Peace has broken out. Not in Iraq—between the United States and Europe.
You could see it at the D-Day commemorations in France on June 6. French President Jacques Chirac evoked a lost moment of U.S.-European harmony when he said, "France stands foursquare alongside every man and woman in America, as in the tragedy of September 11, 2001, a date engraved forever in our hearts and minds. Their grief is our grief."
You could see it at the United Nations Security Council, where members passed a unanimous resolution endorsing the transfer of sovereignty to the new Iraqi government. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, "I believe it is a genuine expression of the will of the international community, led by the Security Council, to come together again after last year's divisions."
You could see it at the G-8 summit last week in Sea Island, Ga. Chirac proclaimed, "The relationship between the U.S. and France today is a good relationship, as good as it should be between old friends like ourselves."
Have the Europeans suddenly taken a liking to President Bush? Hardly. President Reagan was disliked by the European Left but respected by conservatives, who applauded his staunch anti-Communism and his disdain for Big Government. Bush, on the other hand, seems to be disliked across the board. "The image of George W. Bush couldn't be more unfavorable in Europe and most countries," said Peter Riddell, columnist for The Times of London.
Europeans find Bush's unilateralism appalling. Journalist and author Godfrey Hodgson, who has written extensively about the United States, said, "The way in which the Bush administration went on as if it needed no help from anybody deeply offended people—and actually offended knowledgeable insiders in governments even more than it offended public opinion."
Bush sees the U.N. resolution as evidence that the world has endorsed U.S. policy in Iraq. The day after it passed, he said, "Yesterday, the United Nations sent a clear message that the world supports a free Iraq." But the Europeans forced the United States to make a lot of changes and concessions to get the resolution passed. The European view is, "We won. We got Bush to go back to the U.N. He is being more flexible. We must do everything we can to reward and encourage such behavior."
The fact that things are not going particularly well for the United States in Iraq gives Europeans a sense of vindication. "It's not that the Europeans are being nice," Hodgson said. "It's that they don't need to be confrontational. They feel they're winning the argument."
The prevailing European view of the U.S. presidential election is not far from the view of most Democrats in the United States. "I think there is a very large body of opinion in Europe that is saying, 'Anybody But Bush,' " Hodgson said. European observers don't expect radical shifts in policy if Democrat John Kerry wins. In Riddell's view, "The overall policy [under Kerry] may not be dramatically different. There's not going to be a sudden, massive change in how Iraq is run. But there won't be further Iraqs. There will be a greater willingness to sit down and talk and use international forums. That's why ... a lot of people in Europe do hope that Kerry wins." It's not the policies; it's the style. Kerry is a multilateralist.
The view from abroad is echoed by criticism at home. A statement last week by 26 former U.S. diplomatic and military officials accuses the Bush administration of "an overbearing approach to America's role in the world ... insensitive to the concerns of political friends and allies, and disdainful of the United Nations." What the signers share is a commitment to multilateralism.
The Iraq issue didn't divide just the United States from Europe. It also divided Europe. The Europeans are eager to end that division. The German government, for example, is strongly committed to improving its relationship with the "new" European countries of Eastern Europe. Most of those countries, such as Poland, supported the U.S. war in Iraq and favor a continuing U.S. security commitment to Europe. Good relations with the Bush administration make sense for German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, politically.
The Iraq debate has made life more difficult for governments on both sides. Anti-Americanism as a political agenda can get a politician only so far. Anger over Iraq got Schroeder narrowly re-elected in 2002. But this year, when he campaigned on a thinly disguised anti-American platform ("Europe—Force for Peace"), the tactic seemed to backfire. Polls showed that Germans thought Schroeder was trying to manipulate them a second time.
This month, British voters' opposition to the war in Iraq produced a big setback for Prime Minister Tony Blair. His Labor Party ran third in local elections, the first time in British history a governing party has done that badly in local voting.
Europeans want to heal the rift over Iraq. And there's only one way to do it: Declare the dispute over. Americans "want to have the last word on the use of force in Iraq," Francois Heisbourg, director of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris, told The New York Times. "Do the French want to get into a big fight on that? I don't think so."
They'd rather let the Bush administration have its way, and then say to the United States, Iraq is now your problem, not ours.