Hawks and doves swap sides in trans-Atlantic alliance
Hawks and doves swap sides in trans-Atlantic alliance ANALYSIS
Gerard Baker 07feb06
WHEN top European and US policymakers, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, gathered in Munich over the weekend to consider the state of the trans-Atlantic alliance, the themes that have divided them sharply in recent years were prominent again.
On one side there was emollience, restraint and an emphasis on diplomatic approaches to international crises, especially in the nuclear standoff with Iran.
On the other were apocalyptic warnings, belligerent talk and a confrontational approach with the West's potential enemies.
The odd thing was that, for once, it was Europeans, or at least some of them, who took the most confrontational line and the most unlikely Americans who emphasised calm and diplomacy.
Ms Merkel, in a blunt and pugnacious speech, attacked the Iranian Government for pressing ahead with its nuclear program in defiance of international opinion.
Using a rhetorical device often employed by Americans to justify pre-emptive action, she said Adolf Hitler could have been stopped in the 1930s if the world had taken stronger action against him sooner.
And she denounced the recent inflammatory remarks made about Israel by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"A president that questions Israel's right to exist, a president that denies the Holocaust, cannot expect any tolerance from Germany," she said.
Indeed, she clashed directly with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, who defended his country's actions in response to the decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer Iran to the UN Security Council.
When he gave warning that Iranian law required the country to suspend all co-operation with the international community, MsMerkel replied: "Then you might need to consider changing your laws."
Mr Rumsfeld, by contrast, was a model of diplomatic behaviour. He praised the trans-Atlantic alliance's historic achievements and said the US favoured a negotiated solution to the Iranian crisis.
"We must continue to work together to seek a diplomatic solution to stopping the development of its uranium enrichment program," he said.
The strange reversal of roles was another example of the improvement in the relationship between the US and Europe in the past year, driven in part by a more conciliatory US foreign policy and, in recent months, by the political changes in Germany.
There was almost no discussion of Iraq, the subject that has caused such anger here in the past few years, and instead there was an emphasis on shared values and goals.
And yet, beneath the undoubted improvement in the rhetoric, the hard reality of policy may still pose serious potential differences along more familiar lines in the near future.
Ms Merkel, despite her tough talk, insisted that the Iranian crisis could be resolved only by negotiations, not military action.
And while Mr Rumsfeld was conciliatory, Arizona senator John McCain said the US must keep open the military option against Tehran.
Senator McCain, in characteristically blunt form, once again demonstrated his willingness to outflank the Bush administration as an advocate for a hawkish foreign policy.
He kept up the pressure on Iran and attacked the Russian Government of President Vladimir Putin for its repressive domestic and threatening international policies.
He also said the other G8 leaders should consider boycotting the meeting scheduled to be held in St Petersburg this year.
With Senator McCain emerging at this early stage as the front-runner for the Republican nomination for the US presidency in 2008, it was an intriguing potential preview of the direction of US policy in the next few years and a sign that trans-Atlantic tension might be more durable.
And yet in a powerful example of his ability to appeal to a broad political spectrum at home and abroad, the senator was praised by the Europeans at the conference for his stand in the US Congress against torture. The Times