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A Check for Osama

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is right this time (via: Andrew Sullivan):

None of us would write a check to Osama bin Laden, slip it in a Hallmark card and send it off to him. But that's what we're doing every time we pull into a gas station.

The same is true for Europe, which is even more dependent on oil from the Middle East than the United States. Related posts in the Atlantic Review: The US-Saudi Relationship: Oil Supply at the Expense of US Security and Moral Values and Chicago Tribune: "Germany says 9/11 hijackers called Syria, Saudi Arabia"

SuperFrenchie presents the picture that says all about President Bush's latest Middle East tour. I am not aware of any European head of government having kissed Saudi princes. Bush does not just kiss the Saudis in their own country as a gesture to cultural customs, but even kisses the Saudis, when they visit him in the US. He also holds hands with them. And yet, Europeans are supposed to be the softy weasels from Venus that do anything to get cheap oil.

Euro-Missile Talks Are Back, Leaving "New Europe" Behind

After months of pitfalls and procrastination, talks have picked up again on the placement of US missile defense sites in the Czech Republic and Poland – and negotiations are not getting any easier for the United States. The NYT reports:

The new [Polish] government apparently intends to press the United States to pay for creating, maintaining and protecting the system and to modernize Poland’s air defense capacities by providing Patriot missiles. “The new Polish government is prepared to drive a hard bargain because much is at stake if this system goes ahead,” said Tomas Valasek, director of defense at the Center for European Reform, an independent research agency in London . “Poland wants security guarantees from the U.S. since it is not convinced NATO would provide that guarantee. This means the U.S. putting boots on the ground in Poland but also helping Poland to upgrade its air defenses.”

What I find interesting is that Europe is supposed to benefit from the missile shield, and yet is now demanding more money and goodies from the US to secure European support.

The harder line by the new Polish government is not a surprise, but nonetheless will increase uncertainty for a project that is already facing domestic opposition in Europe, official opposition from Russia, and is not too popular among Democrats in Congress either – all this during a US election year. Congress is wary about expanding missile defense systems based in large part on high costs and frequent let-downs in the technology. According to a recent report by the reputable non-partisan Congressional Budget Office:

Carrying out current plans would cause total investment costs for missile defenses to peak in 2016 at about $15 billion [per year] (excluding cost risk), CBO projects, and then decrease, as systems finished the procurement phase and became operational. This peak occurs about three years later than that projected by CBO in October 2005 because of delays in several major programs, as discussed below. If cost risk is taken into account, DoD’s projected investment needs for missile defenses might be about $3 billion higher each year.

The new Euro-missile sites in the Czech and Poland are alone estimated to cost roughly $18 billion between 2007-2017.

I wonder if Poland's harder line signals the death of Rumsfeld’s unequivocally pro-American "New Europe"?  The US appears willing to entertain Polish demands for now, with a Pentagon spokesman stating, "Because of [Poland's special relationship with the U.S.], we believe that we can overcome whatever differences may exist on this issue very quickly."   However, there is definitely a notable reticence to back US missile defense plans from the new Polish government that was not found in its predecessor. 

Transatlantic Bickering over Afghanistan

Another example for increasing tension within NATO: Karen DeYoung describes in the Washington Post how unnamed European and North American officials praise their troops' contributions and highlight their sacrifices in Afghanistan, while criticizing their NATO allies:

The United States supplies about half of the 54,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, they say, but the British, Canadians and Dutch are engaged in regular combat in the volatile south. "We have one-tenth of the troops and we do more fighting than you do," a Canadian official said of his country's 2,500 troops in Kandahar province. "So do the Dutch." The Canadian death rate, proportional to the overall size of its force, is higher than that of U.S. troops in Afghanistan or Iraq, a Canadian government analysis concluded last year. British officials note that the eastern region, where most U.S. forces are based, is far quieter than the Taliban-saturated center of British operations in Helmand, the country's top opium-producing province. The American rejoinder, spoken only in private with references to British operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, is that superior U.S. skills have made it so. (...)

