Europe, Alas, Still Needs U.S. Leadership

On June 6, veterans at the 50th anniversary of D-Day will celebrate what for many of them was the defining moment in their lives: those first frightening, courageous steps into the Normandy surf and toward the liberation of Europe from Germany.

The Normandy celebrations will be a rich history lesson in what the Atlantic alliance has been able to accomplish with a commonality of purpose and consistent, dependable leadership from the U.S. In a new, post-cold-war world, that collective purpose and direction is proving much more difficult for the allies to find. It's welcome that trade and economics, not war preparation, are in the ascendant. Yet the world is still a dangerous place, and Western security is adrift.

In the vacuum created by the demise of Russian communism, Europe is being filled with an a la carte menu of defense arrangements that satisfy no one. NATO stutters over what borders it intends to protect, and against whom. Russia pledges to join NATO's partnership for peace and to train with U.S. troops on American soil. But its special relationship with the U.S. confirms the fears of Eastern Europeans that their own security faces a veto in Moscow. Germany wonders about its security to the east, France to the south.

President Clinton comes well armed as a fighter for open markets and as a clever marketer of American exports. But 18 months into his term, he has shown little skill or inclination to tend the European security relationship that has been the bedrock of U.S. foreign policy for half a century. Today's Europe is simply not unified enough to handle the security baton without dependable U.S. leadership. Thus the President's distance and flip-flops work against U.S. interest by eroding European leaders' faith that they can work with this Administration.

A few months ago, the President's aides proclaimed that after a first year in office focused on domestic priorities and Asia, Clinton intended to make this "The Year of Europe." In Normandy, and later in July, when he attends the meeting of the Group of Seven industrial nations in Italy, the President will no doubt rhetorically revive the past glories of Atlantic partnership. But what Europeans believe Clinton is leaving home is the dependable, purposeful U.S. leadership that has time and again bent European allies to unified, successful positions on security problems. And until Clinton finds the will to do that in Europe, the West will simply drift into the future.

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