- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2003

"Fog over Channel, Continent cut off" is a newspaper headline attributed to the Times of London in the days of Empire. Today's fog of war again raises the specter of isolation this time juxtaposing the United States with parts of Europe.
The United States has entered the conflict with Iraq without the backing of some traditional players in world politics. Once the war is over, one can expect this reluctance to provide support to disappear quickly. Governments will be eager to forget the material and commercial support they gave to Iraq. They will want contracts for rebuilding the Middle East. Reaping the benefits from U.S. success without any of the risks is the classic syndrome of a free rider. Even though there are enough of them to fill the bus, if history is a guide, the United States will quickly return to friendship with people, but perhaps not with some governments.
Since the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the United States has helped out and provided resources when it came to resolving difficulties abroad. This selflessness towards the world continues to benefit countries ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Americans and their policymakers tend to trust in the good of other people and believe that others are not that different from themselves. In cases of aggression, America has often been slow to respond. Typically, there is an eventual effort to right wrongs on a broad scale. Afterwards, Americans are quick to again be friends, build for a new future and move their lives and the lives of the vanquished forward. Think about it: How many superpowers planned their wars to minimize civilian casualties and damage to historic structures? How many prepared for reconstruction before the first soldier was engaged?
The trade dimension is the most amazing of all. With all the international machinations, the U.S. market remains a wide-open place for imports. There has been some highly publicized renaming of "French" foods on Capitol Hill. But legislation has not eliminated the inflow of French champagne and perfumes or German cars. On the contrary, the United States continues to offer its own market and consumptive power as an economic locomotive to the world.
Critics abroad should think beyond the more than 10,000 jobs that are related to each $1 billion they export to the United States. They should look at the tremendous advances in technology, medicine, business processes and education and their dissemination around the globe, which the United States has made possible. They should think of the progress made in improving the masses' well-being. They should look at a key common thread the reasonable expectation of personal independence and self-reliance, supported by a public infrastructure which encourages progress. Innovation, creativity and improvements in processes and thinking are the hallmark of the United States and are shared with the world. The ability of individuals to create wealth and the rule of law to retain it is at an unprecedented high. For many individuals, this is the first time that they can think about playing offense rather than just defense!
At the same time, enlarging fissures have become evident in Europe. Still driven by many old rules and policies, by plans that are based on warm feelings and hopes rather than on facts, it seems increasingly rare that one hears a common European voice. The economic outlook may be from up high, but it looks into a hazy abyss. The freedom from the common threat of communism, which had sustained an alliance for almost half a century, has resulted in a weakening of the common bonds felt by some politicians. But it has not eliminated the relationships, the closeness and the indebtedness felt by individuals. Many of them greatly value past progress and future collaboration.
It is not countries but only some politicians who have cut themselves off from the United States, and they may find it an onerous and perhaps even embarrassing burden to reverse course. Their vehement utterances only reflect their inability to truly exert influence and their need to bask in a short-lived spotlight. All this does not obscure the efforts of the United States to reach a new plateau of prosperity and happiness. It is these pursuits which will heal the wounds of separation.

Michael R. Czinkota teaches international business and marketing at the McDonough School of Business of Georgetown University in Washington D.C. He served in policy positions during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

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