In the immediate aftermath of September 11, Europe was closer to America, politically and emotionally, than at any time since World War II.  For a moment, the threat of Islamic terrorism had rekindled a dormant awareness on both sides of the Atlantic of just how much the Old Continent and the New World have in common.  Only seven months later, however, as President Bush completed his four-nation European tour, transatlantic relations were more strained than at any time since the Cold War.  The editorialist for the conservative German daily Saarbruecker Zeitung summed it up on May 23 by noting that, since the fall of the Wall, “the United States became more American, and Europe more European: differences of opinion came into the foreground that had always existed but have never played a prominent role.”

While a few thousand leftist demonstrators chanting abuse from the curbs of Berlin and Paris could be dismissed as irrelevant and unrepresentative, the sense of disenchantment with Washington felt by the members of Europe’s political and economic mainstream—including America’s friends and reliable fellow Cold Warriors of yore—cannot be disregarded.

U.S. Middle East policy, because of its pro-Israeli bias, is perceived throughout Europe as a hindrance to the quest for peace.  President Bush’s unwillingness or, worse still, inability to put any real pressure on Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon is seen in European capitals as puzzling and counterproductive.  According to Bronwen Maddox, the foreign affairs editor of the Times of London, such views prompt some Americans to respond by accusing Europe of being antisemitic.  Jonathan Steele noted in the Guardian (“New York is starting to feel like Brezhnev’s Moscow,” May 16) that the debate on such issues in America suffers from “a stifling conformity which muzzles public discourse on US foreign policy, the war on terrorism and Israel”:

“If people knew I held these views, I wouldn’t be able to stay in this job,” an old college friend confided as I passed through the city for a few days last week . . . His subversive views on the Middle East, if uttered in Europe, would raise no eyebrows: Ariel Sharon has no vision or strategy; his tactics on the West Bank are counter-productive; the American media are failing to report adequately on the suffering of innocent Palestinians in cities ransacked by Israeli troops . . . Listening to these anguished but private complaints suddenly reminded me of the Soviet Union of the Brezhnev era when lower-level officials, journalists and other fringe members of the regime sat around their kitchen tables, expressing their true views only to family and close friends . . . To enforce this abandonment of reasoned argument in the name of a witch-hunt against terrorists, a strange alliance of evangelical Christians in Congress has come together with the leaders of American Jewish organisations who normally support the Democratic party . . . To judge from the east coast today, the middle-aged liberal intelligentsia is letting itself be intimidated into taking the wrong side.

In France, Les Echos commented that “Europe regrets that America’s pressure on Israel is not more forceful,” while Le Figaro noted that, “in the U.S., any criticism of Ariel Sharon is immediately equated with anti-Semitism.”

Regarding Iraq, America’s friends and allies—including the ever-pliant Tony Blair—simply do not agree that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the rest of the world.  As Jean-Jacques Mevel pointed out in Le Figaro on May 24, European leaders remain “equally unconvinced about President Bush’s tie-in between the ‘axis of evil’ and the September 11 attacks.”  Italy’s Corriere della Sera resentfully opined on May 23 that “the apostle of the war on terrorism is dumping on Europe America’s fears and his desire to attack Iraq.”

Some Europeans suspected—but did not say publicly—that the zeal in Washington for the random broadening of the “war against terrorism” beyond the verifiable culprits for September 11 has more to do with America’s “passionate attachment” in the Middle East than with a sober assessment of Western security and political interests.  Robert Fisk, writing in the Independent on May 25, was one of the few commentators to say so openly:

So now Osama bin Laden is Hitler.  And Saddam Hussein is Hitler.  And George Bush is fighting the Nazis.  Not since Menachem Begin fantasised to President Reagan that he felt he was attacking Hitler in Berlin . . . have we had to listen to claptrap like this.  But the fact that we Europeans had to do so in the Bundestag—and, for the most part, in respectful silence—was extraordinary . . . “He’s a dictator who gassed his own people,” Mr Bush reminded us for the two thousandth time, omitting as always to mention that the Kurds whom Saddam viciously gassed were fighting for Iran and that the United States, at the time, was on Saddam’s side . . . In the United States, the Bush administration is busy terrorising Americans.  There will be nuclear attacks, bombs in high-rise apartment blocks, on the Brooklyn bridge, men with exploding belts—note how carefully the ruthless Palestinian war against Israeli colonisation of the West Bank is being strapped to America’s ever weirder “war on terror”—and yet more aircraft suiciders.  If you read the words of President Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and the ridiculous national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice . . . you’ll find they’ve issued more threats against Americans than Mr bin Laden.

