Thursday, February 17, 2005

All Carrots, No Sticks

Emanuele Ottolenghi, The New York Sun:
As President Bush goes to Europe, expect Europeans to welcome him cordially and show good will, but don't expect them to agree. With elections in Iraq successfully completed and a new mood of optimism between Israel and the Palestinians, Europeans are making the right noises. Secretary of State Rice's European tour was a success. But don't be fooled. Not all is well in trans-Atlantic relations, and this hopeful moment is not destined to last. Even as tensions peaked, few on either side of the Atlantic doubted that trans-Atlantic relations were built on shared interests no less than shared values. America understands that it is better to have Europe on its side than on the side. Europe understands that, after Mr. Bush's triumph in November, it must cooperate with him. But good will is no substitute for policy, and interests are not as shared as they might have been in the past. The current lull is due to a momentary convergence of positive events. ...

On Iran, all agree that a nuclear Iran is a threat to regional stability. But Europe resents America's refusal to "engage" Teheran and offer political dialogue, diplomatic detente, and trade. While America believes that diplomatic carrots occasionally need a big stick to persuade, Europe believes only in carrots - and has few sticks. Europe has no intention to back its diplomacy with credible threats. Britain's foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said violence would be "unimaginable." And loss of lucrative contracts will act as a powerful deterrent against economic sanctions.

For now, Washington is happy to let France, Germany, and Britain – nicknamed the EU-3 - try to persuade Tehran to forgo its nuclear program. But patience will run out. Iran is only buying time. As happened over Iraq, Europe's unwillingness to see reality for what it is - a rogue state posing a long-term threat to regional stability and exploiting Western divisions to its own advantage - is becoming an impediment.

When talks fail, Europe will blame America for not having joined the EU-3, not having engaged the Iranians, not having adopted a more conciliatory tone. With little left to do aside from tough measures, a new showdown will occur between Europe, with its resolve never to use force, and America, with its impatience with Europe's penchant for appeasement.

Therefore, enjoy this cordial moment. It will not last forever.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a visiting scholar at AEI.