EU sees US/Israel as #1 world threat
Not Just Name-Calling
The Bush administration must take urgent steps to win back the support of Europeans who see Washington as a threat to world peace
NEWSWEEK WEB EXCLUSIVE
Nov. 5 — Which country do you think is the greatest threat to world security? If you named any member of the "axis of evil"—a nuclear-armed North Korea, a terrorist-sponsoring Iran or a lawless Iraq—you'd have come close to our friends across the Atlantic. According to a European Union poll of more than 7,500 Europeans, more than half (some 52 per cent) placed the founding members of the so-called axis close to the top of their list of threats to the planet.
ONLY THEY ADDED a couple of nations to join the ranks of the world's greatest evildoers. Precisely the same number of Europeans said America was a threat to world peace, ranking the Bush administration alongside Kim Jong Il's tyranny in Pyongyang and the hard-line theocracy of Tehran.
In fact, the United States was only beaten into joint second place by a country that has never sponsored terrorist attacks on European soil. A staggering 59 per cent of this huge poll—released this week—placed Israel at the top of the list of world threats. That was 22 points ahead of Syria, 23 points ahead of Libya and Saudi Arabia, and 43 points ahead of Somalia.
Shocking as they are, these numbers are not an excuse to beat up our favorite European stereotypes. There was a time when it was easy to dismiss the rest of the world as a bunch of spineless and spoiled children, hiding under America's security umbrella while throwing hissy fits at the adults in Washington. (That was around the same time when it was easy to dump on anyone who cared about the rest of the world by branding them a weak-willed internationalist.)
That time is long gone. The European poll shows this dispute has gone far beyond name-calling. What started out as a little overheated rhetoric has grown into a full-blown crisis that threatens U.S. policy across the world. And we're not just talking about Iraq.
In Latin America, the warning signs about U.S. policy are lit up across the continent. In Bolivia, the pro-American president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was toppled after a month of street protests and violent clashes. One of his biggest political weaknesses: his support for U.S. policy on energy and drugs. In Colombia, the ardently pro-American president Alvaro Uribe took a beating in the polls last week, leading to the election of a former communist as mayor of the capital Bogota. And in Brazil, President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva effectively torpedoed U.S. trade policy by forcing the collapse of the world trade talks in Cancun two months ago. As in Europe, political leaders in Latin America are finding it costly to support Washington while the critics of the Bush administration are prospering.
So how can the White House turn this around?
It needs to start thinking of world politics in domestic terms, for a start. When faced with opposition in Congress, the Bush administration doesn't talk about dreaming up new propaganda, as it does with the rest of the world. It goes to work on the individual politicians that support or oppose them.
In global terms, that means helping the leaders that are helping the United States—by spending more money to help farmers grow alternative crops, for instance. "We need to make sure that the people doing the right thing are getting the money and the ability to deliver that we want them to have," says a senior State Department official. "We need to give them some other livelihood if we want to keep them out of coca." Does that mean more money? Well, not any time soon. One other country is swallowing up $87 billion of U.S. cash, and there isn't a whole lot left to go around correcting the problems faced by U.S. policy elsewhere in the world.
Which brings us back to our European friends and their thoughts on Iraq. As in America's backyard, anti-Bush feeling has gone far beyond a knee-jerk reaction to U.S. policy. It now feeds into domestic politics and has grown into one of the biggest obstacles to what Washington wants to do next.
It lies behind the agonies of Tony Blair, the British prime minister, who is being punished for his support for Bush. And it constricts other governments that have been almost as supportive. For instance, Spain withdrew most of its diplomats from Baghdad this week citing security concerns. Why such sensitivity? It's true that one Spanish intelligence official was killed in Iraq last month. But it's also true that, according to the European poll, 79 per cent of Spanish people believe the war in Iraq was unjustified. Only France, Greece and Austria oppose the war in greater numbers.
The Bush administration runs the risk of a total collapse in political support in Europe. And like all political problems, it needs to think quickly and creatively if it wants European help to deal with a wide range of security and economic challenges around the world.
Take the problem of rebuilding Iraq. One of the biggest disappointments at the recent Madrid conference on Iraq was the meager sum offered by the European Union countries. The E.U. and its members gave pledges of around $800 million, while France and Germany offered nothing on their own. Small wonder when you consider that two thirds of Europeans believe the United States should pay for the rebuilding of Iraq.
Yet like all good domestic polls, the E.U. numbers offer a way out. The majority of Europeans—by a margin of 54 to 45 per cent—want to see their own countries donating cash to the new Iraq. That suggests there's more room for lobbying at the United Nations, and more work to be done in European capitals. And it might just mean campaigning on different grounds. Instead of asking for money for reconstruction, call it humanitarian aid. A vast majority—82 per cent—of Europeans support an increase in such aid to Iraq.
This is not an argument for pandering to the Europeans. In fact, Europeans should be roundly condemned for allowing anti-American and anti-Israeli prejudice to take root. (Why on earth is the E.U. drawing up a poll that names the United States and Israel alongside Iraq and North Korea?)
Europe is not a lost cause, but it could become one if we allow transatlantic relations to continue to fall off a cliff. Washington still needs to work with its European allies to push its agenda forward—whether it's raising cash for Iraq and pressuring Iran to give up its nukes. And that means doing a better job of explaining U.S. policy to them, and thinking creatively about other policies that our allies can support. It's called diplomacy, and as the European poll shows, both sides of the Atlantic are failing miserably at it.
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