Robert Kagan says it’s time to save our alliance with the former Western Europe. “The American task,” according to Kagan, “now is to address both governments and publics, in Old and New Europe, to move past disagreements over the Iraq war, and to seek transatlantic solidarity against al Qaeda.”
Undoubtedly, this is the mature and responsible position to take, but I wonder whether it’s the correct one. Alliances make sense when countries facing a common threat share a common vision of how to deal with that threat. This, and not cultural, political, or historical affinity, was the basis for our alliance with the likes of Spain and West Germany during the Cold War. Today, the U.S. and Europe face a common threat, but, at present, disagree fundamentally about how to deal with it. If America rejects President Bush’s vision in favor of John Kerry’s concept, we will be in sync with Europe, but will have no real need for anti-terrorism alliance. All that will be required is some information sharing among police forces, and no fence mending is necessary to accomplish that limited objective.
If, on the other hand, America stands by President Bush’s vision, it’s difficult to see how the nations of the former Western Europe (with the possible but not probable exception of Great Britain) can be our allies in the war against terrorism. They can and will be our collaborators in the defensive, police- oriented aspects of the war. However, they will not be our long-term partners in the proactive aspects of the campaign because neither the European elites nor the European body politic favors those efforts.
Accordingly, it is perhaps not surprising that Kagan’s piece is long on platitudes and short on specifics as to what common understanding about how to prosecute the war on terrorism might be reached by the U.S. and Europe. Kagan seems to embrace the fallacy, so often derided by neo-conservatives, that differences, no matter how fundamental, can always be bridged because ideology doesn’t really matter much.
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