We were there for America
But how long will America be there for Europe?
“WIN some, lose some”, says a top Lithuanian politician of the looming disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We were there for America. America will be there for us”.
That sort of breezy Atlanticism is almost extinct in western Europe. And even among the east Europeans, it conceals a sinking feeling that they are going to suffer big collateral damage from America's misguided strategies in the ill-named “war on terror”.
For a start, the crude division of Europe into “old” (anti-American) and “new” (Atlanticist) has hardly helped the still-shaky cause of reuniting the continent.
The disproportionate presence of largely token ex-communist forces in the “coalition of the willing” has helped confirm the cynical chancelleries of old Europe in their view that the new democracies are gullible American patsies.
The implication of Romania, Poland and perhaps some other countries in the renditions scandal has blemished what should have been the new democracies’ strongest card: their commitment to human rights. How could those who had suffered in communist prisons collaborate now in the torture of other prisoners? The allegation may be outrageously unfair. But it has stuck in the minds of many.
The damage goes on. America’s role as guarantor of Europe’s security has been weakened. In western Europe, revulsion at the bloody and incompetent occupation of Iraq, coupled with a mixture of astonishing amnesia and lazy prejudice, has wiped away a shared history that stretches from the Normandy beaches to the end of the Berlin Wall.
In western Europe, revulsion at the bloody and incompetent occupation of Iraq has wiped away a shared history that stretches from the Normandy beaches to the end of the Berlin Wall
Even in the new democracies, America’s standing has fallen. The cost and hassle of getting an American visa grates maddeningly. Polish and Estonian boys who fight side-by-side with Americans in Iraq are liable to be treated as potential terrorists and illegal immigrants when they want to visit. The administration has moved shamefully slowly on this injustice, and on military assistance to its eager allies.
Yet, if the Atlantic bonds do weaken, the ex-captive nations will suffer the most. It was America that got them into NATO, and it is America that looks out for them now, much more so than nearer but less friendly countries such as Germany. Any suggestion that the east Europeans can rely on the European Union to stick up for them against Russian bullying is, on current form, laughable.
New radar gear and rocket interceptors planned for the Czech Republic and (probably) Poland will probably not do much to change this, You do not strengthen an alliance by pressing on your allies weapons that their public does not want. Helmut Schmidt, Germany's chancellor 20 years ago, thought that having Cruise and Pershing missiles in western Europe would make America’s nuclear guarantee more credible. Instead, it cast America as the warmonger in the minds of the muddle-headed, and stoked peacenikery throughout Europe.
Barring an unlikely success in Afghanistan or Iraq, the strains on the Atlantic alliance will grow in the years ahead. The rivets have long been popping. Now great girders, such as Italy, are twisting and buckling. It was public anti-Americanism that brought down Romano Prodi’s government last week. Old Kremlin hands who remember how hard they once tried to destroy NATO must have trouble believing that the job is being done so well for them now by the alliance’s own leaders.