- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2004

When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld last year referred to the divide between a backward-looking “old” Europe led by France, which opposed a robust American stance against predators like Saddam Hussein, and those European democracies that stand with Washington, he was pilloried by media and political elites around the world. But a careful look at what has been taking place in Europe — even before President Bush’s victory at the polls last week — suggests that Mr. Rumsfeld was on target. America-bashing could be on the wane.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Zapatero, who was elected in March on a platform demanding the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq, has been sounding more conciliatory towards Washington (and has offered to contribute forces for peacekeeping missions in Haiti and Afghanistan). German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has been offering to train Iraqi security forces.

Within Europe, the number one impediment to better relations with Washington remains the French government headed by President Jacques Chirac. Immediately following Mr. Bush’s re-election, M. Chirac sent the president a letter congratulating him and expressing hope that Europe and the United States will work together. But on Friday, the M. Chirac declared that a strong United States reinforced the need for a stronger Europe in an “ever more multipolar world” (code language for giving Europe the ability to behave in ways that frustrate the projection of American power against Islamofascists and other totalitarian movements.) The French president, speaking at a NATO summit meeting in Brussels, then expressed the view that “European cohesion is naturally the right way to deal with what some people might consider the worries or concerns” stemming from the outcome of the American election. He then left the summit meeting early — making him a no-show at a luncheon for Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

On Thursday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said bluntly that some European leaders were “in denial” about the results of the American election, adding that: “It is pretty obvious that there are some people who have not wanted to come to terms with changes that have happened.” Although Mr. Blair did not mention specific persons, it seems clear that M. Chirac was one of those he had in mind.

Although the tone of French criticisms of U.S. policy has become less vituperative since Dominique de Villepin was replaced as foreign minister earlier this year by Michel Barnier, the substance remains harmful and obstructionist. Regarding Iraq, for example, France has pressed for the inclusion of representatives of terrorist insurgent groups at international conferences on the nation’s future.

If M. Chirac is genuinely interested in improving relations with the United States, there are a number of steps he can take, such as writing off Iraqi debts accumulated during Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. He can also stop running interference at the United Nations and elsewhere for rogue states such as Iran and Syria. But if the French president continues digging in his heels, he may find himself estranged from both Washington and a growing number of his fellow European democracies.

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