- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2003

Pardon me, but I grew up thinking Italy was part of Old Europe. Didn't the Italians have something to do with the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, and the founding of NATO and the European Union?
It's said that, after September 11, 2001, everything has changed. But has Italy really become part of New Europe?
France and Germany are supposed to be "old" Europe because they question the Bush administration's Iraq policy. Poland and Bulgaria are "new" Europe because they support it.
So what does that make Italy chopped liver? Is it "new" Europe because its center/right government supports President Bush or "old" Europe because its people overwhelmingly oppose him?
But we could ask the same question about Spain or the Netherlands. Their governments support Mr. Bush's policy and their people oppose it.
What does that say about America's problems with our European allies?
First, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's picture of Europe as split between New Europe that shares his enthusiasms and Old Europe that doesn't is, to be kind, oversimplified.
Few European governments favor war with Iraq. And fewer European publics do.
Nonetheless, most of the governments are going along with the U.S. administration. The reasons vary, but few reflect acceptance of the Bush administration's worldview.
For the center/right governments of Spain and Italy, it's mostly about political solidarity with the Republican U.S. president. For some smaller Western European countries, it's their traditional alignment, within NATO, with the U.S. in conflicts with France and Germany. For new and aspiring NATO members of Central and Eastern Europe, it's largely about their own security. They're joining NATO to get U.S., not French or German, protection.
All this may get votes for the U.S. position in NATO and the U.N. But it doesn't prove much of a split in European opinion.
Second, the notion of a pro-American New Europe diverging from an anti-American Old Europe is simply wrong. There may be strains caused by Bush administration policy and rhetoric, but people of all areas of Europe, by virtually every measure, still like America.
For example, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, pro-American sentiment in Europe ranged last year from the low 60s to the high 70s. The lowest (Slovakia at 60 percent) and the highest (Poland at 79 percent) rankings were in New Europe. France was at 63 percent and Italy at 70 percent.
Lost in the focus on the supposed split between old and new is the fact that Europe is rapidly becoming more integrated.
Twelve countries have replaced their national currencies with the Euro; most of the rest will do so. Next year, 10 more countries will join the EU. This spring, in a constitutional convention virtually unnoticed in the U.S., the EU is creating a federal structure more like the United States of America than the "common market" that still dominates American images of the EU.
Third, the United States ignores European public opinion at our peril.
Public opinion may not be controlling, it may be fickle, and it certainly can be wrong. But it is influential. British public opinion has been a key factor in repeatedly dragging the U.S. back to the U.N. Prime Minister Tony Blair supports U.S. policy, but needs U.N. blessing to protect him from his anti-war voters. Similarly, the 4 out of 5 Turks who oppose the war forced their government to delay by months deployment of tens of thousands of U.S. troops within Turkey's borders. They are still not there, ready to invade Iraq from the north.
In diplomacy, it's a compliment to say a government has the "courage to support us despite public opinion." But as a long-term strategy for advancing America's interests, it's a loser. In an increasingly democratic world, largely as a result of our example and commitment, the people' voices will be heard. If we want the support of governments, we'll need to convince their constituents, not just their officials.
The imagery of Old Europe and New Europe may provide some momentary comfort in the face of foreign opposition to current U.S. policy. But, it does not reflect reality. In fact, it serves to underestimate the challenge America faces in winning European support for our policies.
It was a cute line, but it's time to give it a rest.

Jim Rosapepe was born in Rome, Italy, and served as U.S. ambassador to Romania (1998-2001).

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