But the key point, according to Fisk, is the growing evidence that Israel’s policies have become America’s policies: Iran, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as Iraq, are all threatened by the United States.  But Ariel Sharon, who Israel’s own inquiry determined was personally responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacre, is—according to President Bush—“a man of peace.”  In the same vein,

America praises Pakistani President Musharraf for his support in the “war on terror,” but remains silent when he arranges a dictatorial “referendum” to keep him in power.  America’s enemies, remember, hate the US for its “democracy”.  So is General Musharraf going to feel the heat?  Forget it . . . If Pakistan and India go to war, I’ll wager a lot that Washington will come down for undemocratic Pakistan against democratic India.  Across the former Soviet southern Muslim republics, America is building air bases, helping to pursue the “war on terror” against any violent Muslim Islamist groups that dare to challenge the local dictators . . . In the meantime, Mr Bush goes on to do exactly what his enemies want; to provoke Muslims and Arabs, to praise their enemies and demonise their countries, to bomb and starve Iraq and give uncritical support to Israel and maintain his support for the dictators of the Middle East.

In Spain, the independent daily El Mundo, noting that U.S. policy in the Middle East is “unilaterally pro-Israeli,” suggested that President Bush should be thanked for coming to call for unity of action, “but it would be better to wait until he proves with actions the interest he expresses.”  The Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad’s May 24 editorial said that Mr. Bush’s speeches amounted to no more than an urgent repetition of the call for a war against terrorism, betraying his

misconception of the differences in a range of fields between the United States and Europe, which have emerged after the terrorist attacks in the United States . . . The looming contradictions between Washington and the European allies remain undiscussed.

The leading Greek daily Kathimerini concluded on May 23 that “the regular use of the word ‘chasm’ regarding U.S.-European relations is a sign of the existing climate.”

An additional source of friction was the Bush administration’s decision to withdraw the U.S. signature from the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC).  That signature was deliberately and mischievously left behind by Bill Clinton in the final weeks of his presidency, in the full knowledge that it would never be ratified.  Assorted European bien-pensants, mainly from the left, lambasted Bush’s “unsigning” as “unprecedented” in the history of international law.  There were a few dissenters, however.  An editorial in the Daily Telegraph stated that the Bush team may have remembered the decision by the British government to allow the arrest of General Pinochet on its own soil under a Spanish judicial warrant:

That precedent can only have fueled Washington’s fears that the proposed [ICC] might be used to promote politically motivated prosecutions against American servicemen, and even politicians . . . But there are plenty of persistent lawyers out there with a political axe to grind who would relish the prospect of dragging the mighty U.S. through the courts.  The Americans can hardly be blamed for seeking to deny them the opportunity.  Rather than trying to change Washington’s mind over the ICC, as [British Foreign Secretary Jack] Straw indicated he would yesterday, the government should take these worries seriously . . . There is a tendency to try to use international systems to turn America into a pariah nation.  Britain should have no part in this.  There is no proven need for a permanent [ICC].

By contrast, Denmark’s Information called the U.S. decision “a catastrophe for justice,” while the Irish Times bewailed “the fact that U.S. diplomats successfully watered down the text during talks leading to its adoption, and then walked away from it.”  In Holland, NRC Handelsblad declared that

the rescinding of the American signature to the Statute of Rome is destructive of America’s reputation as champion of international justice . . . The most important victim, in the near future, of this, will be the international rule of law itself.

Thank goodness!  The “international rule of law” is incompatible with the constitutional principle that only the 50 states and the federal government have the authority to prosecute and try individuals for crimes committed in the United States.  Judicial power is “vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as Congress may, from time to time, ordain and establish.”  No tribunal that is not established under the authority of the Constitution should ever be allowed to exercise jurisdiction over citizens of the United States for crimes committed on American soil.

Trade disputes may prove far more intractable in transatlantic relations than the ICC or even the rifts over the Middle East and terrorism.  In addition, the President’s Farm Bill, which will primarily help agribusiness rather than small farmers and which provoked remarkably little attention in the United States, is universally condemned by European analysts who think that the perceived hypocrisy of U.S. trade policy will have repercussions in other areas, including the war against terror.  While preaching to others the gospel of open markets, President Bush, Europeans believe, is buying  prairie votes with taxpayer-funded largesse.

Unilateralism in pursuit of rationally defined objectives in world affairs and protectionism as a means of leveling the trading field are not necessarily bad; but to practice them while preaching the virtues of multilateralism and free trade to the rest of the world is to invite ridicule and spite.  The contradictions of the President’s policies carry a price that may not have become fully obvious during his European tour but may yet cost him the presidency two years from now.