Saturday, July 29, 2006

Strained Relations Again Between Europe and US

In the last few months, if you believe the headlines, there has been an improvement in our relations with Europe so that for the first time in a while it's almost been three steps forward and only two steps back, with another half step back or two buried in the back pages. Still, this is an improvement over the last four years when our relations with Europe have felt like they've been going three steps back and again three steps back. This has all been very strange behavior on the part of the Bush Administration with nations that we have traditionally considered our allies.

Our relations with a number of other nations has been even worse at times but our situation isn't nearly as bad as it could be largely because we're a superpower and there's a long memory of a US that at times has been a reasonably effective world leader. Actually our leadership has been best when we behave like a leading partner; but in recent years there's been a lack of leadership elsewhere in the world and even a George W. Bush becomes a 'world leader' by default. But Bush's foreign policy blunders are rapidly creating a leadership vacuum.

Here's an informative article by Molly Moore of The Washington Post on MSNBC that's well worth reading but I want to focus on a problem in the first two paragraphs:
Just when President Bush was starting to mend the political rift between the United States and Europe, the latest Middle East conflict has reopened the transatlantic divide, on the streets and in government.

Across Europe, leaders and citizens are expressing growing alarm over Washington's refusal to rein in Israel's bombing of Lebanon and appear increasingly fearful of the pro-Hezbollah sentiment unleashed in the Middle East by the daily scenes of destruction and civilian deaths. Many officials said they worry about backlashes in their own restive Muslim and Arab communities.

The main source for the notion that Bush is mending fences with the Europeans is our attempt to negotiate with Iran. But the reality is that the kind of diplomacy Bush is engaging in seems more designed to stall for time than it is for any real engagement with Iran. I don't see any diplomatic heavy lifting being done by Bush, Rice or anyone else in the Bush Administration. The Europeans are doing their best to move things along as best they can but they have reasons not to mind negotiations being dragged out since that means no war with Iran which is probably where we were headed four months ago. To be blunt, Bush isn't mending fences so much as the Europeans are trying to accomodate Bush until some of the neoconservative war fever passes. The fighting in the Middle East isn't helping matters; it has brought out the usual flaws in Bush's foreign policy and the Europeans are once again unhappy.

Now here's a story from the BBC that suggests that on other fronts, there's still a ways to go to improve relations with the Europeans:
US trade representative Susan Schwab says America remains committed to finding a breakthrough in world trade talks despite their apparent collapse.

Her comments come after talks to secure a new global trade framework broke down in acrimony in Geneva on Monday.

(snip)

Despite the US and the European Union blaming each other on Monday for the collapse of the talks, Ms Schwab said she would not add to the blame game.

(snip)

After more than four years of talks, disagreement over agricultural subsidies and tariffs continue to be the main stumbling bock, with both the US and EU accusing the other of not making enough concessions.

I don't know much about these negotiations but I do know this. If agricultural subsidies and tariffs are the problem from the US side, it's about to become less relevant in the next few years as more and more corn in the United States goes into the production of ethanol (ethanol is unlikely to solve our energy problems alone but it will become a significant niche market). The price of corn is going to rise, and more and more agricultural land will be going into corn or whatever other agricultural product is better suited to making ethanol. American agriculture has a new market and that market is domestic. And it may be possible to subsidize ethanol without touching corn that is used for other things.

In any case, we again see a lack of imagination on the part of Bush and the result once again is more strained relations with Europeans. Strained relations or not, the Europeans have various reasons to continue to work with us; it would be yet another fiasco if we were to lose our natural allies through more of Bush's blunders. What we have learned in the last three years is that the US cannot go it alone in these times.

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