Friday, November 12, 2004

Working together?

As Prime Minister Blair prepares to be the first world leader to visit President Bush after his re-election, there is no shortage of advice about what the two must talk about. Over on this side of the pond, there seems to be an assumption that Bush owes Blair something and, therefore, a shopping trip is what is being planned.

At any rate, that is how yesterday’s Daily Telegraph approached the subject. Unfortunately, their shopping list was short and unimaginative. Dear Santa, I should like peace negotiations in the Middle East and friendship between all European countries and the United States.

Mr Blair has always maintained that there should be negotiations over peace in the Palestine and the Americans and Europeans should facilitate these. Well, nobody actually disagrees and as everybody has pointed out, the prospect is now a possibility. The Telegraph is probably right in counselling caution. Mahmoud Abbas may have been elected to be Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, but who knows if this is the final election.

As for friendship with European countries, the United States does not actually get on badly with most of them. France and Germany with their acolytes are a problem but it hard to understand why Chancellor Schröder, who is reported to have spent an hour on the telephone to President Bush when he called to congratulate him, should need Tony Blair’s intercession. As for France and President Chirac, no amount of intercession is going to sort that out. Still, there is no harm in chatting about that, one supposes.

A new WebMemo by the Heritage Foundation, entitled The Bush/Blair Washington Summit: Strengthening U.S.-British World Leadership, clearly takes a slightly different line. It views the relationship as one between equals and the discussion as necessary for the solving of the world’s problems, namely Iraq, the Middle East and, once again, the US-EU relations.

The key recommendations are fairly straightforward on the first two: hold out in Iraq against terrorism, reject Kofi Annan’s call to pull back from Fallujah (an unnecessary instruction) and challenge France and Germany to come off the sidelines; support all attempts at peace negotiations in the Middle East and promote the idea of a London conference, while insisting that Israel’s right to peaceful existence must be recognized, support for individual liberty and democracy.

On the US-Europe relations the recommendations go slightly awry:

“President Bush should make clear his support for a multi-speed Europe, based on the principle of each individual state having greater choice about its level of integration with Brussels. A Europe where national sovereignty remains paramount regarding foreign and security policy and where states act flexibly rather than collectively will help America to engage European states most successfully. He should express growing concern in Washington over the impact of the European Constitution and the effect it may have on limiting the freedom of Britain and
other European allies to work alongside the United States. The President should give voice to U.S. concerns over French and German moves to advance further European Union integration in the sphere of foreign policy. At the same time, President Bush should make a firm commitment to undertaking a new effort at public diplomacy in Europe.”
While it is good to know that some American political thinkers are concerned about the EU Constitution and its impact on US-European relations, one wonders where they get that idea about each state having any choice, never mind a greater one about “its level of integration with Brussels” (a somewhat meaningless concept in any case – it is not Brussels we are integrating with)?

According to the International Herald Tribune, who does not seem to be that interested in Blair’s visit, Europeans will try to work with Bush. Big of them, one might say. What are their alternatives?

However, officials also warn that they (whoever they may be) will also continue “to press their own approaches on Iran, Israel and other issues, even if that rankles administration hardliners”. (The other issues, incidentally, boil down to Iraq.)

Nothing wrong with that. No reason why Europeans – it is unclear whether it is the EU that is meant here and Javier Solana as the spokesman, or France and her followers – should necessarily try to please the American administration or its hardliners. The question is what those approaches are on the three “I”s.

On Israel, the Europeans are pompously saying that they will insist that President Bush start peace negotiations with Chairman Arafat’s successors. Not surprisingly, the President has already declared himself ready to do so. After all, the US government has been trying to by-pass Arafat for some time, recognizing the fact that he was an insurmountable obstacle to any agreement. And who insisted that he should be the one and only representative of the Palestinian people? Who supplied him with money and resurrected his political fortune whenever it looked like fading away? Why, the EU, of course.

Then there is Iran. The EU, or rather France, Germany and the UK have been insisting that they can do a deal with Iran over the nuclear reactors it is building or preparing to build. The US government says that Iran is not interested in deals and the whole problem should be taken to the UN Security Council. Why the European countries are opposing that is not made clear – after all, they are in favour of the UN Security Council when that annoys the Americans.

However, as of Wednesday the deal is no longer being discussed. Iran has pocketed all the many concessions the three European countries have offered, and refused to do any deals over nuclear power or, for that matter, its considerable support for terrorist groups. As of now, it is not clear what the Europeans are going to say when they “press their own approaches” on Iran.

Then there is Iraq. France and Germany, having opposed the war, refused to provide peace keepers or help train the Iraqi forces, are now demanding that the January elections be postponed because some Sunni clergymen have been calling for a boycott in response to the fighting in Fallujah. The Sunni clergymen may well change their minds when Fallujah is taken.

In the meantime, I imagine, Prime Minister Allawi may have something to say to advice from countries that are sitting on the sidelines, dissing his government. He is not a man to mince his words if his letter to Kofi Annan (father of Kojo Annan of food-for-oil scandal fame) is anything to go by.

Secretary-General Annan, as our readers will recall, warned last week against a coalition offensive on Fallujah, saying that this might increase violence and disrupt the elections. In the past he had also called for postponement of the elections. In reply Mr Allawi expressed some surprise at

“… the lack of any mention in [Kofi Annan’s] letter of the atrocities which these groups [in Fallujah] have committed. I believe that the blame for the violence and difficulties in Iraq at the moment should be laid squarely at their door.”
On the whole, one is forced to agree with the Wall Street Journal Europe editorial. There is no need to be surprised. That is Kofi Annan all over.

So there we are: the Europeans will press for their views against the American ones but it will not matter to them what the aim is, as long as the views are anti-American. Not very hopeful from the point of view of the western alliance.

However, is there not something missing from all this advice and analysis? What about the rest of the world? Will Bush and Blair talk about Africa, which becomes Blair’s number one priority every six months or so? Will they discuss China and her involvement in the Galileo project? What of Russia, who has cancelled a summit with the EU, is steadily sliding into an unstable dictatorship and is eqally steadily demanding western support for its inhumane and unsuccessful policies in Chechnya while giving no support for the wider fight against terrorism? What of the countries around Russia, her near abroad, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Georgia, the Caucasus and the Central Asian republics? Is it not time the United States and the European countries became worried about some or all of those subjects?

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