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Times of London U.S. editor Gerard Baker on the lack of seriousness in Europe.

Thursday, March 15, 2007
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HH: We’re pleased to welcome back in this segment to the Hugh Hewitt Show, contributing editor to the Weekly Standard, and U.S. editor of the Times of London, Gerard Baker. Mr. Baker, welcome back, always a pleasure.

GB: Thank you very much for having me.

HH: I am very depressed, however, by your Weekly Standard piece. I thought maybe…well, let’s set up the premise. A lot of people think the rift between the United States and Europe has healed, and it may have indeed closed, but you close your piece by saying what do they stand for. Can you explain for folks why it’s so depressing?

GB: I don’t think the Europeans…I mean, clearly, there has been a tremendous effort on both sides in the last four years since the Iraq war started to close the gap, and you know, nobody wants to revisit that pretty awful period, because in the end, even the Europeans, most of the Europeans understand whose side they really need to be on in these issues. So there’s been a real effort. There has been an effort by the Europeans, and frankly, an effort by the U.S., too. And the U.S. has admitted some of the mistakes that its made. The problem is that the Europeans, too many of the Europeans, not by any means all of them, it would be wrong to tar them all with the same brush, but the problem is that they really aren’t serious. And I just gave an example of a couple of issues in this week’s Weekly Standard. One, most importantly, I think, is Afghanistan. I mean, Afghanistan, that is an issue…you can put aside Iraq, you can put aside what the Europeans thought about Iraq. They supported Afghanistan. In their view, Afghanistan was a good war. They came, they rallied to the United States, supported it after 9/11, and they completely supported the war against the Taliban. It’s a NATO-led operation now. It has been since 2003. There is, unfortunately, a total lack of resources given by most of those European countries to that war. They won’t commit enough military resources, they won’t commit, they won’t let their troops fight in the way that they need to to defeat the Taliban. And that to me…you know, you talk to Europeans, and they say well, there’s still bad blood about George Bush and about what the U.S. did in Iraq. But that has got nothing to do with…George Bush has got nothing to do with the fact that the Europeans are not doing what they need to do in Afghanistan. And the problem is we really are in danger of losing this war in Afghanistan. I mean, it’s getting bad. I’ve been there…I was there a year ago, and it was bad then, and it’s getting much, much worse. And unless the Europeans in particular…I mean, again, to be fair, the British and the Dutch, and actually the Canadians, too, have been putting in good forces and actually fighting. But most of the Europeans who supposedly signed up to this war are really not doing what they need to do.

HH: Well, Gerard Baker, is it because they don’t believe in it, or because they realize that the classic free rider, Kenneth Arrow effect, is present, that the Americans will do it, because we are the world’s policemen.

GB: It’s a bit of both. I think, though, I think the first point is probably the main one. You talk to Europeans, they say, and I’m talking here about Germans, members of the German government, members of the French government, members of the Italian government…remember, the Italian government is falling apart over its contribution to Afghanistan, the Spanish as well. They say look, we actually, we don’t really see…we don’t think there’s much of a threat as you think there is, as you Americans and you British think there is. We don’t really, we don’t really feel threatened particularly by the Taliban. And we just don’t see that it’s worth us committing to fight, and if necessary, sadly, to die in that war to stop them. So there’s an element of that. But there’s also the element that exactly as you say, the free rider problem. I mean, Europe’s problem for the last sixty years, in a sense, or fifty years of Cold War, which is well, you know, even if we don’t do it, it’s important to the United States, and the United States will have some of the most important allies in there like Britain and some of the other countries, Australia’s there, too. And so in the end, it’ll get done, so we really don’t need to do it. So it’s a combination of the two.

HH: Now there was a little bit of optimism, I’m talking with Gerard Baker, contributing editor to the Weekly Standard, U.S. editor of the Times of London, about his piece, Continental Drift, which is available online at Weeklystandard.com, and I really recommend it to you. It’s very eye-opening. And that is that we’ve had some transition. Yes, Rumsfeld is gone, but so, too, is Schroder out of Germany, so, too is the…Tony Blair is about to leave and going to be replaced by an Atlanticist. And you write that Merkel’s an Atlanticist, and Sarkozy’s going to be an Atlanticist, if he in fact hangs on, and we’re going to get rid of the…Chirac is finally going to be gone. So isn’t the trend going in the right direction?

GB: It is. I mean, no question about that, certainly in Germany and France. And as you say, Sarkozy, I think if he wins, he will be one of the most remarkably Atlanticist French presidents that they’ve had, actually, in the post-war period. So yes, it is. The problem is…and I think actually things might change. I mean, one thing I do think…I mean, the problem that you’ve got at the moment is the French. You’ve still got the kind of, you know, the dregs, frankly, of the Chirac administration. I’m still uncertain what’s going to happen, and it’s still got a couple of months to run. If Sarkozy does win in France, I think that does change things quite dramatically. I don’t think Germany changes. I mean, I think what you’ve seen, you know, Merkel took over, now, in Germany 18 months ago. And again, she says all the right things, she makes all the right noises. The Germans…she’s the head of a fairly weak government, remember, because she is in coalition with the social democrats in Germany.

