A couple of days ago, I did a quick survey of some of my regular readers to canvas opinions on why it is that Europe, so obviously knowing better, has nonetheless wholly embraced the disastrous U.S. boycott of the democratically-elected Hamas government. I asked them to respond to the following: My most recent posting includes Alistair Crooke’s observations about how the Europeans are as culpable as the U.S. in the application of a hopelessly dysfunctional policy on Hamas after it won the Palestinian election. But the Europeans obviously ought to know better, and I’ve seen no good explanation for why this is the case — it’s easy to see how the Bush Administration has arrived here, but less so the Europeans: There’s no significant Israel lobby in Europe, is there? Are they simply compensating for the damage Iraq has done to the Transatlantic relationship? Or is this somehow a reflection of their own, domestic Islamo-phobia?
Reactions were varied: Paul Woodward offered this quote from William Beelaerts, the deputy head of the North Africa and Middle East department in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to back up the idea that the EU position on Hamas is driven primarily by a desire to maintain the pre-eminence of European-US relations:
“You will be aware as I am that most European states — with a few honorable exceptions — do not assess developments unfolding across the Middle East on their own merits but view these through the prism of their relations with the United States. Your own country [referring to Britain] is a prime example. Mine (The Netherlands) runs yours a very close second. The powerful Atlantically-oriented instincts of a foreign policy generation reared during the Cold War are not to be underestimated.”
Paul adds that Europe defaults to a “proxy consensus” of following the U.S. lead because the alternative requires a more drastic break with the U.S. “New governments in Europe have good reason to assume that the next administration in Washington will be just as biased towards Israel as is the current one, they have little interest in creating a rift that would extend well beyond 2008.”
Helena Cobban calls it “learned helplessness,” deriding “the chimera of ‘an independent European foreign policy’.” The Europeans, she notes, “(1) can’t even get their own governance issues organized, (2) like to wallow in letting the U.S. make all the mistakes, (3) have been moving seriously rightward in recent years, and (4) have a lot of issues of their own regarding Muslims and Arabs.”
For my friend Tim McGirk, TIME’s correspondent in Jerusalem, the explanation is that “Europeans are especially sensitive to the charge of anti-Semitism. They don’t want to be perceieved as being anti-Israel or taking steps, as Olmert’s government would say, of leaving the Israelis exposed to the threats of Islamic terrorism. And so, when Hamas refuses to publicly renounce resistance against Israel –though in private they are much more realistic, and willing to settle for 67 borders and East Jerusalem as the capital as long as there’s something for the ‘right of return’ refugees — it’s an easy choice: side with Israel. And in doing so, the Europeans can tell the Americans: ‘We may not support you in Iraq” but we march shoulder to shoulder with you on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.’ ”
The most complete response, however — in the form of a guest column — came from Mark Perry of Conflicts Forum, a longtime national security expert in Washington, whose most recent book, Partners in Command explores the relationship between Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and George C. Marshall in managing the U.S. war in Europe. Mark, together with his Conflicts Forum colleague Alastair Crooke, actually briefed the EU on the need to engage with Hamas following its election victory in January 2006, but their advice was rejected even though it was acknowledged they were right. I’m thrilled to welcome Mark as a Rootless Cosmopolitan contributor!
Why Europe Marches Meekly Behind the U.S. on Hamas
By Mark Perry
We Americans hardly remember the incident now, but it was not so long ago. On February 8, 2003, at the 39th Munich Conference on Security, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld presented the American case for the war in Iraq . “Diplomacy has been exhausted,” he said. After he took his seat, an uncomfortable silence filled the hall and attention turned to German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. An otherwise stoic and understated man, Fischer discarded his prepared comments and spoke bluntly, and in English. “Excuse me,” he said, “I am not convinced.” As Rumsfeld sat, silent, Fischer even wagged his finger. It was the first time in anyone’s memory that any European diplomat had dared lecture an American.
The incident may now have faded, but for Europeans it is a source of constant pain — and a blood-draining reminder of just how close the alliance that won the Cold War came to splintering. When my colleague, Alastair Crooke and I, made a presentation to EU Ambassadors in Brussels on Hamas in the wake of their victory in the parliamentary elections of January of 2006, the Rumsfeld-Fischer confrontation was still a vivid and painful memory. And it was for this reason that our argument for a European opening to Hamas — in defiance of U.S. pressure for an economic boycott of their democratically elected government — was universally spurned. “We know you are right, really we do” one ambassador said after our presentation. “But we will not break with the Americans. We just cannot do it.”
In the intervening months, I have had occasion to reflect on the depth of American-European ties. They are much broader and more deeply rooted than I had ever believed. Despite my oft-repeated projection — that the nations of the EU would, one-by-one, peal away from the American-led boycott of Hamas — the united anti-Hamas front shaped by the Americans (irrational and counterproductive though I believe it to be) has been maintained intact. The French, Germans and of course the U.K — but also Spain and Italy — have maintained the alliance and I have been given to think that it will be maintained even in the face of America’s continued foreign policy fumbles. And perhaps for good reason.
In late May of 1944, on the eve of the invasion of France , Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower were traveling by private rail car through England. They were on their way to visit a British unit that would come ashore in France just two weeks later. Churchill was in agony. He had opposed the Normandy invasion, preferring a much larger stab at the Balkans — what he called “Hitler’s soft underbelly.” He had only reluctantly agreed to the Normandy landings because of his alliance with the Americans. Still, he remembered the Somme and Marne and the tens of thousands of lives a straight-ahead war against Germany had cost. In that rail car, Eisenhower understood Churchill’s agony and, in a rare show of personal comfort, reached across and took his hand, reassuring him. Churchill smiled and turned to the American General: “The only thing worse than fighting a war with allies,” he said, “is fighting a war without them.”
In the end, the Europeans might well know the Americans are wrong (that a boycott of Hamas will not work, that the war in Iraq was a blood-filled waste, that a confrontation with Iran will lead to a military debacle, that Afghanistan is lost … ), indeed, might well be convinced that the American program cannot and will not succeed, ever, anywhere. They might know it now and might someday in the future say that they told us so. Even so, the nation’s of Europe, that grand alliance, will never splinter, as it nearly did in February of 2003. For Europe ‘s calculation is quite like Churchill’s: they would rather be wrong with us, than right alone.