Bush Is No Berliner

Once upon a time, a young American could proclaim "Ich bin ein Berliner" and Germany and all of Europe would be thrilled. On Thursday the crowds were out on the streets of Berlin for another American president -- but to revile George Bush, not to praise him.

Rank ingratitude for all America did for Berlin and Germany during the Cold War? Perhaps, and certainly many Europeans of a certain age would beg to differ with the protesters. Nevertheless, the demonstrations are as symptomatic of the times as the rapture that greeted John Kennedy in Berlin 39 years ago. The harsh truth is that for all the platitudes we hear about how shared values, heritage and interests make Europe and America partners for all eternity, the glue that binds them has rarely been thinner.

In some ways there is nothing wrong with this. The Soviet Union, the common threat that made the transatlantic alliance necessary, has disappeared. Painstakingly and not without immense problems, the European Union is forging its own political identity, which in the nature of things is shaping a different European world view.

But that alone does not explain today's chill -- and it certainly does not explain how, in a few short months, the Bush administration has managed to exhaust the huge stock of European sympathy and solidarity that it was given after Sept. 11.

If anything, that horrific event has strengthened all the disturbing trends that were apparent in Washington beforehand -- unilateralism, highhandedness, a disdain for any treaty that might, even marginally, tie the administration's hands, and a tendency to interpret the verb "consult" to mean making a weary pretence of listening to the views of others before doing exactly what it intended to do anyway.

The attacks on Sept. 11 seem only to have hardened the assumption in Washington that what's good for the U.S. is, by definition, good for everyone else. It has hardened the conviction that it is America's manifest destiny to launch a war against Iraq, whatever its allies and the United Nations might think, and whatever the destabilising effects across the Middle East. Mr. Bush talks of a Palestinian state, but undoes that good work by imposing his simplistic with-us-or-against-us template of the "war against terrorism" on a conflict that has infinite shades of grey.

And the charge of hypocrisy must now be added to the charge of selfish shortsightedness for the rejection of the Kyoto treaty and the new International Criminal Court. The country that tells other countries to open their markets has closed its own to steel imports and brought in farm subsidies that would make the inventors of the Common Agricultural Policy blush. Here any pretence of world leadership is dropped. The name of the game is pandering for votes in states that might help Mr Bush and the Republicans in the elections of 2002 and 2004.

Europe, to be sure, is not without blame for the sorry state of the relationship. Inevitably but maddeningly, it still speaks with many voices. Its collective failure to modernise and strengthen its armed forces is a scandal that undercuts Europe's claims to equal partnership and its ability to defuse the world's crises, of which the most dangerous is now Kashmir. There, too, America must lead, because there is no one else.

But the onus in Europe this week is on Mr Bush. He should relearn the traditional sense of "consult" -- to listen to the views of others, and take them into account -- and admit that sometimes they may have a point.

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