U.S.-European relations hit a dramatic and highly visible low point in the weeks leading up to the
U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. With the exception of the British government, which was, of
course, supportive of the enterprise, many long-time U.S. allies – including, most prominently,
France and Germany – were openly hostile to the American action. Relations have recovered, to a
degree at least on an official level, but disagreements persist and resentments fester on both sides
of the Atlantic four years after the onset of the war.
Is the damage that has been inflicted on the relationship irreparable in some sense? Or, as on so
many other occasions since the establishment of the trans-Atlantic partnership at the mid-point of
the last century, is the current unpleasantness likely to prove transitory? While the arrows point in
both directions, the evidence continues to mount that the tensions so much in evidence between
the two sides over the course of the last half-decade or so transcend disputes over particular
issues. If this is true – which I believe it is – then our differences over Iraq are a reflection of
something much deeper that is underway within the relationship, and not, in and of themselves,
the cause – or even a cause – of the problem.
The real issue, it seems to me, is not whether relations between the United States and Europe can
be repaired. Within limits, they can and will be. The more interesting – and important – question is
whether the very nature of the relationship has changed (and is continuing to change) and if so,
how, why, and with what implications for the future?