U.S. and British forces have long derided each other's counterinsurgency tactics. (...) Britain, with a higher percentage of its forces deployed worldwide than the United States, is stretched thin in Afghanistan. Not only did the British have insufficient force strength to hold conquered territory, but the reconstruction and development assistance that was supposed to consolidate military gains did not arrive. "It's worth reminding the Americans that the entire British army is smaller than the U.S. Marine Corps," said one sympathetic former U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

J. Carter Wood recommended this interesting article (Thank you!) and points out in his blog Obscene Desserts that "someone at the Washington Post seems to think the German capital is still on the Rhine:"

Both President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have toned down their public pressure on allies. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Bush at his Texas ranch in November, U.S. and German officials said, she told him that while Bonn would step up its contribution in quiet northern Afghanistan, any change in Germany's noncombat role would spell political disaster for her conservative government.

The State of the Citizen's European Union

Nanne Zwagerman of the European Tribune criticizes the European Commission's list of 2007 achievements.  Being relatively low on the radar the EC does need to advertise itself, but hopefully they will have a little more to boast about next year, says Atlantic Review's guest columnist:

A few weeks from now George W. Bush will give his yearly State of the Union speech to Congress. With a bit less ceremony, the European Union's executive has already released a review of its own.

Following its efforts to shore up relations with the public, the European Commission has launched a slick website boasting 10 achievements the European Union has made for you in 2007. The Commissioner for Communication, Margot Wallström, writes:

Continue reading "The State of the Citizen's European Union"

Americans and Europeans Raised in Prejudice and Ignorance

A new round in transatlantic bashing: Denis, a French expat in the US, writes in SuperFrenchie:

They may call each others moonbats and wingnuts, but whether they're sporting long hair or military haircuts, Americans by and large all agree on this: America is the greatest country in the world, the American way of doing things is the only possible one, and everybody supports the troops. They learn that in schools from the earliest age, along with the fact that everything else (and everywhere else) is, by definition, flawed. And that's if they're taught anything about other places at all. History of the world in high school, for example, is a 2-semester optional course! Geography manuals do not exist. Innocent until proven guilty, to them, is a uniquely American concept.

So when I read in Foreign Policy magazine that "millions of children are being raised on prejudice and disinformation," I felt some optimism. Finally, I thought, someone is going to tackle the problem of bias and lack of openness to the world in American schools. Oops! They were talking about France and Germany.

Denis' "bashing back" is mild compared to Foreign Policy magazine's article "Europe's Philosophy of Failure." The introduction reads: Continue reading "Americans and Europeans Raised in Prejudice and Ignorance"

Georgia's Election: Article Roundup

Today’s Zaman 1: “Saakaashvili won around 52 percent of the vote, with most of the counting complete, double that of 43-year-old wine producer Levan Gachechiladze, whose poll hovered between 25 and 27 percent, the central election commission said. the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, backed the vote. 'I should like to congratulate the Georgian people on the peaceful conduct of a truly competitive presidential elections on Jan. 5,' he said in a statement.'”

EUobserver – “Georgia president Mikhail Saakashvili was re-elected Sunday (6 January) in a move set to keep the country on its pro-EU and NATO course. 'Reports from mass media, NGOs and opposition representatives have been coming in on numerous violations of election laws by the authorities,' the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement. 'Assessments by western observers [the OSCE]...appear superficial.’”

New York Times – “Georgia is also valuable to Washington because it is an ally in the Iraq war. With 2,000 troops in Iraq, it is the third-largest contributor of troops there, after the United States and Britain.”

Today’s Zaman 2 – "In these recent elections the Georgian people also endorsed Georgia’s membership in NATO with a 71 percent vote in favor… In conclusion, the Georgian people voted for stability and integration with the West… the recent elections in Georgia mark a new era where the Georgian political system will move from a Soviet system, in which the president enjoys broad discretion, toward a Western system in which the parliament assumes a greater role."

