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
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
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.
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 www.Wastelandrunes.com He lives with
his wife, Milena, in Rome, Italy. E-mail: email@example.com.