long war,” and are likely to remain so for decades to come. “Only portions of this will be military, comparable with the Cold War, and a lot depends on what takes place behind the battle lines. It is a clash of freedom vs. tyranny. We convinced the people behind the Iron Curtain of this; that’s why we won,” he said.

To win again, the U.S. military power that is now freaking out some people will be necessary, but a level of international cooperation will be as well, and a level of public diplomacy. On some level, the Bush administration will have to define its strategy towards dealing with the international institutions that others are hoping can be used to tie down the sole remaining superpower, Gulliver-like, with Lilliputian bonds. Engagement on the issue of U.N. reform, which is widely regarded the world over as necessary, might well be a good place to start.

Meanwhile, others abroad who truly wish to have a dialogue with Washington about the state of the world could start by examining the effects of their own hysterical rhetoric. It is neither attractive nor conducive to cooperation.

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