Financial Times - "Opposition leaders condemned the poll as rigged. Their criticisms were echoed by Russia, which declared the vote was 'hardly free and fair', with the foreign ministry saying the election was marred by 'the widespread use of administrative resources, open pressure on opposition candidates and tough restrictions to their access to financial and media resources.'"

Personal reaction: yay to Georgia, and boo to Russia.  I am particularly happy about the country’s strong support for joining NATO – not necessarily because I think Georgia should be admitted to NATO, but rather because such a strong vote in favor of NATO is a clear indication of the pro-western sentiments of Georgia’s populace.   Voting for a candidate who is pro-West is one thing, but voting to join the pillar of the western alliance leaves no room for doubt about Georgia’s western orientation

Huckabee: United States Does Integration Better than Europe

Mike Huckabee is a political rockstar in the United States.  Even atheist Democrats who disagree with many of his policies cannot help but be charmed by the former governor.  My friend and a fellow blogger Kevin (one such atheist Democrat) gives his take on this phenomenon at the blog Wyatt Gwyon:
Of the Republican candidates, Huckabee is the most straightforward in presentation and generally the most rigorous in his analyses… I certainly do not concur with the majority of the political positions that stereotypically come with his fundamentalist Christian system of belief, but I am clear on what he believes and can respect his convictions to those beliefs for their principled consistency. Huckabee is a profoundly known factor.
IMHO, style is what has buoyed Huckabee’s presidential bid.  It is not a coincidence that his campaign picked up momentum only a week after he became “Chuck Norris Approved” in a humorous commercial run  prior to him sweeping the Iowa primaries last week.

Huckabee has nonetheless been criticized for lacking a solid foreign policy platform.  This week, he dabbled on the issue of US-European relations by speculating who is better at cultural integration.  As reported by the National Review Online:
It is also difficult for us, with our culture of assimilation, to understand that life for European Muslims is different from life for American Muslims.  Muslims in Britain or the Netherlands or Germany are second-class citizens because those countries have more homogenous populations that don’t readily integrate outsiders.  Instead of melting pots, Europe has separate pots boiling over with alienation and despair. In some countries, like France, it is more a lack of economic integration, while in others, like Britain, it is more a lack of cultural integration, but whatever the reason, Europe is a much more fertile breeding ground for terror than the United States. Unintentionally, some of our closest allies are producing some of our clearest threats. 
I agree with Huckabee that Europe does a poorer job of integration than the US, and that this can breed violence.  However, I find it difficult to pin exactly why the US is a more successful 'melting pot'.  Perhaps one factor is upward mobility: I suspect an individual can transcend their parentage easier in the US than in most European countries, which in turn mitigates social and cultural stratification.

French Conservative: "Union of the West" will Sustain Western Dominance

Édouard Balladur, the right-wing former French Prime Minister (1993-1995), envisions the creation of a "Union of the West" that will help the US and Europe maintain global primacy. The International Herald Tribune summarizes Balladur's argument:
Europe and the United States acting in concert can best deal with China and Russia's advance, and the instability brought by radical Islam. Reality insists that alone, the Americans and Europeans have growing disadvantages in a world where the rule of law and democracy are not serving as controls over newly distributed economic and political power.

The practicalities: a permanent Union secretariat to prepare common positions for international meetings; gradual creation of a common trans-Atlantic market; linkage between the dollar and euro; converging policies on energy supply and its security; and the creation of a trans-Atlantic executive council of leaders that would convene every three months
The article also quotes Balladur's 120 page essay titled, "Pour une Union occidentale entre l'Europe et les États-Unis” (available at Amazon, in French):
History is starting to be made without the West, and perhaps one day it will be made against it. There's a simple method for avoiding this. The people of the West must become aware of the risk and convince themselves that the greatest possible solidarity between them is the only means for dealing with it.