- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2003

In "Of Paradise and Power," Robert Kagan delves into a vexing question that is the stuff of current headlines. With political leaders openly questioning the future of NATO, with American and European governments at odds at sword's point really over Iraq, the author tells us why that is so. Surely, it is the stuff nightmares are made of and Mr. Kagan describes this dreamscape with dispassionate and deadly accuracy.
We have been here before, but make no mistake; Mr. Kagan suggests that the rift is real and growing and quite probably unbridgeable. His argument in the very first sentence makes this abundantly clear. It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view or the world or even that they occupy the same world.
The current bitter division over what to do about Iraq is not the cause of the present discontent, but only one more symptom of a much deeper problem. It most certainly is not just European disdain for George W. Bush or America's outrage over the French. To be sure, these all contribute to the current broils, the author argues, but they do not explain them.
The reason why America and Europe have come to this crossroads is that each has a very different view of the world and what can be done about its problems. This split is more fundamental than a mere accident of administration. Europeans since World War II, Mr. Kagan argues, have abandoned their age-old struggle for power among themselves.
Indeed, two world conflicts have left the European major powers relatively minor actors on the world stage. Although economic recovery, aided and abetted by what became the European Union, has left the continent prosperous, Europe as a whole remains weak militarily. Despite repeated calls to remedy this situation, little has changed since the end of the Cold War.
America thus remains the world's sole superpower and is likely to remain so for the indefinite future. And that, the author argues, is the crux of the problem. The Europeans who have chosen not to rearm extensively have learned that going to war is not the first option. Indeed, reliance on international law and institutions, and, of course, diplomacy is vastly preferable. They also work from the European view because that has been the European experience since 1945. Recourse to war, the fate of Europe for centuries, proved to be utterly disastrous.
Mr. Kagan points out that in itself this is not an unreasonable position and American cynicism about Europeans wanting the United States to pay for Europe's defense while they enjoy six-week paid vacations is somewhat off the mark.
Yet, the author is anything but a European-style America-basher. Americans, in general, knowing they have the power to stop megalomaniacs like Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong Il are not willing to take the risks that Europeans have long been accustomed to. Even in the days of the Soviet threat, West Europeans were more willing to engage the evil empire than American policy makers were. After all, who promoted ostpolitik? The enthusiasts in Washington for that West German position were few even among what came to be known as San Francisco Democrats.
Ironically, Mr. Kagan writes, Americans once eloquently defended the importance of law and convention rather than relying on pure power but that was when America was weak, protected in part, and only in part, by the Atlantic.
With the demise of the Soviet Union, these inherent differences between America and Europe, in the author's view, will only widen and become bitterer. Even now, the gridlock over defending Turkey makes this most apparent. So does talk serious talk about the possible collapse of NATO.
Any chance of reversing course? If the central Kagan thesis is correct, then "no" is the probable answer. But the author rightly avoids simple determinism. Moreover, there are Americans and not just the peace marcher fringe who do not automatically reject the caution of the Europeans. And there are Europeans even in the old Europe that worry a lot about the Saddams and the Osamas of this world and have a stake in NATO's survival.
Moreover, the present impasse on Iraq might be mitigated (although hardly resolved) by Europeans and Americans raising what they have in common more often rather than simply dwelling on their differences. That means lowering the volume and not assuming the worst about the other.
That, of course, is only a first step. A second step is working on common problems that challenge our remaining core beliefs. We do share a common vision of a Europe, peaceful and fully democratic. Since 1989, a good deal of progress has been made on both fronts. But the process is not complete. No one can believe that democracy is even close at hand in places like Ukraine, Moldova or Belarus.
Having said that, Europe and America will remain apart long after Saddam Hussein is a dim memory.

Roger Fontaine served on the National Security Council staff during the first Reagan administration.

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