Sorry, no free dinner!

A household western saying goes like "There is no such thing as a free dinner." US President George W. Bush, however, invited French President Jacques Chirac to a dinner proudly and generously on February 21 during his ongoing visit to Europe. It is nothing to be surprised at when there is a dinner between two state leaders as a diplomatic ceremony, but one between the leaders of US and France turned out to hit the headlines. Why?

The fact is, since the United States tried to push the UN Security Council to pass a bill of going to war with Iraq two years and a half ago, anti-war countries including France, Germany and Russia have been insisting on saying "No". Their attitudes once softened after the war was launched and Iraq was occupied, but their anti-war stance has remained unchanged, which is shown in their consistent calls for Iraqi reconstruction under UN framework. Yet the US attitude changed as the Iraqi situation evolved. At first, when US army went triumphantly through Iraq, US neo-cons were extremely arrogant towards European countries. US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once called them "old Europeans" disdainfully, claiming that Washington will win the war without their support. After that the United States worked out a policy to "punish France, leave Germany out and forgive Russia". Anti-French sentiment went even further in the US Congress, in the form that people changed "French fries" into "freedom fries". However, only when the US army ran into difficulty in Iraq later and needed help, did US politicians cease to condemn "old Europeans". The deeper Washington got bogged down in Iraq, the milder its attitudes towards Europe became.

Testifying at the Senate, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said not long ago that the Bush Administration had realized that even the world's most powerful country could not achieve its goals totally by itself. Preparing Bush's tour to Europe, Rice noted that US-Europe difference was not one in values, but in approaches to a certain problem; she also called the two sides to bury the hatchet. Rumsfeld himself went for a fence-mending tour to Europe. To avoid embarrassment, he laughed at himself by calling that Rumsfeld who once criticized "old Europeans" as "old Rumsfeld", indicating that he was a "new Rumsfeld" who had changed his mind. He also understated the US-Europe difference on Iraq, calling it a small rift between "old pals" that can be easily healed. Bush made it clear in his Belgium speech that the United States need Europe and no force can separate the two. He strongly called for a "new era of trans-Atlantic unity".

Of course, the United States need Europe not only for financial and army support in Iraq, Iraqi police training and fund for reconstruction; but also for an alliance to force Iran into obedience; for coordination on the issue of Israel-Palestinian peace talks to push forward the Middle East peace process; for cooperation to force Syria to pull out its army from Lebanon; and, finally, for recognition of and help in pushing its "Greater Middle East Democracy Initiative" to reform this region.

Europe, in return, could not refuse the President Bush's compromise hand. On the one hand, Europe naturally needs the United States. On the other hand, if the disturbance in Iraq continues, no one, whether the Iraqi people, or Europe or even the world, would benefit from the situation. So Europe has to stand out to clear up the mess left by a reckless United States. EU has agreed to help training Iraqi police as well as 770 judicial staffers in Iraq. Earlier, EU wrote off most Iraqi debts and sent more troops to Afghan to expand defensive area there. Apparently, President Bush didn't offer his dinner for nothing.

Bush will not return home from his Europe tour empty-handed, for the two sides not only share the same values, but also still have mutual needs. But neither smiles nor handshakes can bring the two parties into pre-Cold War closeness, since it's no easy job at all to balance US unipolarization and hegemony against European multi-polar needs and independence inclination.

This article by Li Xuejiang, carried on the third page of the People's Daily, February 23, is translated by People's Daily Online.



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