The European elites can't stand George W. Bush. He's just not their sort of leader, a point they will try to make subtly clear on his visit to several European capitals this week. Of course, they're not very fond of American presidents in general. The one exception being Bill Clinton, whom they didn't think all that much of either when he first took office. But at least Bill had studied in Europe (well, Oxford anyway, which isn't quite the Continent, but close enough). And charming Billy was oh so European when it came to the ladies.
But Bush, like his Republican predecessors, is another story. Why the nerve of the man, coming to Europe to explain why it's in everybody's interest for the United States to pursue missile defense. And how dare he reject the Kyoto treaty to reduce greenhouse gases? Not that a single European nation had any real intention of abiding by it either, but the point is to maintain a certain facade of rhetorical obeisance.
Now in comes Bush and ruins it all by talking straight. What's more, the man is a veritable American archetype. He's a businessman, who has little sympathy for the European-style welfare state. He believes Americans pay too many taxes, even though they are a fraction of what most Europeans pay. Why, the fellow even goes to church -- a place most Europeans will only be caught dead in.
What most frustrates the current crop of European leaders, however, isn't Bush himself, but what he stands for: a powerful United States, to whom they are beholden for their very existence. Not only did we save Europe from Adolph Hitler, paying in American lives to liberate much of the Continent, but we spent trillions of dollars protecting Western Europe from a Soviet takeover after the War. But somewhere along the line -- after the Marshall Plan rebuilt Europe and the Berlin airlift saved the western half of the city from the same fate as its eastern sector -- European leaders began to resent the United States, big time.
Remember the contempt Europeans showered on Ronald Reagan? He was depicted in much of the European press as an ignoramus, a dangerous cowboy who would lead the world into a nuclear war. The European Left took to the streets when Reagan announced that he would station Pershing II missiles in Europe, in response to a buildup of Soviet SS-20s. There were massive protests in every major city in Europe, with thousands of Europeans demonstrating their desire for "peace" by violently attacking U.S. bases and property. Willy Brandt, the former chancellor of West Germany and a leader in the Social Democratic party, said at the time: "What good will a few more weapons do for the (NATO) alliance when it risks hearts and minds?"
What good indeed. Thanks in large part to Reagan's sustained military buildup, the Soviet Empire collapsed, the Berlin Wall came down, and Europe today is united, East and West.
But the collapse of the Soviet Union did not end all threats to Europe or the United States. Those threats now come mostly from rogue states in the Middle East, from North Korea, and, potentially, from China. The United States has every right to protect itself from future missile attacks, and the 30-year-old Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty should not stand in our way. Negotiated between the U.S. and a now-defunct nation, the U.S.S.R, and operating under the obsolete theory of mutual assured destruction, the treaty itself is an anachronism.
President Bush is right to pursue missile defense, even if he isn't likely to convince the Europeans so in the next several days. One thing Bush lacks in this fight that Reagan benefited from in his, however, was a staunch ally of the caliber of Margaret Thatcher. But he shouldn't worry too much. Once the United States has developed a missile defense system, the Europeans will be only too glad to share it should the need arise.