Bush visits a Europe ever further away
They are called Generation E, for a generation of young Europeans growing up with a single European currency, living within a single European border, and debating a single European foreign policy. Compared with their parents and grandparents, their emotional and historical attachment to America is weakening.Skip to next paragraph
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A similar estrangement is occurring in America, where links to Europe are loosening as family ties to the old Continent fall further back in time and new immigrant ties are more often to other continents. In the post-cold-war years and especially since 9/11, attention has increasingly turned from Europe to Asia and the Middle East.
At the same time, however, transatlantic economic ties are as vital as ever. The US-European Union market, topping $500 billion annually, constitutes one of the world's preeminent poles of economic stability and job creation. Furthermore, collaborative efforts in several areas - such as the Balkans and Afghanistan, and for tsunami relief - demonstrate the value of cooperation among Western powers.
It is in this context of loosening historical and emotional ties, and vital political and economic interests, that President Bush travels to Europe next week. His top representatives, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as well as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have insisted in their own recent trips to Europe that the United States wants to forge a return to closer cooperation after the disagreement and bitterness over the war in Iraq.
As he travels from Brussels, where he will meet with NATO and EU leaders, to Germany - a country that has evolved from close postwar friend to distant ally over recent years - Mr. Bush will be trumpeting the vitality and worth of the transatlantic partnership. He will seek help on reconstruction in Iraq and reform in the Middle East. And he will do it on a continent where he personally and his policies remain unpopular.
In many ways, this trip will be like a reunion of a family whose branches have drifted apart, the loosening contacts and diverging perspectives accentuated by one big falling out. The reunion will be a time to assess the ties that bind, and to decide whether and why they are worth the effort of renewal.
The answer depends on both sides but lies above all with Bush, experts say - although the outcome may be determined as much by forces beyond any one leader.
"A substantial part of the problem is structural. It doesn't have to do with Bush or [German Chancellor Gerhard] Schröder or [French President Jacques] Chirac," two European leaders who made their opposition to Bush's Iraq policy overt, says Charles Kupchan, a foreign-policy expert at Georgetown University in Washington.
Running down a list of causes of the transatlantic drift - NATO's struggle with the end of the cold war; the rise of the EU, now 25 nations strong; the divergent impact of 9/11 on the two sides of the Atlantic; and generational changes that have meant the end of what he calls "true Atlanticists" - Mr. Kupchan says, "It already would have taken a great deal of hard work to keep this alliance together."
But along came George W. Bush, who ushered in dramatic changes to US foreign policy, at the same time as European leaders no longer felt the need always to follow the US lead, but rather felt enough strength to strike out on their own. The result, Kupchan says, is that the "liberal internationalism" that guided transatlantic relations for more than 50 years - in which Europe accepted American leadership in return for America's willingness to compromise and work through international institutions, "is now gone."
Add to that the growing separation of the two publics. Stark differences characterize American and European perspectives on everything from the death penalty, religion and secularity, to preferred economic and social models.
"Europeans see in America a huge gap between rich and poor and the lack of a safety net," says Fraser Cameron, director of studies at the European Policy Center in Brussels. "These differences become examples of what they don't want."
Such "societal differences" eventually translate into differences in leadership. Mr. Cameron points to Germany, "a key US ally for 40 years" that "shifted dramatically away from the friendship," to the point where Mr. Schröder won reelection in 2002 on an anti-Bush campaign.
Indeed, leaders on both sides have used transatlantic differences to advance their own agendas. "Something that gives real force to the anti-Americanism we see is the elites' desire to use it as the glue that constructs a European identity that still doesn't really exist," says John O'Sullivan, former special adviser to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who is now editor of the National Interest, a foreign-policy review in Washington.