Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bush Leaves NATO Stronger as Putin Seethes

Matthew Kaminski writes in the WSJ that GWB has shored up NATO in Europe by strengthening ties with our traditional postwar allies and by assisting new entrants who wish to escape the crushing embraces of the Russian bear.

Kaminski says that the bolstering of NATO over the last half-decade has several causes:
First came a political shift. Anti-Americanism, while a potent cultural and social phenomenon, turned out to be an electoral loser. Its most prominent European practitioners, Germany's Gerhard Schröder and France's Jacques Chirac, were replaced by politicians friendly to the U.S. such as Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy.

These two were different – let's say more "American" – in other important respects as well. Ms. Merkel isn't only the first woman chancellor, but the first German leader from the old communist East; her moral outlook was shaped by first-hand experience of Soviet totalitarianism. Mr. Sarkozy is the first French leader born after the liberation of Paris, to parents of Jewish and Hungarian stock no less. He doesn't carry Gaullist hang-ups about American power and France's shame about being occupied and then liberated by the allies during World War II.

In his first year, Mr. Sarkozy has pushed for a vibrant NATO and close ties with America – all in the name of strengthening Europe and France. Next year, he plans to bring France back into NATO's military wing more than four decades after Charles de Gaulle wrenched it out. His positive spin on trans-Atlantic relations contrasts with Mr. Chirac's reflexive efforts to check the U.S. at any turn. Mr. Bush has, like Bill Clinton before him, proved a staunch supporter of NATO. In response to the Sarkozy initiative, the administration dropped its skepticism about a common European defense and foreign policy, and backed efforts to get EU countries to pull their military weight. The U.S. has discovered that it needs help in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq anyway it can get it.

Of course, a lot of the above is a bit cosmetic. While working in France for the State Department, I was told that France had never changed its military codes after De Gaulle's ballyhooed departure from NATO's military wing. Thus France would be there in a DefCon Five situation even if Le Grand Charles could strut his anti-American shuffle to the delight of the Left Bank gauchistes whose incessant pangs of ardor for a totalitarian France were unrequited. But I digress.

Kaminski follows the Europeanist route that all American diplomats after World War II have secretly pined for:
Another quiet change since the Iraq war has been a trans-Atlantic convergence of outlooks. In their most recent security strategies, both France and the U.K. highlighted in gloomy terms the threat of terrorism and WMD. Differences remain on proper responses, but the leading Western powers are getting closer.

Finally, Europeans caught a strain of realism. Ironically, the emergence of "a multipolar world" – that great Gaullist dream – was what sobered the Continent's elites about their own relative weakness, and led them back to America. With the rise of non-American powers, Europe was supposed to push its unique brand of multilateralism. But two of the emerging powers, Russia and China, are authoritarian regimes with little time for Europe's utopian model of "permanent peace." The third, India, shows no interest in being allied with an EU saddled with low birth and growth rates.

Leaving its old default-buddy, the US of A. It's all about......guess what----the money!
Europe couldn't find its place in this world. Except, that is, as a partner to the West's leading democracy, the United States. Suddenly gone are the loudly voiced European anxieties going back to the Clinton presidency about an unwieldy "hyperpower." In their place come paeans to shared democratic values, a long common history and the world's by far most lucrative commercial partnership.

So the road ahead for NATO is fraught with difficulties that no American president can ignore. And the EUtopian urge to levitate on clouds of vapid cloud-cuckoo rhetoric always keeps its unpredictable politics a dodgy sort of whack-a-mole----who could have foreseen the sudden volte face of the Spanish electorate after the Madrid train bombing, a sort of collective rout of a once-proud nation into neutrality and passivity.
Barack Obama or John McCain can build on these foundations next year. Whoever takes over will also inherit from Mr. Bush the unresolved problems of Iran's nuclear bomb program, Afghanistan's fragile state, and an aggressive Russia – just for starters. The next president will look to Europe for help. So we'll soon see how much of a disconnect really exists between European rhetoric and political will.

Will Germany boost its support for the Afghan mission and prove willing to face down Russia over further eastward NATO enlargement? Will the EU unite around a muscular approach toward Iran (assuming America discovers its own muscle)? How much will France resent America's push to embrace Turkey as part of the West? What happens if al Qaeda strikes again?

The six decades of NATO kept the world free from totalitarian rigidity. The challenges ahead may not be as black-and-white, but the alliance is firm enough to withstand and confront whatever comes its way.

Thanks in large part to George W. Bush.

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