Saturday, December 04, 2004

Muddled thinking

The Washington Post, that staunchly left-wing newspaper – bastion of the "liberal" (i.e., anti-Bush) establishment – has already published tomorrow's piece from its star columnist, Robert Kagan. There is nothing like being ahead of the game.

Entitled, "[the] Embraceable EU", Kagan takes on the "unfolding drama of Ukraine" and argues that "the Bush administration and the European Union have committed a flagrant act of transatlantic cooperation."

If Ukrainians eventually vote in a free and fair election and thereby thwart the reemergence of an authoritarian Russian empire along the borders of democratic Europe, he writes, it will be one of those rare hinges of history where looming disaster was turned into glittering opportunity.
And, Kagan believes, "it would not have happened without the joint efforts of the United States and the European Union using - dare one say it? – 'soft power' to compel Vladimir Putin and his would-be quislings to retreat from their botched coup d'etat."

Certainly, we are all mightily relieved that the situation in Ukraine has – so far – resolved itself without degenerating into bloody violence. However, as we all know, success has many fathers, but it is in my mind a little premature to start crowing about who or what brought the situations to the current climax.

In fact, anyone with eyes to watch the TV cannot but be impressed with the display of raw "people" power, with the high profile encampment of Yushchenko's supporters on Independence Square in Kiev.

With the eyes of the world upon it, this above all else must have stayed the hand of Viktor Yanukovich, and prevented him from putting in the riot squads and the troops. In that context, the world media has as much a right to claim its part in the victory as any politician.

However, it was not the EU but the US, first with Bush and then Colin Powell, who declared that the election was invalid. And, with both warning of "consequences", Yanukovich would have got the message very clearly. Unlike the EU, the USA is pumping real money into the Ukraine and not even the Pro-Russian Yanukovich could afford to do with it.

To that extent, therefore, the EU has – on the face of it – played a minor and largely irrelevant role in the great drama. Solana, the putative EU foreign minister, has represented little more than “voices off”, with nothing he has said actually lodging in the public mind as of being pivotal.

Nevertheless, such slender foundations do not stop Kagan launching onto the thesis that the US, under the Clinton administration, got it wrong in trying to restore the post Cold War strategic partnership between Europe and the US. It won’t work says Kagan. Except in matters of trade, Europe is not a global player in the traditional geopolitical sense of projecting power and influence far beyond its borders. Few Europeans even aspire to such a role.

Our sage’s prescription, therefore, is that Americans should “bury once and for all absurd worries about the rise of a hostile EU superpower - Europe will be neither hostile nor a superpower in the traditional sense.”.

That rather dismissive analysis will not please Barroso - or Tony Blair, for that matter – but never mind. That's what Kagan thinks.

Instead, he argues that Americans should stop looking to Europe to shoulder much of the global strategic burden beyond its environs. What the crisis in Ukraine shows is "what an enormous and vital role Europe can play, and is playing, in shaping the politics and economies of nations and peoples along its ever-expanding border."

Europe brings a unique kind of power, not coercive military power but the power of attraction. The European Union has become a gigantic political and economic magnet whose greatest strength is the attractive pull it exerts on its neighbours. Europe's foreign policy today is enlargement; its most potent foreign policy tool is "the lure of membership."

And that is the core of the thesis. The EU can look over its borders and, wherever there are trouble spots, it can offer those troubled countries EU membership. Problems in the Balkans? Offer them membership. Turkey? Offer them membership. "Had Europe not expanded to include Poland and other Eastern European countries, it would have neither the interest nor the influence in Ukraine's domestic affairs that it does."

So, it is "good cop – bad cop" all over again. The US provides the power in providing the strategic environment, within which Europe's "soft expansionism" can proceed. America's "military muscle" must "clear the way" for the EU to expand.

That is absolutely for real. The US spends its blood and wealth and the EU laps up the cream! Which planet is this man on?

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