It's not only the painful split over Iraq that continues to damage the Atlantic alliance. There is a deep and growing cultural divide between ordinary Europeans and the redder reaches of America. And Bush, with his cowboy swagger and patronizing manners, offers the perfect American caricature for European ridicule and distrust.
As a German journalist explained on National Public Radio, Europeans tend understandably to fear politicians who casually toss around big concepts like justice, liberty and "the untamed fire of freedom," then amass big armies to march off and enforce them on others. The continent enjoys a rare respite from two centuries of tyrants with big ambitions. So it naturally resists Bush's grand plan to democratize the Middle East, by force if necessary.
The region, after all, is not remote from Europe but constitutes its "near abroad." Indeed, as the European Union begins the process of absorbing Turkey, it anticipates its own insertion into the Middle East. Bush's strategy of global confrontation with Islam is not an option for Europe.
There are several things to take issue with in those paragraphs. It is true that many Europeans see President Bush as a caricature of a cowboy, at least in their media. The first misconception is that so-called "Red America" sees being called a cowboy an insult. Out here, cowboys are mythic characters that in the main stand for virtues - toughness, independence, standing up for one's self, endurance. What some Europeans (and the Star Trib) see as patronizing can also be seen as candor, and straight talk. If that is seen as patronizing, so be it. Maybe that's what it will take to get the attention of so-called "sophisticated" Europeans who have done such a wonderful job dealing with Islamic-flavored violence so far... .
As for Europeans being suspicious of politicians who preach freedom and have big armies - well, how many freedom-preaching politicians have there been on the Continent? Most of the history of European warfare that I remember didn't have much to do with the cause of freedom and liberty, including in my opinion the French Revolution. Most of them were about which elite (aristocracy, Nazis, intellectuals, various dictators etc. ) would rule various parts of Europe. If Euros don't like the idea of democratizing the Middle East, perhaps the various Euro governments should present an alternative that works better than the status quo that held before 9/11/2001. So far, ideas from their side (except for maintaining the status quo) have been somewhat lacking. If the Euros also have a better idea of how to deal with Islamic-fueled terror than confronting it, now's long past time to be speaking up.