- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004

FREE WORLD: AMERICA, EUROPE, AND THE SURPRISING FUTURE OF THE WEST

By Timothy Garton Ash

Random House, $24.95 286 pages

When the propagandist Michael Moore wins the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for a poisonous documentary on how the United States is governed, when a columnist in the British newspaper the Guardian wishes for the assassination of George Bush (in the subsequent edition the editors in replying to criticism said he was joking, some joke), when an agency of the United Nations leaks a year-old report on 780 tons of munitions missing through presumed mismanagement by the Bush administration just one week before the American presidential election, one does not have to be prodded by Democratic Party strategists to feel that there is a strong anti-George Bush, and even anti-American feeling adrift in Europe.

It is therefore refreshing to turn from heated partisan rhetoric to the moderate, balanced pages of Timothy Garton Ash’s latest book, “Free World.” Mr. Ash is director of the European Studies Centre at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He writes for both British and American periodicals — as do so many others — and is clearly an Atlanticist, one who sees the future of the United States and Europe intertwined by common values and hopes. He is not an adherent of President Bush, but he refrains from telling us Americans how to vote and concentrates on examining all facets of the international problems that face the free world.

He points with pride and hope to a European Union that is constantly expanding. The number is now up to 25 countries and he anticipates that by the year 2025 there will be 40, with a combined population of 650 million people. This new colossus would have a salutary calming affect on its neighbors. Intra-European wars would no longer be possible, and the heightened prosperity unions almost invariably bring should lift the economies of neighboring areas.

The author acknowledges that there are problems along the way. He refers to what he calls Euro-Gaullism, a kind of thinking that measures Europe against America and defines itself as that which is not American, but he feels such a creed cannot last. The new nations joining the ranks of the European Union could not go along.

He does not quote Jacques Chirac’s infantile remark that the Lithuanian Prime Minister had missed a golden opportunity to keep her mouth shut when she agreed with certain American foreign policy initiatives, but we should be aware that such criticism weakens French prestige and insures that the new additions to the European Union from Eastern Europe will be thinking in a less parochial fashion. They harbor less resentment to America’s preeminence, and even retain some gratitude for American efforts to free them of the communist yoke. Despite their distance from the Atlantic, they are staunch Atlanticists as, the author believes, all countries of the new Europe must be.

Why this imperative? He feels that the world’s demographics compel it. Europe with its aging and dwindling population, and much of its budget devoted to social welfare, has neither the will nor the energy to become a true leader in world affairs. Its industrial power and commercial sophistication, however, serve as a magnet to the unemployed youth of its neighbors in the Middle East and even beyond. Here perhaps lies its ability to be influential.

The problems of the Middle East, the rise of China as an economic giant, soon to be followed by India, and the global gap between the rich, mostly in democracies, and the poor, mostly in non-democratic societies, are the very real problems facing what used to be called the free world. To allow resentments on both sides of the Atlantic to fester and impede cooperation, he feels, would be against all common sense.

The author, unfortunately, does not examine the current workings of the United Nations, which would seem essential when talking about cooperation in dealing with world problems. The United Nations has failings which loom larger every day. The oil for food scandal appears to be the largest in recorded history, and its Commission on Human Rights has for some time been a mockery of the entire concept of human rights. Libya was its recent chairman, and seats on the commission have been occupied by China, Cuba, Sudan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. The United Nations also seems agonizingly slow in dealing with the massacres now taking place in Darfur, Sudan. It appears to have learned nothing from its previous failures in preventing bloodshed.

With an ineffective United Nations incapable of providing significant initiative in world affairs, it is all the more essential that the free nations of the world cooperate. Mr. Ash is doing everything he can to make that happen.

Sol Schindler is a retired Foreign Service Officer who writes and lectures on international affairs.

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