A Pro-American Europe?

By: Greg C. Reeson

Over the past two years, there has been a noticeable shift in European politics toward the center and right of the political spectrum. It began with conservative electoral victories in Germany and Poland in 2005, and was followed by similar electoral results in Sweden in 2006 and in Finland and France in 2007. This shift has led to a European political environment that is much more amenable to partnering with the United States to address mutual foreign policy challenges.

Prior to 2005, European foreign policy efforts were led by France under President Jacques Chirac, a Gaullist who worked tirelessly to make a French-led Europe a sort of multi-national superpower that could rival the United States. European – American relations became increasingly strained as French-led Europe was perceived in the United States as being anti-anything American, to the point of obstructionism in international forums like the United Nations.

In 2005, American credibility was suffering and domestic and international criticism of President Bush’s foreign policy was at an all time high with the security situations in Afghanistan and Iraq rapidly deteriorating. The United Nations seemed hopelessly lost in its search for a united front concerning Iran’s nuclear development program, and the Security Council couldn’t manage to agree on anything more than meaningless statements that lacked any real substance.

When Angela Merkel was elected to replace German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a man who made no secret of his distaste for American leadership concerning international relations and foreign policy, Germany took a sharp turn, quickly warming up to the United States and pushing hard for a European landscape that featured Germany, and not France, as the leading power. Other countries in Europe soon began to fall in line with the move toward better relations with the United States, with the most recent being France after the election of conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, who defeated socialist Segolene Royal and essentially ended leftist domination of French politics.

Since Sarkozy came to power, France has followed Germany’s diplomatic lead, slowly improving relations with the United States. But Sarkozy, not willing to defer to German leadership for all European concerns, has asserted his willingness to work with the United States on important foreign policy matters. In an August 27 foreign policy speech, Sarkozy broke sharply from his predecessor and spoke harshly of groups and nations responsible for much of the insecurity and unrest in the world today. But his most severe criticism was reserved for Iran, whose continued development of nuclear technology he called the “most pressing” issue for the international community. Then, just this week, on September 17, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner raised the possibility of war with Iran over the nuclear issue when he said, “We have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war.”

Additionally, France has recently called for tougher European sanctions on Iran if Ahmadinejad and the clerics who pull his puppet strings refuse to work with other nations to resolve the impasse over the nuclear program. And Strategic Forecasting, a private geopolitical intelligence company based in Austin, Texas, reported that the Netherlands support the push for strong European sanctions, saying that if the United Nations is not able to take meaningful action, the European Union is “morally obligated” to do so.

Thus far Germany, while still working to strengthen ties with the United States, has been reluctant to put additional pressure on Tehran. This is probably because Germany has invested itself significantly in Iran, and German leaders don’t want to see that investment squandered or destroyed. But as European countries continue to ally themselves with the United States, and as France once again pushes French leadership on the Continent, Germany may feel compelled to join the U.S.-led effort to hold Iran accountable for its development of nuclear technology.

One other point should be made. Retired U.S. General John Abizaid, the former Commanding General of Central Command, the U.S. combatant command that has responsibility for the Middle East, recently said that the United States could live with a nuclear-armed Iran. And while he said that every effort should be made to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, he stated his belief that the United States’ overwhelming nuclear capability would serve as a deterrent that would prevent Iran from ever using nuclear weapons against America.

In a sense, he is correct. Iran is not ruled by a bunch of crazy people, although that is the image generally portrayed by President Ahmadinejad. The clerics who hold the real power in Tehran are rational individuals who make calculated decisions designed to advance Iranian interests. The real problem is Iran’s ongoing power play to become the dominant nation in the region. A significant strategic shift is underway, and Iran is working feverishly in Syria and Iraq, and in dealings with the United Nations, to position itself as THE country in the Middle East to be reckoned with. Other countries in the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are increasingly nervous about Tehran’s ambitions, and nuclear weapons would only serve to increase the fear and suspicion that already contribute to regional tensions and instability.

The current crop of major European leaders recognizes the power shift that is occurring in the Middle East, and they recognize the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran. Tehran’s quest for regional preeminence is slowly but surely being met by an increasingly pro-American Europe that could be much more effective than the United Nations in containing Iran’s ambitions.

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