Europe & America are lost on the road map to nowhere
In a crisis people fall back on familiar instincts. So, as the fighting in the Middle East escalated, the Americans defended Israel, the French condemned Israel, the British searched for the middle ground and the United Nations called for restraint.
In a crisis people fall back on familiar instincts. So, as the fighting in the Middle East escalated, the Americans defended Israel, the French condemned Israel, the British searched for the middle ground and the United Nations called for restraint. The Group of Eight in Moscow nonetheless managed to issue a joint statement. But this facade of unity could soon crack.
The fighting has broken out at a time when Americans and Europeans were already facing an unusual number of serious and worsening security threats. The latest - and possibly gravest - crisis will severely test an unheralded new period of transatlantic co-operation that had been quietly closing the divisions opened up over Iraq.
On the day the Israelis began to bomb Beirut airport, I met a European Union diplomat in Brussels. In an effort to lighten the gloom, I asked him if he could think of a part of the world where western diplomacy was working well. After a long silence, he said: "Moldova".
I intend no disrespect to the Moldovans, but this seems a small item to mark on the positive side of the ledger compared with the other places where things are getting worse - Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea, Palestine, Lebanon. Western diplomats are also worried about the weakening of the democratic, pro-western camp in Ukraine and a looming crisis in European and US relations with Turkey.
Even a couple of months ago, things looked a lot better. In April, George W. Bush, US president, was greeting Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister, at the White House and proclaiming that Lebanon "can serve as a great example of what is possible in the broader Middle East". That same month, John Reid, then Britain`s defence secretary, visited Helmand province in Afghanistan and expressed the hope that British troops would be able to complete their deployment there "without a shot being fired". Then, at the end of May, hopes for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis received a boost, when the US offered to open direct talks with Iran in exchange for Iran stopping enrichment of uranium.
Just a couple of months later, Lebanon has been plunged into bloody chaos. In Afghanistan, it is clear that previous declarations of victory over the Taliban were premature: the British are losing men and having to bring in reinforcements. In Iran, hopes that the government might accept the nuclear deal are dwindling away; and the British and the French think that the Iranians may be six to 12 months away from acquiring the ability to build a nuclear bomb. This month, North Korea resumed missile tests for the first time since 1998. Meanwhile, in Iraq the conflict is claiming more than 1,000 lives a month.
Europeans have taken a certain grim pleasure in sticking a "made in Washington" label on to the Iraq crisis. But take a look at the other items on the list of crises and it is striking that these are all issues on which the Americans and Europeans have been working closely together.
In fact, European diplomats have been quietly delighted by the ascendancy of the State Department since Mr Bush`s re-election and the renewed American commitment to working with its allies. "The truth about the second Bush term", said a senior British diplomat recently and with evident satisfaction, "is that Condi rules."
Ironically, some of the first public evidence that the transatlantic partnership was working again came in Lebanon last year, when the French and Americans co-operated to get the Syrians out. The Americans and Europeans have also been pushing a joint position over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - promoting the "road-map" to peace and a two-state solution that Mr Bush committed himself to in 2003. As the fighting escalated in Gaza last week, Condoleezza Rice`s first instinct was to appeal for both sides to recommit to the road map - an appeal that sounded as forlorn as any statement issued by a Brussels bureaucrat.
So what conclusion should be drawn, now that all these splendid examples of transatlantic co-operation have run into difficulties? The uninspiring truth is that foreign policy is difficult. Just because military force and US leadership have run into trouble in Iraq does not mean that diplomacy and multilateralism are going to succeed elsewhere.
Pre-September 11 2001, Mr Bush was all too aware of this. In his first presidential election campaign, he called for a "humble" foreign policy that was realistic about America`s ability to change the world and warned against the idea that "our military is the answer to every difficult foreign policy situation".
The current array of crises may encourage Mr Bush to relearn that lesson. But there is also an alternative and powerful interpretation doing the rounds in Washington. This argues that the problems America is encountering round the world are precisely the result of the Bush administration`s renewed willingness to work with its allies.
According to this thinking, weak-kneed Europeans have lured the US down the path of appeasement in Iran, North Korea and the Middle East. The result is that America`s enemies have been emboldened.
William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard and one of the intellectual godfathers of neo-conservatism, argued this weekend that the fighting in the Middle East was part of a broad-based attack on "liberal, democratic civilisation" and had been encouraged by western weakness: "Weakness is provocative . . . The right response is renewed strength – in supporting the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, in standing with Israel and in pursuing regime change in Syria and Iran."
He urged Mr Bush to order an immediate "military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities" and to fly from Moscow to Jerusalem to demonstrate solidarity with Israel.
Mr Kristol`s argument is characteristic of the neo-conservative world-view - both in the seductive ease with which it links different crises and proposes a simple solution; and in its alarmingly casual attitude to military escalation. This neo-con combination of "moral clarity", radicalism and an appeal to military force carried the day after 9/11.
After America`s experience in Iraq, it seems less likely that Mr Bush will take his advice from this quarter. But crises can shift attitudes quickly. If Mr Bush heeds even half the advice he is now getting from the radicals in Washington, the European-American divisions that were evident in Moscow this weekend will be just a foretaste.
The article was monitored by The Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service, Morgan Williams, Editor.