The transatlantic conflict over the Iraq War marked a turning point in Europe’s relationship to the United States. Whether one greets the rift between “Old Europe” and the global hyperpower as the birth of an emancipated Europe or deplores it as having endangered the basic coordinates of German and European policy, there is no returning to the status quo ante. The current strains in the transatlantic relationship reflect a deep-seated political and cultural estrangement between the societies on the two sides. By a decade’s delay, the estrangement follows the political eruption of 1989-1990 that collapsed the old, bipolar world system and left the United States as the sole world power.
Up until September 11, 2001, it was far from certain how the United States would interpret her new role. George W. Bush began his presidency professing skepticism about the United States as global policeman and about the policy of “nation building” in crisis regions on the periphery of the world market. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon altered this attitude immediately, and the fall 2002 policy statement on national security strategy codified the turnaround. Retreating to Fortress America is no longer an option. Instead, the doctrine of forward defense reigns-worldwide and with shifting alliances. It was not demagogic window dressing when Bush told a group of veterans at the White House, “America has no territorial ambitions. We don’t want to become an empire.” But one must add to that, “not an old-style empire anyway.” The key concept for the strategists in the administration and the conservative think tanks is “national security”-with a very broadly defined concept of security. It encompasses security in the supply of raw materials-on which not just the American economy depends-as well as “war” against terrorist networks and an aggressive policy to prevent despotic regimes from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction. The United States has de facto bound itself to a policy of maintaining worldwide stability and order. With its realization of global responsibility comes the danger of hubris: failing to recognize that even the United States is taking on too much with this task. As it makes its interests into the standard of world order, it is mobilizing opposing forces that might be stronger than it is.
September 11 deepened the latent but already existing psychological discrepancy between the United States and Western Europe. In Western Europe, the shock over the attacks on New York and Washington was quickly supplanted by other concerns. It didn’t upset our prevailing worldview, according to which we are, ever since the implosion of the Soviet Empire, “surrounded by friends,” and the world we live in is ripe for a period of peaceful cooperation that might, at worst, be disturbed by anachronistic and localized outb...
For just $19.95 a year, get access to new issues and decades' worth of archives on our site.
Print + Online
For $29.95 a year, get new issues delivered to your door and access to our full online archives.