America will not heal the wounds of its rift with Europe until it accepts some home truths

Share
Related Topics

Of all the engagements on the new US Secretary of State's travel schedule, yesterday's speech before an audience at Sciences Po (the Institute for Political Studies), on Paris's left bank, was the prickliest challenge. Less easily managed than her carefully choreographed stopover in London, more of a gamble than her Berlin dinner-date with Gerhard Schröder, more diplomatically sensitive even than her efforts to lay a new foundation for US policy towards Israel and the Palestinians, Paris was a spider's web of risk just waiting to snare her in its threads.

Of all the engagements on the new US Secretary of State's travel schedule, yesterday's speech before an audience at Sciences Po (the Institute for Political Studies), on Paris's left bank, was the prickliest challenge. Less easily managed than her carefully choreographed stopover in London, more of a gamble than her Berlin dinner-date with Gerhard Schröder, more diplomatically sensitive even than her efforts to lay a new foundation for US policy towards Israel and the Palestinians, Paris was a spider's web of risk just waiting to snare her in its threads.

She began with certain advantages. Retrograde though such discrimination may be, Paris adores an elegant and articulate woman - and Ms Rice did not disappoint. Paris also indulges power and Ms Rice came as plenipotentiary of the US President; she kept a deferential distance from her listeners and they from her. She also took care to punctuate her speech with references to points of history and thinking that the US and France have in common. "To our enemies," she said, "liberté, egalité, fraternité are evil principles." Continuing the theme of past revolutions, she called on her audience to imagine "if France or the US had been content with the world as it was...". Regime-change, in other words, has its merits.

There were also two welcome signs, if - that is - they come to be reflected in US foreign policy as it develops in George Bush's second term. The first was an acceptance of the benefits - at times, indeed, the superiority - of so-called soft power: "Even more important than military or economic power," she said, "is the power of ideas, compassion and hope." These words, it should be noted, were spoken by the same woman who expressed the administration's attitude to nation-building by snapping that the US did not "need to have the 82nd Airborne escorting kids to kindergarten".

The other was her clear signal that the Bush administration, if not yet the whole US political establishment, has accepted the increasing cohesion of Europe. Where the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, had set about sowing discord between old and new Europe, Ms Rice told her Paris audience that "the US welcomes the growing unity of Europe". That Ms Rice herself and next month President Bush are both visiting EU headquarters in Brussels reinforce this view.

Otherwise, what Ms Rice had to say was less apologetic than the French foreign policy establishment may have hoped to hear, let alone the mass of Europeans who opposed the Iraq war. Throughout her speech, she perpetuated a strand of dishonesty that has permeated much US (and some British ) discourse about Iraq. We heard Ms Rice, for instance, conflating the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq as though they were fundamentally one and the same. We heard her list Iraq and Afghanistan in a long line of popular democratic uprisings that included the civil rights movement in the US and Lech Walesa's stand.

What happened in Iraq was nothing of the sort. It may indeed, as Ms Rice argued, be time to turn from the disagreements of the past and open "a new chapter in our relationship and a new chapter in our alliance". But Iraq was not by any standard a popular uprising. It was an enforced regime-change, imposed from outside, which plunged a country that had been sorely oppressed into murderous chaos. The elections may or may not mark the first stage of Iraq's rebirth as a free and democratic state, and a new Iraqi state may indeed deserve as much assistance as we can afford. But it is not possible to open a "new chapter" in transatlantic relations without an honest recognition of what went so badly wrong, and why.

Ms Rice's adamant refusal even to acknowledge the nature of the dispute will not heal many wounds. She may have sounded a conciliatory note when she stated American willingness to work with Europe, but when she added that Europe "must stand ready to work with America on our common agenda", it sounded very like a command - and if not a command, then a threat.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Science versus religion in the three-parent baby debate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show  

When an Aussie calls you a ‘bastard’, you know you’ve arrived

Howard Jacobson
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee