Europe is once more divided, this time between the old and new, dove and hawk, anti- and pro-American. Headlines are full of it. Commentary pages are awash in Euro-introspection.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's dismissal of France and Germany, by reason of their foot dragging over Iraq, as the "old Europe" started this debate. British Prime Minister Tony Blair's delivery of a declaration of allegiance to President Bush, signed by him and seven other European heads of government, has confirmed it.
Europe is actually divided in any number of ways, of which the issue of war or peace in Iraq is likely to be among the more ephemeral. Europe is separated into rich and poor states, small and large, and integrationist and nationalist. These are the more or less permanent differences out of which a more united Europe is being constructed.
Europe is also divided between European Union members and aspirant member states, between established and new democracies, between West and East. These are the divides that the next stage of European integration is designed to overcome.
Germany and France have succeeded in leading this process of European construction during the past five decades because these two nations have been the most powerful proponents of divergent strains of European opinion, and thus in a position to represent others in forging compromises for the continent as a whole.
France and Germany are particularly odd bedfellows on issues of war and peace. France is among the least pacific nations in Europe, while Germany, at least post-World War II Germany, is the most. On the other hand, France is the least instinctively pro-American nation in Europe, while Germany is normally among the most. Only Britain is as bellicose as France and as pro-American as Germany.
Given these very divergent proclivities, this Franco-German marriage of convenience on Iraq may not last long. Rather it is likely to be followed, as has often been the case in the past, by a last-minute French rally to America's side, a form of "just in time" diplomacy of which the French have achieved mastery.
The current shape of the trans-Atlantic maneuvering over Iraq is familiar in a number of respects. It has the United States asserting its leadership, hustling recalcitrant allies into line; Britain standing shoulder to shoulder with its American big brother; France maneuvering for the position of maximum leverage, awaiting the moment of maximum advantage; and Germany adopting a ridged position of principal.
Washington can hope to see its leadership reaffirmed, albeit at the cost of some irritation on the part of its followership; London to reinforce its ties to Washington; Paris to secure maximum short-term advantage, at the cost of some resentment in Washington for having kept it waiting so long. Only Germany, in sustaining a position of principal, enjoys no prospect of long- or short-term advantage. Assuming that Saddam Hussein is ultimately disarmed and Iraq liberated, none of these relationships will be too greatly strained, even that between Germany the United States. Magnanimity in victory is easy. German troops and money will be badly needed for Iraq's post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction. If, on the other hand, Iraq descends into chaos, then trans-Atlantic and intra-European recriminations will be bitter indeed. The fact that German reservations will have been proved justified can only increase the depth of such recriminations.
Perversely, therefore, no one may have a greater stake in the success of Bush's policies on Iraq than Gerhard Schroeder, for only if Washington succeeds can Berlin avoid being blamed by its most important allies, however unfairly, for the failure.
James Dobbins heads RAND's International Security and Defense Policy Center. He served in the State Department as assistant secretary of state for European affairs and as ambassador to the European Community.
This commentary originally appeared in Albany Times Union on February 18, 2003.