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An 'A La Carte' Coalition Between U.S. and Europe

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 24, 2005; Page A17

Two years ago, as the United States prepared to invade Iraq, much of the opposition in Europe focused on the need to restrain the American "hyperpower" from running roughshod over international norms.

But as President Bush nears the end of his goodwill tour of Europe this week, it is increasingly clear the attitude has shifted. With the United States pinned down in Iraq, where the continued deployment of nearly 150,000 troops has severely strained the U.S. military, European leaders no longer expect further military expeditions in Bush's second term. And so they have been gracious -- but assertive, thus reflecting how far the United States has fallen from "hyperpower" status -- a term coined about America by French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine.

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Indeed, analysts said, European leaders are increasingly united against U.S. positions and feel emboldened to go their own way on such issues as Iran and China.

Francois Heisbourg, director of the International Foundation for Strategic Studies in Paris, said there is no longer an Atlantic partnership so much as what he called an "a la carte partnership" between Europe and the United States. On some issues, the two sides agree and try to work together, and on others there is disagreement and discord. There are also issues on which they disagree but are willing to find common ground, he said.

"This is the new world," Heisbourg said. "The mission determines the coalition," he added, deliberately echoing an assertion made by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Heisbourg said the divisions created by the Iraq war had also changed the dynamic within Europe, with officials trying to form a more united front on key issues. Europeans who had been more assertive in their stand on the war, such as the French, have become more restrained while the British, who had argued that Europe had little choice but to support the United States, have leaned back toward the rest of Europe. "Those at the center, such as Germany, have become more bold in stressing their Europeanism," he said.

The net effect is a Europe more willing to go its own way even as the Bush administration has engaged in a charm offensive in recent weeks to rebalance relationships badly frayed by the Iraq war.

Philip H. Gordon, director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, said Europeans were deeply concerned when the Bush administration came into office in 2001 and took a number of unilateral steps, such as rejecting the Kyoto climate change treaty and pushing to abandon the antiballistic missile treaty.

"Europeans were worried we might be right and we did not need them," Gordon said. "They claimed to doubt we were so powerful but were worried we were. Now they see we are not."

He said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip to Europe earlier this month and Bush's this week are viewed as "an American admission that allies are a little more necessary to us than we thought."

In the meantime, Gordon said, European nations have pressed ahead with negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, despite initial misgivings by the Bush administration. Yesterday, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley suggested Bush was mulling working with the Europeans to persuade Iran to give up the program.

On China, despite strong U.S. objections, European officials have made it clear they will lift an arms embargo imposed after the Tiananmen Square crackdown 15 years ago. European officials have also pressed ahead with setting up a European defense planning operation apart from NATO, rebuffed U.S. efforts to weaken the International Criminal Court and embraced the Kyoto treaty.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser for President Jimmy Carter, said that when he told a French newspaper last week the United States now understands that it is predominant but not omnipotent, the editors made that point its headline.

When Bush was asked about American power during a session with German citizens yesterday, Hadley told reporters that the president responded by saying, "Look, America has a lot of influence in the world."

Bush told the audience that "he wants to use it to achieve important objectives, and he wants to have partners who can also use their influence towards the same objectives," Hadley said.

Brzezinski said the real test will come in the weeks after Bush's visit, as the two sides try to figure out a way to translate their differences -- and common goals -- into joint policies. "Iran is the crucible," he said, because of the stakes involved if the two sides remain divided.

Hadley said that Bush "came here to listen, and I think he's obviously got some ideas. But I think he wants to go back and think about it and talk to his national security team, not all of which was here."

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