HH: Right.

GB: …and the social democratic party, and they don’t want…they are more or less totally against the deployment of German troops abroad in any serious numbers. So Germany is a problem, Italy is a problem, so it’s a mixed picture. That’s the truth. You’ve got some good news in some countries, you’ve got some disappointing stuff in other countries. And the other thing that I talked about in this Weekly Standard piece, and this is much more, even more striking in terms of close to home for the Europeans, is Russia. The Europeans are not doing what they…are not standing up to Russia. Russia, under Vladimir Putin, is getting increasingly aggressive, increasingly throwing its weight around, and the right thing for the Europeans to do is say you know what? We’ve got to stop him doing that. It’s in our backyard. We’ve got members of the European Union now who used to be, literally under the heel of the Russian military for 45 years, who still fear Russia, and who rightly regard the United States as the guarantor of their freedoms. And yet, you’ve still got a European Union that basically says to Russia well, it doesn’t really want to take Russia on, it actually wants to blame the United States more for the problems in the world. So you’ve got these two, to me, absolutely acid tests of European seriousness – Afghanistan, whatever you think about Iraq, as I can say, you can disagree about Iraq, but you’ve got Afghanistan and you’ve got Russia. You can’t really disagree about the threat from those countries, or the dangers those countries represent. And there’s no willingness on the part of most of the Europeans to deal with it.

HH: Well, what about new Europe, because I noted last week that on March 8th, the Republic of Georgia announced that they are going to triple their troop commitment in Iraq from 850, with another 1,700 troops going over. That’s very good news. It’s more than the number of Brits that are actually being withdrawn as part of the phased withdrawal from Britain. And that…is that the future of new Europe? Or is that an exception that proves the rule that Putin is back in the chair that is driving Eastern Europe again?

GB: I think that’s the exception. The problem is, Georgia’s a very exceptional country, a great country with a great president and a great government, and they are very, very eager, and very keen to demonstrate their willingness to support the United States, and I actually quite frankly, let’s not be too shy about saying this, support efforts to promote freedom around the world, as are many of those other Eastern European countries. The Baltics are terrific on this. The Baltic countries, Lithuania, they have troops fighting in Afghanistan, many of those Eastern European countries have supported the U.S. war in Iraq. Those countries have made important contributions. But let’s be realistic about it. They are very small. They are small, so the actual contribution they can make is pretty limited. And much more important, now that they’re in the European Union, they are going to be steadily drawn into, if you like, the European consensus. Europe…another thing I talk about in this piece is that the Europeans are determined, certainly Chancellor Merkel in Germany, unfortunately, and certainly if she’d won the French election, Segolene Royal, that’s the socialist candidate in France, are determined once again to push ahead with this project of European integration, which basically tries to turn Europe, these 27 countries in the European Union, into a single super state. And they want to do that. And if they do that, that will essentially eliminate the possibility, or significantly reduce the possibility that countries will be able to operate independent foreign policies, and be able to support the United States when they want to. So that’s the danger here. As I say, on the one hand, these countries are small, and also at the same time, they’re being pulled into a European Union that really is moving in the wrong direction.

HH: Now the key issue always remains the English speaking peoples. I’m sure you’re friends with Andrew Roberts.

GB: I am.

HH: I spent three hours with him last month talking about this. What about Gordon Brown and Labour, Gerard Baker? Do they remain as solid an ally, if overstretched as you discuss in this piece, that Tony Blair has forged them in, in the War On Terror?

GB: They will not be, Gordon Brown will not be as solid an ally as Tony Blair. It’s just not possible to be as solid an ally as Tony Blair. And I worry a little about where…I don’t think anybody doubts Gordon Brown’s own instincts. I think Gordon Brown’s Atlanticist. He’s very skeptical about the European Union. He likes America, although we should…you know, a lot of his friends talk about how much he likes America, and he spends a lot of time in America. You know, I wrote once, actually, that Gordon Brown’s friends and acquaintances in America tend to be of a sort of pretty left liberal. I wrote once that he loves America all the way from Cape Cod to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

HH: (laughing)

GB: That’s his experience, that’s what he likes about America, so we shouldn’t get carried away with that. But at the same time, he’s certainly not a Frenchman or a sort of German socialist. He wants to have a good relationship with the United States. The problem is, he has got a party, a Labour party that is increasingly hostile to America. There was a very interesting vote yesterday in the House of Commons. The House of Commons voted, fortunately, to renew, to begin the process of renewing Britain’s nuclear, independent nuclear deterrent. But a large number, almost a third of the total Labour MP’s, voted against it. I mean, this is literally, most of those MP’s want Britain no longer to be a nuclear power. That’s a very important step in terms of distancing yourself from America.

HH: Yeah, it is.

GB: And fortunately, they had to rely, Labour had to rely on the support of Conservative MP’s to get that measure through. So Brown is going to be under tremendous political pressure to distance himself from the U.S. I don’t think he’ll pull out British troops completely out of Iraq, and he certainly won’t abandon the mission in Afghanistan.

HH: Gerard Baker, we’re out of time. A tremendous piece, Continental Drift, at Weeklystandard.com. Thanks for your time tonight.

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