Bridging the Atlantic Divide

FROM SOLIDARITY TO RECRIMINATION

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Americans and Europeans surprised each other in positive ways. George W. Bush, who had faced vast protests during his first visit to Europe earlier that summer and who was widely regarded there as an ill-informed cowboy, confounded Europeans' expectations with his patient, careful, and proportionate action in Afghanistan. In turn, Europeans also broke with stereotypes, strongly supporting military action not only against al Qaeda's network but also against its Taliban hosts. European leaders pronounced their "unlimited solidarity" with the United States, and in a matter of hours NATO allies invoked the Article V mutual defense clause of the North Atlantic Treaty. In a twist that few could have predicted before September 11, within a month of the terrorist attacks the United States was conducting a major war halfway around the world, and the biggest problem for its European allies was that they wanted to send more troops than Washington was prepared to accept.

Since then, however, relations between the transatlantic allies have sharply deteriorated. Europeans now regularly accuse the United States of a simplistic approach to foreign policy that reduces everything to the military aspects of the war on terrorism. Americans respond with resentment over Europe's unwillingness to support U.S. efforts to deal with hostile states such as Iraq. In the Middle East, the recent cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians has prompted Europeans to accuse Washington of unconditional support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Americans to accuse Europeans of going soft on terrorism, or even of antisemitism. Deep disagreements about U.S. unwillingness to accept binding constraints on its sovereignty within multilateral institutions -- as evidenced by U.S. rejection of the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, the global ban on land mines, verification measures for the Biological Weapons Convention, and other multilateral initiatives -- have also been highly corrosive.

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