Thursday, November 18, 2004

Raising the bridge?

Gerard Baker, US correspondent for the Financial Times, writes a guest column for The Times today, under the heading "The day of reckoning has arrived for the Bush-hating foreign policy elite".

Of special interest to this Blog are his comments on the "new unity of purpose in Washington", which Baker writes, "will be especially welcome with regard to the European Union".

For the past four years, according to Baker, "America has been steadily abandoning the Cold War foreign policy consensus between Republicans and Democrats that supported ever-closer European union." He continues:

It once made sense for America to encourage Europeans to downplay national differences in the face of the overwhelming Soviet threat. Every significant step towards the single European superstate under construction was enthusiastically welcomed. But Mr Bush and his Vice-President, Dick Cheney, saw that kneejerk support for every move that increased the power of Brussels, especially when it was at the behest of a truculent France and a complaisant Germany, was not necessarily in US interests.

Part of the problem in weaning the US away from its pro-EU policy has been a deep cultural enthusiasm for Europe, notably at the State Department. The Anglo-Saxon foreign ministries are especially prone to what economists call "adverse selection". Those who are drawn to a diplomatic career are probably the last people you want defending your interests in the world. They generally prefer foreign cultures, and look with undisguised contempt on hicks in their own country.

The State Department, like the Foreign Office, is chock-full of people who believe, deep down, that Europe is a more cultured and civilised place than the Anglo-Saxon
world that they are occasionally forced to inhabit. They feel more at home in the salons of Brussels and Paris than they would ever do at a hoedown in Oklahoma. Their influence, already on the wane, will plummet now.

The second Bush term, despite the problems in Iraq and its desire to get European nations to play a bigger role in the War on Terror, will take a decidedly sceptical view of a united Europe. At State, the likely promotion of John Bolton, a long-term critic of European union, will be an important signal of change.

There will be no active policy to discourage European integration. US officials understand well enough that, given the level of anti-American sentiment in Europe, that would be a sure way to hasten it. But there will be more attempts to
differentiate between what Donald Rumsfeld called "old" and "new" Europe. That will mean rewarding and encouraging those countries whose foreign policy is still essentially Atlanticist, and which do not regard the US as bent on a course of evil.

This will sharpen the challenge for those who insist that the idea of a choice between Europe and America is a false one. That optimistic assessment will be seriously tested in the next four years.

This is an interesting perspective, and one which has the mark of authenticity. I doubt whether the French really understand what they are doing, tweaking the tail of America, but they are about to find out, I suspect.

It will also test Blair to the extreme as he is forced into the realisation that his "bridge" between the US and Europe has suddenly taken on the characteristics of Tower Bridge, with the raising machinery running at full pelt. Standing on the crack between the two halves of the bridge could prove an extremely uncomfortable experience.

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