In an effort to reverse some of the effects of our wartime actions, President Bush recently completed a goodwill tour of Western Europe.
There were some promising moments on the tour, most notably, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeders vocal support of Americas call for total nuclear compliance from Iran. Sadly, the rift that has grown over the years between Europe and the United States goes well beyond one positive incident or action.
The United States and Europe have always been ideologically different, but the bonds of friendship and support that brought us together as allies have been pulled to the breaking point. A simple apology from Bush wont be enough to heal wounds that are still very much open.
How far apart are America and Western Europe, really? The recent network blackout in certain locales around the United States of a primetime showing of Steven Spielbergs Saving Private Ryan may illustrate the gap between the United States and her allies.
The film itself is not gratuitously or maliciously violent, there are no scenes of nudity and the subject matter is more admirable than it is objectionable. However, some stations refused to play the movie due to its language.
The probability of any station in Europe objecting to the film being shown during primetime is virtually zero. Then, theres Americas coverage of the tsunami disaster compared to that of Britain, Germany and France.
The U.S. media told stories of families miraculously surviving, and almost nightly, CNN and Fox News had stories that diverted attention from the unmitigated tragedy of it all and focused on individual human drama. European coverage was dark, grave and reverent. Deutsche-Welle (essentially the German CNN) had one of its top anchors break down and cry while reading the death tolls.
Why is this important politically? A nations media, like it or not, speaks volumes about its people. America, as one BBC columnist noted, somehow always wants to see miracles, even if the sky is falling all around them.
America has always been more puritanical and inhibited than Europe, but today that puritanical ethos has evolved into a kind of blindness, translated perfectly by President Bushs refusal to be genuinely conciliatory to any of our allies on his goodwill tour.
The problem lies not with the European powers, but with Bushs inability to really understand why we have fallen out of favor in the world. We are resented not because we made a mistake about weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, but because we continue to parade around like we were right when we have been proven wrong.
It wasnt so long ago that many of the European nations whose opinions seem to matter so little these days were world powers. In the end, they dont seem to like being talked down to, even by the only remaining superpower. In a way, Europe has been and is still trying to save us from our own growing national ego.
While I dont think our allies will truly trust us again until Bush apologizes for his exaggeration in Iraq regarding WMD, whether by word or action, opening a dialogue is the first step one I am surprised Bush has taken so readily.
These are still troubling times for America, and even though Bush is far from openly admitting it, we need allies like France, Germany and Russia on our side politically and in the War on Terrorism. Europe and America have always managed to unite in the past.
Let us all hope that Bush continues to carry this tone with Europe, both for our sake and for the sake of freedom in the world.