MUST READ #2:Atlanticist small talk is all that's left
By Mark Steyn
"The change for the moment is more in tone than substance," wrote Alec Russell, reporting on President Bush's European outreach in yesterday's Telegraph. You don't say.
My colleague is almost right. In Brussels yesterday, the President's "charm offensive" consisted of saying the same things he always says – on Iraq, Iran, Palestine, the illusion of stability, the benefits of freedom, the need for Egypt and Saudi Arabia to get with the programme, etc. But, tone-wise, the Bush charm offensive did its best to keep the offensiveness reasonably charming – though his references to anti-Semitism and the murder of Theo van Gogh by a Dutch Islamist were a little more pointed than his hosts would have cared for.
But, in the broader sense vis-à-vis Europe, the administration is changing the tone precisely because it understands there can be no substance. And, if there's no substance that can be changed, what's to quarrel about? International relations are like ex-girlfriends: if you're still deluding yourself you can get her back, every encounter will perforce be fraught and turbulent; once you realise that's never gonna happen, you can meet for a quick decaf latte every six – make that 10 – months and do the whole hey-isn't-it-terrific-the-way-we're-able-to-be-such-great-friends routine because you couldn't care less. You can even make a few pleasant noises about her new romance (the so-called European Constitution) secure in the knowledge he's a total loser.
World leaders are always most expansive when there's least at stake: the Queen's Christmas message to the Commonwealth is the ne plus ultra of this basic rule. In Her Majesty's beloved Commonwealth family, talking about enduring ties became a substitute for having them.
That's the salient feature of transatlantic dialogue since 9/11: it's become Commonwealth-esque - all airy assertions about common values, ties of history, all meaningless. Even Donald Rumsfeld is doing it. At the Munich Conference on Collective Security the other day, he gave a note-perfect rendition of empty Atlanticist Euro-goo: "Our collective security depends on our co-operation and mutual respect and understanding," he declared, with a straight face.
Rummy's appearance in Munich was unscheduled. A German federal prosecutor was investigating a war crimes complaint against the US Defence Secretary and, although it seems unlikely even the silliest showboating Europoseurs would have been foolish enough to pull a Pinochet on him, Rumsfeld made a point of not setting foot on German soil until Berlin put an end to that nonsense. That tells you more about transatlantic relations than anything in the speech.
But, just for the record, the "collective security" blather is completely bogus. In the column I wrote on September 11, 2001, I mentioned en passant that among the day's consequences would be the end of Nato - "a military alliance for countries that no longer in any recognisable sense have militaries". I can't remember why I mentioned Europe and Nato in that 9/11 column. It seems an odd thing to be thinking about as the towers were falling.
But it was clear, even then, that the day's events would test the Atlantic relationship and equally clear that it would fail that test. Later that week, for the first time in its history, Nato invoked its famous Article Five - the one about how an attack on one member is an attack on all. But, even as the press release was rolling off the photocopier, most of the "allies" in this post-modern alliance were insisting that the declaration didn't mean anything. "We are not at war," said Belgium. Norway and Germany announced that there would be no deployment of their forces.
Remember last year's much trumpeted Nato summit in Turkey? This was the one at which everyone was excited at how the "alliance" had agreed to expand its role in Afghanistan beyond Kabul to the country's somewhat overly autonomous "autonomous regions".
What this turned out to mean on closer examination was that, after the secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, put the squeeze on Nato's 26 members, they reluctantly put up an extra 600 troops and three helicopters for Afghanistan. That averages out at 23.08 troops per country, plus almost a ninth of a helicopter apiece. As it transpired, the three Black Hawks all came from one country - Turkey - and they've already gone back. And Afghanistan is supposed to be the good war, the one Continental officials all claim to have supported, if mostly retrospectively and for the purposes of justifying their "principled moral opposition" to Iraq.
A few months before 9/11, I happened to find myself sitting next to an eminent older statesman. "What is Nato for?" he wondered. "Well, you should know," I said. "You were secretary-general. You went into the office every day." With hindsight, he was asking the right question. On the other hand, if Nato is useless to America, it looks like being a goldmine for the Chinese, to whom the Europeans are bent on selling their military technology. Jacques Chirac is pitching this outreach to the politburo in lofty terms, modifying Harold Macmillan and casting Europe as Athens to China's Rome. I can't see it working, but the very attempt presumes that the transatlantic relationship is now bereft of meaning.
Nato will not be around circa 2015 - which is why the Americans are talking it up right now. An organisation that represents the fading residual military will of mostly post-military nations is marginally less harmful than the EU, which is the embodiment of their pacifist delusions. But, either way, there's not a lot to talk about. Try to imagine significant numbers of French, German or Belgian troops fighting alongside American forces anywhere the Yanks are likely to find themselves in the next decade or so: it's not going to happen.
America and Europe both face security threats. But the difference is America's are external, and require hard choices in tough neighbourhoods around the world, while the EU's are internal and, as they see it, unlikely to be lessened by the sight of European soldiers joining the Great Satan in liberating, say, Syria. That's not exactly going to help keep the lid on the noisier Continental mosques.
So what would you do in Bush's shoes? Slap 'em around a bit? What for? Where would it get you? Or would you do exactly what he's doing? Climb into the old soup-and-fish, make small talk with Mme Chirac and raise a glass of champagne to the enduring friendship of our peoples: what else is left? This week we're toasting the end of an idea: the death of "the West".