I got quite a shock today. First of all, the sun is shining in Berlin, a true rarity. As I sat by my window, enjoying the sunshine and reading the transcript of Bush’s State of the Union Address (the time difference prohibited me hearing it live), I wondered what I might say about it in my post today. But nothing seemed that remarkable – nothing really surprised me, though I was happy to learn of a fresh effort to acheive peace in the Middle East: "To promote this democracy, I will ask Congress for $350 million to
support Palestinian political, economic, and security reforms." This would indeed bring meaningful changes if it is all that it seems. In general, Bush used slightly less broad, sweeping language and made far more specific statements regarding many issues. There was far more mention of allies and cooperation and a little less of the go-it-alone attitude we’ve seen before, but I caught very little substantive difference in foreign policy matters.

Then I opened a German newspaper.

Wow. Did I miss something? The headline, Bush Speech: Positive Resonance in Germany, immediately grabbed my attention. Pardon? This had better be good, I thought, expecting some kind of joke.

But what I read defied all my expectations. Official German statements regarding the President’s speech have, indeed, been overwhelmingly positive. Leaders are happy to hear that Bush is willing to work with allies again, and they are eager to start repairing the transatlantic relationship. They see Secretary Rice’s visit to Europe as a making-amends gesture and cheerfully await a return to multilateral action and friendly cooperation.

Huh. Well, I guess that’s good. Then I read an op-ed in today’s New York Times by Stephen Sestanovich, professor at Columbia University and former U.S. Ambassador at large to the Soviet Union. This is what he had to say:

"As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaves today for a
fence-mending swing through Europe, many Europeans have seized on her
experience working for President Bush’s father as a reason to hope that
she will revive a pragmatic, nonideological, less unilateral foreign
policy.

"They
forget what the diplomacy of the first Bush administration was really
like. In dealing with the biggest European security issue raised by the
end of the cold war – German unification – the United States opposed
the major European powers (other than Germany, of course), ignored
their views, got its way, and gave them almost nothing in return."

Sestanovich goes on to outline what happened and to show that the tradition of US-European relations since World War Two has almost always been one of America getting its way and Europe, sometimes willingly, sometimes grudgingly, going along. His argument is that the American recipe for action was successful; the European one was not. Therefore, America was able to continue this tradition with relatively little opposition from its allies.

So it would seem that the transatlantic rift was – at least to some extent – a lot of hot air. This is not to say that there were not substantive disagreements; there clearly were, and I think it’s safe to say that what brought this particular ice age about had a lot to do with the magnitude of the action that the U.S. wanted to – and ultimately did – undertake in Iraq. But like an old married couple, it seems as though both Europe and the U.S. were simply waiting for the grand gesture from the offending partner that would make them feel vindicated and ready to kiss and make up. The U.S. got technical support from the U.N. and the E.U. for the Iraqi elections as well as a general recognition from many skeptics that the elections were a (relative) success; Europe got the U.S. to reform its unilateralist ways and to come back into the diplomatic fold. Both parties claim victory, both are all graciousness and forgiveness. Let’s not kid ourselves, though: both claims to success are dubious – nobody "got" anyone to do anything. Still, the results are a win-win situation for both parties. Cooperation can’t hurt, even if we have to sit through 2 1/2 years of charades in order to get there.

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