Saturday, March 20, 2004

Is Old Europe Flying High Again?

The recent victory for the Socialists in Spain would suggest that “Old Europe,” i.e. the Franco-German alliance, has won a new ally against the US, but as Eursoc.com points out, this sort of speculation is a bit premature.

While Spain’s Socialists look likely to be more Euro-centered and less pro-American, Eursoc notes that the situation is a bit more complex. The most important factor here is that the Franco-German alliance is not as solid as the French would like us to believe. Germany has strategic interests different from France. Though France may be content to bad-mouth the Americans, the current German government is beginning to turn away from that sort of blustering rhetoric. In the heat of an election campaign, Schroeder was willing to use anti-American sentiment to save his own neck, but as far as Germany is concerned even Schroeder knows that his country must ultimately maintain good relations with the US. And interestingly enough, this is a realization coming from a leftist German government, one that most likely will be defeated in the next election (though that’s what everyone thought before the last election). In any case, this demonstrates that Germany, even when ruled by the left, will only go so far in offending the US. By contrast, the French, despite having a right of center government, will use anti-Americanism as a long-term plank in its foreign policy.

And, as far as the rest of Europe is concerned, all other European countries will alternate between the rhetoric of anti-Americanism and support for the US, depending on whether the left or the right comes to power, which itself is more a function of domestic issues than international ones (as was the case in Greece where a leftist and rather anti-American government recently fell to a more pro-American right of center party).

This, it seems to me, is the best light in which to look at Europe, as well as the best guide for American statesmen. Britain tends to be friendly with the US in most matters. France tends to be hostile even when appearing friendly. Germany, despite trying to build close relations with France, is reluctant to damage its trans-Atlantic ties. The rest of Europe will alternate between anti-Americanism and pro-Americanism depending on who comes to power, which, as I noted, usually has more to do with domestic than international concerns.

As a final point, a point which refutes the claims that the Americans are not particularly deft when it comes to diplomacy, especially the current administration, I would suggest that, judging by how the Bush administration handled the various European players in the build-up to Iraq and since the war, those making the decisions in the US government understand something of how Europe’s nations work. The administration touted Anglo-American commonality, befriended smaller European nations, quickly forgave grievances with the Germans and have allowed antagonisms with the French to simmer. In other words, the American administration has focused its hostility on the French as much as possible.

I remember reading somewhere that during discussions prior to the Iraq invasion, Dominique de Villepin made the comment that the problem with the Americans is that they don’t read Machiavelli. The force of this statement was that the Americans failed to understand that much of what the French were doing was pure grandstanding in order to improve their international leverage. I think the Americans may very well have understood this. De Villepin seems to think that the core of Machiavelli is simple deception shrouded in the appearance of morality. If that’s the case, then I would suggest that the problem with the French is that they don’t read Machiavelli carefully. There is a moral message in Machiavelli, and it has to do with the morality of acquiring, something the French seem almost habitually unable to comprehend: a Machiavellian joke at France’s expense.

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