Sunday, January 4, 2009

Europe: The Coming Thaw?

In the old days of the Cold War, it was common to speak of a "thaw" whenever relations between the United States and the Soviet Union temporarily brightened. A new kind of thaw may be imminent in relations between the United States and the European Union. Europe may help Obama close Guantanamo, as he has promised to do, by taking some prisoners off American hands. In return, Europe wants the US to "soothe" the Russians over the provocative placement of missiles in Eastern Europe.

The Times article leaves considerable ambiguity, however. Europe itself is divided on the Russia question, the missiles and radars and whatnot. Have these divisions been resolved? And does credit for the thaw, if it comes, really belong to Condi Rice, as a State Dept. spokesman claims? One suspects that the Bush legacy rewriting team may be at work here, going so far as to hand out plaudits to Portugal (Portugal?) while scrupulously omitting any mention of Sarkozy, who is reportedly out-of-favor with the outgoing administration that lionized him only a short while ago. Even on Afghanistan, where Europe will be asked to pony up troops and material support but wants American assistance, we are told, as quid pro quo, the shift is attributed to Robert Gates, incoming as well as outgoing Defense secretary, and, again, Sarkozy is not mentioned, even though he took a political risk at home by increasing the French presence in Afghanistan, where French troops have suffered significant losses and where they fight with inadequate equipment--a case in point that the article might have emphasized.

I have often criticized Sarko for his penchant to take more credit than he deserves, but by the same token I don't think he should be denied credit where merited (which is not to say that I necessarily think he's right on Afghanistan, but he has taken the lead on the issue and in touting the move as a step toward reconciliation with the United States; and he has certainly worked to maintain European unity on the Russia question and to tone down American belligerence).

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