- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (UPI) — Europeans have been playing the game of complex back-stabbing politics for several centuries more than Americans have, simply due to the fact that they have been around so much longer. Europe is, after all, the old continent.

The United States, on the other hand, is a relative latecomer to politicking, having been around for only 227 years. Additionally, several U.S presidents, at various times in America's comparatively short history, have chosen to remain detached — if not isolated — from the rest of the world's politics.

This was true of Woodrow Wilson who tried to keep the United States out of World War I and Old World quarrels — even though he was an arch-interventionist in Latin American affairs. It was true of Franklin D. Roosevelt who tried to keep the United States from getting dragged into World War II until the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, as it is true of George W. Bush, who initially, wanted to keep his presidential atlas stashed in the upper reaches of his bookshelves.

Bush wanted to recluse himself and his administration from the more complicated world of international politics, to concentrate instead purely on domestic issues. Remember, this was the presidential candidate who could not name the leader of Pakistan during a pre-electoral televised debate.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, of course changed all that, dragging Bush and his administration, headfirst, into the complex world of dealing with the Europeans, Middle Easterners, Central Asians and North Koreans.

More recently, as Bush and members of his team sparred with France and Germany over the question of whether or not to go to war with Iraq, the United States became frustrated with what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in one of his now all too-familiar moments of huff and puff, called "old Europe."

To compensate what it lacks in old school political savoir-faire, many Europeans believe the United States makes up in strong-arm, gung-ho cowboy attitudes.

Take the case of Iraq. From the very start of the build-up of the conflict, the United States wanted to go in all guns blazing, like the proverbial sheriff at the OK Corral at high noon. Regime change was the order of the day, and by George — George Bush, that is — the United States would see to it that the job was done.

"You are either with us, or against us," said Bush to the world, shortly after the Twin Towers and the Pentagon attacks suspected to have been carried out by Osama bin Laden's fanatical Islamist terrorists. And Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was certainly "not with us;" ergo, he had to go.

The Europeans, with the exception of Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi and Spain's Jose-Maria Aznar, saw this as a combination of American "cowboyism," — quick on the draw and lacking the finesse more often associated with "old Europe's" politics.

"This administration obsesses with smart bombs but does very little about smart politics," commented Mark Rosenblum, a professor of history at Queen's College, NY, speaking at a recent symposium on Middle East politics.

Smart politics? The question may indeed be raised; is France's politics of containment rather than open confrontation any smarter? Maybe not, but remember, the Europeans amassed several centuries of political experience from the days when the Medici, the Vatican's conniving popes and the crown heads of England, France and other ancient kingdoms were already busy scheming and plotting against one another. This all happened centuries before America was even "discovered" by a Genovese sailing for the Spanish crown.

Europe, at least part of the "old Europe," principally France, Germany and Belgium, were not eager for a war they believed prolonged diplomatic negotiations could avert.

The United States got a rude awakening in the world on real-politics when, still staggering from the effects of the Sept. 11 hangover, it awoke to the reality that it could not keep pushing the "you are with us, or against us" line forever, and still get away with it.

In truth, most Europeans are still very much with the United States, but the relationship has matured from a warm Cold War relationship into a tepid post cold war affair.

The European-U.S. relationship can be compared to the bond between a parent and growing child, who in his teen years is pushing the envelope to affirm his independence.

Starting with the outbreak of World War I and the gradual decline of their empires, the Europeans were forced to turn more and more to the United States — the rising super power in the world — for its security.

Then came World War II and the threat of Nazism and fascism, followed by the Cold War and the Soviet menace. Left alone, Western Europe knew quite well it could never repel a full-fledged Soviet aggression, so like a child it clung to its mother America's skirt for protection. In return, the United States was only too happy to oblige, seeing that a Soviet domination of Europe would have put the United States in a far more precarious position. Defending America from the Elbe river was far safer and strategically saner than defending it from the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.

But now with the Cold War over and the perils of a communist takeover dissipated, Europe, like the teenaged child reaching puberty, started to shed layers of parental protection and to distance itself. Americans need to realize this does not mean the Europeans have turned anti-American. It is just that the relationship has changed. And at the moment, they have turned against Bush's pro-war politics, not anti-American.

Memo to those who have taken to French bashing in the weeks since Chirac and Bush diverged on the Iraq policy: There is a big difference here. France still loves America. So, boycott the cheese and wines, if you feel it makes you all that more patriotic, but you are really hurting yourself with, what one conservative Briton termed, "useless self-inflicted sacrifices."

And even before the ink on French bashing had time to dry, the United States got a second wake-up call, this time in Byzantine politics. Turkey, a key NATO ally, had turned geo-politics into a bartering game, much as one would conduct a sale in an Istanbul bazaar. Turkey demanded some additional billions of dollars before they would allow U.S. military troops to use its territory in the buildup of forces needed before a potential invasion of Iraq could start.

This came about only a week after the United States entered into a political joust with "old Europe," and after France, Germany and Belgium refused to support a pre-emptive defense initiative which was needed to supply Turkey with additional military hardware in case of an Iraqi attack.

When NATO, after days of heated deliberations, finally coalesced, the United States expected a little more gratitude from the Turks. Instead, it found that international politics had dropped to the same low level as bargaining for a Persian rug.

Again, this does not mean the Turks don't love Americans any less than they used to — it's just the price of doing business in other parts of the world.

Welcome to world politics, Mr. 43rd President.

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(Claude Salhani is a senior editor with United Press International. Comments may be sent to [email protected])


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