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Trans-Atlantic Relations Enter New Chapter as 2003 Ends - 2003-12-31


2003 was a stormy year for trans-Atlantic relations. The Iraq war sparked some of the largest street protests in European history, and at the diplomatic level, there were heated disputes, as France and Germany led the resistance to the U.S.-led war against Saddam Hussein.

The Iraq war was the defining feature of U.S.-European ties in 2003. European diplomats say an American approach of "you are either for us or against us" created unprecedented pressures. At one point Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even spoke of old Europe, to set France and Germany apart from Eastern European countries, such as Poland, which backed the war.

President Bush declared major combat in Iraq over May 1, but bombings, ambushes, and rocket attacks continue to take their toll on civilians, U.S. soldiers, and high-profile targets such as the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

Daniel Gros, director of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels, says mistakes were made on both sides of the Atlantic.

"Perhaps it was a case of 'I told you so', twice," he said. "Once, the Americans told the Europeans, 'You see Saddam was militarily a menace. The population is greeting us as liberators. You see, that is what one should have done. Going in there and affecting regime change.' And then, several months later, the Europeans come around and say, 'I told you so. You are no longer liberators. Now how do you win the peace after you have won the war so quickly?' And unfortunately, the second 'I told you so' might last for a long time."

Political analysts say 2003 was a diplomatic pressure cooker. The Europeans resented what they saw as American's political arrogance, its overwhelming economic and military power and what some view as the Bush administration's unilateralism.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Rudolf Bot, sums up trans-Atlantic relations this way.

"It could have been better, but they were not as bad as people think they were," said Mr. Bot. "I think what the United States learned is that it is not a world, as Robert Kagan [American commentator] says, in which you will have one super policeman, and the rest will be more or less happy that that super policeman is straightening out problems. I think the United States has learned that it is a global world where problems only can be solved if, let us say, the main powers work together."

The diplomatic gap narrowed later in the year when, with the backing of European critics of the war, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution in October authorizing a multi-national occupying force in Iraq under U.S. command and setting a deadline for the Iraqi Governing Council to produce a timetable for elections.

But, despite the diplomatic sniping, analysts say Europe and America remain closely related in democratic values and culture.

"In the case of the United States and Europe, you are talking about what is essentially a family quarrel," said Richard Pells, a Texas University history professor. "What happens both within families and, I think, in the case between the United States and Europe is the sense that You - whoever you is - are letting Us, whoever us is, down.

"You are not being grateful for all we have done for you," continued Professor Pells. "Or you are lording it over - you are supposed to stand for certain kinds of freedoms and certain kinds of rationality, and you are acting exactly the opposite."

As further sign Europe and the United States are resolving their family differences, France and Germany agreed in early December to support a U.S. campaign to have at least a portion of the huge debt Iraq owes to foreign governments written off.

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