Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ties that Bind--Or Not

Is a change in rhetoric (or a change in personnel) sufficient in re-focusing
trans-Atlantic relations? This was one of the themes discussed at a forum on
the future of U.S. policy held at Chatham House with speakers from both The
National Interest and The Nixon Center, in advance of the trans-Atlantic
editors' roundtable.

Some of the points our British (and larger European) audience wanted us to
ensure are being heard in Washington:

--the next British prime minister (Gordon Brown) and even his possible Tory
successor (David Cameron) will, of necessity, have to distance themselves from
Tony Blair's tight embrace of the Bush Administration. In particular, any
British leader will be under renewed pressure to show tangible benefits
Britain receives from the "special relationship", as the perception is growing
here that Blair, in return for his solid support for the United States in
going into Iraq, received no real support from Washington for issues that
mattered on his agenda (peace process, Africa, and climate change). That Latin
phrase so often dreaded in Washington circles, especially those that maintain
that all democracies share common interests, reared its ugly head: quid pro

--Don't deliberately misinterpret Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. Both are
pro-American, but from a European perspective. Their first priority will be to
re-invigorate the Franco-German axis at the heart of the EU (with some
collateral concerns about whether London will be marginalized in that
process). They do envision Europe as a partner of the United States and share
a number of Washington's concerns (including about disturbing trends in both
domestic and foreign policy in Russia). But the operative word here is
partner. They will have their own perspectives on policy and priorities and
they will expect to work with Washington, not simply follow an American
agenda. "Quid pro quo" was not mentioned explicitly in this context but the
message was that Washington would still need to not simply inform and consult
but actually negotiate if it wanted to forge a true and enduring trans-
Atlantic policy.

--Don't minimize the climate change issue. Could climate change be the next
decade's "Iraq" which divides the Atlantic alliance, or at least produces deep
fissures within it? This was a clear concern--and Democrats should not assume
that rhetorical flourishes alone are sufficient, as House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi's comments while in Germany were described by members of the audience
as vague and unclear. Others noted that whenever there is a clash between
domestic and foreign policy priorities in U.S. policy, domestic ones win out,
arguing that climate change will become a major irritant in trans-Atlantic

Let me conclude by saying the overall mood was cautious. There is a desire for
improved relations and for the United States to continue its leadership role,
but concern that the extended 2008 presidential campaign will prevent
candidates from articulating an effective vision for the future of trans-
Atlantic relations (beyond comforting banalities), and that too many in
Washington are still looking "back" to a pre-2002 situation rather than taking
into account changes in both Europe and the global environment. But hope
springs eternal.

Nik, since you are in London I assume you have seen the reaction to Bush's speech on climate change and how it is being ridiculed over here. Pelosi also said nothing of substance either. Unless Al Gore is the next U.S. president climate change will increasingly be a major bone of contention.
The first question is whether a reinvigorated EU-3 can bring some sense of cohesion and coherence to Europe that would allow it to actually be a partner to the U.S.; the second is whether or not perceptions of threats and of solutions are converging on both sides of the Atlantic. I think we are seeing movement in both directions and so I would be cautiously optimistic that we could see a reinvigorated relationship based on a new notion of the West.
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