Mending the U.S.-European Rift over the Middle East

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The war in Iraq has created tensions between theUnited States and some of its leading allies inEurope and exposed a deep diplomatic rift betweenthe traditional transatlantic security partners. Thecontroversy over Iraq has also ignited strong anti-Americansentiments and threatened internationalcooperation in the war against Al Qaeda.

Neoconservatives in the United States haveargued that the Euro-American divisions over Iraqreflect an emerging political-cultural clash betweenAmericans and Europeans. The Euro-American gapis unbridgeable, the neoconservatives say. Washingtonshould pursue its interests in the Middle East,regard European opposition as being determined bya powerful anti-American ideological disposition,and try to co-opt into its global camp the "new"Europeans whose views and policy are driven by apro-American outlook.

The neoconservatives have it wrong. The riftbetween Europe and the United States is drivennot by culture or ideology but by diverging nationalinterests.

Even in the European countries that supportedthe United States on Iraq, most elites and the publicat large are concerned that the American policy inthe Middle East will create political instability in theregion and could inflame anti-Western sentiment inthe Arab world, spurring more terrorism directed,not just at the United States, but at all Westernstates. Under these circumstances, Europe, with itsgeographical proximity and close economic anddemographic ties to the Middle East, could becomethe first victim of American policy.

The long-term interests of the United States donot lie in dominating the Middle East and marginalizingthe European role there. Instead, by takingsteps to disengage from the Middle East, Washingtoncould create incentives for the Europeans toadopt a posture in the region suitable for protectingand defending their legitimate interests there. A foreignpolicy that encourages greater engagementbetween Europe and the states of the Middle Eastcould ultimately redound to the benefit ofEuropeans, Middle Easterners, and Americans alike.

Leon T. Hadar

Leon T. Hadar is a research fellow in foreign policy studies with the Cato Institute and author of Quagmire: America in the Middle East.