1/05/2005

Coldhearted Pragmatism

In a short piece entitled "Fresh signs that Europe is ready to deal with Bush", the Houston Chronicle explains why Europe has moved past shock, denial, anger and into acceptance of Bush's re-election.

Paradoxically, the very thing that neoconservatives detest most about European diplomacy — that Machiavellian willingness to cut deals with anyone — is now working in Bush's favor. But there is arguably more to this sea change than just a grumpy acceptance of the status quo. From a European perspective, three things are making it easier to warm to the Bush White House.

One is the death of Yasser Arafat. No issue divides Europe and the United States more keenly than the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. For the last few years, Europeans have criticized Bush for failing to put enough pressure on Israel to get out of the occupied territories and for refusing to deal with Arafat. But since Arafat's death, Europeans and Americans have been able to find common ground: supporting Ariel Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza, putting pressure on Israel to let the Palestinians hold elections and, covertly, backing Mahmoud Abbas to become the next Palestinian leader.

A second reason is Europe's growing worries about Islamic terrorism. The murder in November of Theo van Gogh, a provocative Dutch filmmaker, at the hands of an Islamic militant has been called Europe's 9/11. Though the two events are obviously not fully comparable, it is certainly true that American conservatives, such as Francis Fukuyama and Bernard Lewis, have found a wider audience recently for the idea that radical Islam is inimical to European traditions of tolerance.

The third force is the reappearance, albeit in a milder form, of the threat that kept the trans-Atlantic alliance together for half a century. The Russian bear is growling again. The Ukrainian election — complete with its KGB-style poisoning of the opposition leader and heavy-handed electoral fraud — has reminded European diplomats of Vladimir V. Putin's determination to control his "near abroad."
It's the last two points that are the most interesting to me.

I would argue that it was not the murder of van Gogh that was "Europe's 9/11", but rather the March 11 bombings in Madrid. The Spanish government ineptly tried to portray the attack as the work of Basque separatists, hoping to make some political hay in the nearing election. This cynical spin-doctoring was so transparent to the electorate that they swept the incumbents out of office and elected the socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Had the Spanish government not tried to so blatantly cash in on the attacks and instead proclaimed their defiance of terrorism, the election very probably would have turned out quite differently.

The third point, the re-emergence of the Russian bear, is an astute observation. Putin's nigh-interference in the Ukranian election should serve to remind Europe that Russia's idea of "secure borders" has always involved expanding those borders to include those of nearby states. While it's not likely that Russian tanks will be rolling through Eastern European capitals, Russian capital is certainly bankrolling tactics like poisoning opposition candidates. Germans may oppose U.S. policy in Iraq, but it was Russian foreign policy in Germany that enslaved half of their population for half of a century.

The article sums up Europe's attitude thusly:
In short, Europeans are getting used to the idea that it is not Bush who is the exception, but the U.S. itself that is exceptional — and that if they want to deal with this exceptional superpower they need to humor it rather than rile it. Strangely enough, this has been Tony Blair's strategy all along; it is rapidly becoming the Continent's strategy, too.
Even if Europe regards as rather poorly, it's list of allies grows thin. Coldhearted pragmatism it may be, but pragmatism ("realpolitik", we used to call it) is a winning strategy.