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Commentary Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2008 - 01:01:40

Europe and the USA -- different perspectives
By Gaither Stewart
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jan 8, 2008, 00:59

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ROME -- A recent roundtable discussion of American and Italian foreign affairs specialists in the Italian capital revealed the cleft between American and European views on world conflicts. No matter how clever, how perceptive and well grounded its positions, America sees Iraq and Iran, Kosovo and Algeria, from afar, from an almost virtual point of view.

Europeans see those peoples instead as neighbors, real places in a real world. Kosovo is a hundred miles to the east of Italy, Algeria an hour�s flight south.

The same day of the Rome TV debate between Italian foreign affairs specialists and neocon theorist Robert Kagan and the political moderate Charles Kupchan, kamikaze bombs exploded in Algeria (40-70 dead), Libyan President Gheddafi was on a state visit in Paris, and Italian Foreign Minister D�Alema proposed a European plan for Serbia on the Kosovo question.

In Beirut the day after, a car bomb killed the next chief of staff of the Lebanese military, General Francois Hajj. Europe suspects it was the work of Israel because of Hajj�s support of Hezbollah in its battle against Israel. American debaters� faces were blank when Europeans tried to explain that bombing Belgrade as really happened in the Balkans war in the '90s is like bombing Europe.

The two American couldn�t grasp that events in Kosovo or Algeria or Beirut, and in Iraq too, are European stories, not American stories. I have friends who used to drive by car through Turkey and the Kurdish territories, and on to Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Iran. Europeans maintained second homes in Beirut, the most cosmopolitan city of the eastern Mediterranean, where a variegated people of Moslems and Christians and Jews speak Arabic and Greek and French and English.

Robert Kagan predictably praised the successes of General Petraeus against al Qaida in Iraq, while the moderate Charles Kupchan admitted that the surge has shown the Sunnis that cooperation with the USA is more profitable than with al Qaida. When neocon Kagan said that as a result the USA could reduce its troops in Iraq, the Europeans smiled: they know that means redeploying those troops to Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Europeans underline the precariousness of ethnic relations in Iraq concerning the Kurds and repercussions in Turkey, which is readying to join the EU. More cynical Italians suggest that al Qaida, momentarily checked in Iraq, has shifted its thrust to Algeria, accounting for the outburst of terrorism there in mid December.

It is a matter of perspective, not morality. America�s military option interests Europe less. Italian foreign affairs specialists call for dialogue with their neighbors, more carrot and less stick. America wants sanctions against Iran; Europe, less. Israeli threats to strike Iran ring quite unreal in Rome because Europeans know that Iran, a big power with an ancient history, is not Iraq.

In neocon thinking, USA-Europe relations have not changed much over time. Moderate Democrats today hint that change is on the horizon, and that perhaps Europe can lead the way in the Middle East. Europe instead recognizes the reality that no accord is possible in the key Israel-Palestinian question, considering the weak government in Tel Aviv and a Palestine divided between US-supported Al Fatah and Iran-oriented Hamas.

Europeans are somewhat surprised to hear a nuance of difference between neocon and moderate Democrat positions, which however are interpreted as more problems for President Bush. On one hand, Bush might see a ray of light in the conservative turn in France with Nicolas Sarkozy and in Germany with Angela Merkel. But despite their visits to his ranch, he cannot count on them.

Europeans sense that the Democrats want out of the whole debacle in the East! There is a realization that Russia will return as a major world power and the European Union does not want to stand again helpless between the bear and the eagle.

Though for the US war government Europe has too few troops in the field, Europe believes it is more a matter of a clear-cut mission. Though European troops are of superior quality and are bound by stricter rules of engagement, Europe wants more diplomacy and less reliance on firepower. The loss of one soldier�s life counts.

European troops in Afghanistan are super-trained, super-instructed and, as a rule, convinced of a mission. My Italian nephew now on his way to Afghanistan for a four-month tour at high extra pay is 6 feet and 5 inches tall and 190 pounds of muscle, a member of Alpine special forces trained in the military arts, and imbued with both a sense of adventure and peace-keeping. His return home is important.

A fundamental difference in attitude toward war is that Europeans know what war is on home soil. They know that war is not peace. War means suffering and destruction and death. War does not bring democracy.

Gaither Stewart is originally from Asheville, NC. He has lived his adult life in Germany and Italy, alternated with residences in The Netherlands, France, Mexico, Argentina and Russia. After a career in journalism as a correspondent for the Rotterdam newspaper, Algemeen Dagblad, he began writing fiction. His collections of short stories, "Icy Current Compulsive Course, To Be A Stranger" and "Once In Berlin" are published by Wind River Press. His new novel, "Asheville," is published by He lives with his wife, Milena, in Rome, Italy. E-mail:

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