It's no crisis that the US and Europe have issues

Bob Tippee

As an issue in the US general election on Nov. 2, friction between the US and Europe won't be decisive.

While the European press bristles with opinion about whom Americans should elect president, Europeans won't be voting. And—here's a self-evident insight too often lost in hubbub over a supposed crisis in trans-Atlantic relations—Americans aren't European and don't want to be.

The US came into being out of revolution against European tyranny, after all. The ancestors of many of its citizens became American in order not to be European.

US President George W. Bush, whom much of the European press reviles, draws blame for recent antagonisms. Yet trouble started before he took office. Relations have been fraying since collapse of the Soviet Union removed a unifying threat.

Conflict took a 1-year breather after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It revived over first the question and then the fact of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But it didn't start there.

Michael Naumann, former culture minister of Germany and now editor of Die Zeit, has a prescription for reconciliation. In his proposal, reported by the New York Times, Europe would help the US in Iraq if the US recommitted itself to the Geneva Convention's rules on treatment of prisoners, reasserted nuclear nonproliferation by reducing weapons stores, entered "serious" discussions on ecological initiatives including the Kyoto Treaty, and joined Europe in "a return to less arrogant" discourse.

This comes straight from the "let's be reasonable and do it my way" school of argumentation. But it's typical. The European Union recently made trade favors for developing countries contingent on a list of pet behaviors, including support of the Kyoto Treaty.

If Europe is high-minded, the US is just heavy-handed. It still has in place third-party trade sanctions against Iran, for example, which European governments properly resent. The measures predate Bush's presidency.

These are issues. They're worth trying to settle. That issues exist between Europe and the US is no crisis, however. And the supposed need for reconciliation can too easily become one side's way of getting the other to do its bidding.

(Author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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