- The Washington Times - Friday, December 8, 2000

George W. Bush, feeling no longer on the bubble (that's Al Gore country), has turned from acting presidential to being presidential, and not a minute too soon.

He warns against isolationism at home and sends a pointed message to Arab terrorists to think two or three times before they give in to their instincts to find American innocents to maim and kill by sneak and stealth.

The president-elect has a full plate ahead of him, and it's not all beans and rice. Some of the hard-to-digest items on his plate, insofar as they are immediately recognizable, look suspiciously like French cookery.

Although the mischief-makers lying in ambush do not all look like Democrats, some do. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland suggests that even if George W. prevails in the Florida Supreme Court, the Charge of the Legal Brigade may not be finished. What, he asked, is so special about the Dec. 12 deadline, or even the one on Dec. 18? The Democrats may be willing to upset the counting even in the Electoral College if that's the only way to keep the Clinton-Gore era on life support.

This kind of talk upsets thoughtful Democrats, like Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois. "This is coming to an end," he said late yesterday, and urged Al to concede if Florida's high court denies him the recounts. "More and more people will feel … that it's time to think about the Bush presidency."

George W. already is, and is thinking about the importance of protecting the nation's interests. It's no coincidence that the Cabinet officers he has all but appointed already are Colin Powell, who will be secretary of state, and Condoleeza Rice, who will be his national security adviser. They will be among the most powerful men and women in Washington indeed, the world and if the rest of the world needs assurance that the new president will pay it close attention, they're that assurance.

Mr. Bush understands that he has to let his agents and his lawyers take care of the mopping up in Florida so that he can turn his attention to events elsewhere. One that will occupy much of his attention in the first months of the Bush restoration is the growing threat to NATO, the cornerstone of the peace that settled over Europe in the late decades of the 20th century. Familiar rascals are trying to make trouble there again.

The Germans and the French, who insist on being the herpes blisters on the face of Europe, want their own little European army, perhaps as a way to chase the Americans out. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen set off an uproar with some plain speech the other day about the dangers posed to NATO by such an army. The Europeans, not satisfied with launching a new currency that nobody wants, are talking one way about organizing their own army and acting another, and Mr. Cohen called them on it. NATO, Mr. Cohen said, could become "a relic of the past" unless the new European army is tied closely to NATO.

This would suit the French just fine. Lionel Jospin, the French prime minister, suggested that the trans-Atlantic alliance had been a Cold War necessity that had held back Europe's desire to establish a common European defense policy.

"The summit in Nice this weekend will put in effect the resolution of the [European Union] to create new institutions and autonomous military capabilities," he said, and listed some of them as a political and security committee, a military committee and a headquarters.

Gerhard Schroeder, the German chancellor, urged his European Union peers to be "brave" and put "the greater interests of Europe" above petty nationalism. "We must fulfill our historic duty of creating one single Europe," he said. "I will tell my colleagues in Nice: Let's be brave, we must let national interests take second place."

This kind of talk about creating a new fatherland, from a puffed-up German leader, naturally scares the pants off a lot of other folks with intact memories. But not everyone. Jacques Chirac, the president of France, vows to fight "until the bitter end" to prevent the derailing of the Franco-German initiative. The "inviolable equality" of the two great rivals, he says, has been the foundation of European peace. That's an interesting recollection of whose foreign blood saved France.

Tony Blair's government is impatient with American concerns, and the concerns of a growing number of his own countrymen who see the German-French scheme as meant to destroy once and for all the "special relationship" between the United States and Britain. His government dismisses Mr. Cohen's fears as "apocalyptic," that the French prime minister was merely pandering to "internal French politics."

Maybe, but speaking of people with missing pants, where has our own president been? But the good news is that we'll soon have a new one, and just in time.

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