Hello? Hello?? Europe calling! We know you’re very busy inside the Beltway these days, what with the need for purging, er, re-locating all the Euro-huggers at the State Department and the CIA. But you’re going to have to focus on this issue sooner rather than later, so you might as well pay attention now: Just what kind of relationship does the U.S. wish to have with the EU?

Not that that’s a new or original question. As a matter of fact, it’s been around for a while, and the U.S. foreign policy establishment was always of two minds (or more) on this one. But it does seem more urgent now than it did for a while. Iraq on the brink of civil war, Arafat gone, the latest accusations of Iranian mullahs working on nuclear missiles – surely here are challenges, opportunities and dangers even a lone superpower would not want to tackle on its own unless it had to.

Why would we be wondering, you ask? Well, take an article in a special section headed „Reconstituting Europe“ of the November edition of Foreign Affairs, a publication held in deepest respect by the foreign policy community Over Here. The article is titled „Saving NATO from Europe“ and written by one Jeffrey L. Cimbalo. The author suggests nothing less than that Washington should ditch its traditional attitude of encouraging or at least not obstructing European integration; should see a stronger EU as a threat to NATO and to U.S. interests; and should work to undermine ratification of the new European Constitution in as many as possible of the 25 Member States. Just which Europe is this „reconstituting“ – the Westphalian Alliance?

The concern this harsh message is bound to produce in even the most hardnosed Euro-Gaullists will be somewhat mitigated by the absurd misunderstandings, old stories taken out of context and just plain factual errors contained in the piece. Frankly, it reads like somebody throwing a hissy fit over a stack of yellowed newspaper clippings from 2002 and 2003. For instance: „Austria, Finland, Ireland and Sweden, all EU members that were neutral during the Cold War, do not belong to NATO, and France is not a member of NATO’s military organization. None of these countries has a history of cooperation, let alone of coordination, with Washington on pressing security matters such as counterterrorism, Afghanistan, and Iraq.“

Interesting. Last time I was in Afghanistan (in August), the French had just taken over the command of Isaf, NATO’s stabilization force based in Kabul, at the head of – yes – the Eurocorps, the Franco-German nucleus of European defence. The Germans have around 2000 soldiers in Afghanistan, and are about to undertake a NATO training mission for Iraqi police.There were Finns and Austrians at Isaf headquarters; and two dozen tree-sized and scarily taciturn Swedish rangers were assigned to the British-run NATO unit in the northern Afghan town of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Transatlantic counterterrorism cooperation? Working nicely, thank you: German Interior Minister Otto Schily got on better with John Ashcroft than with some of his cabinet colleagues in Berlin. The Franco-German-Belgian-Luxemburg „mini-alliance“? It lasted for a a month or two in 2003, went out in a wet fizzle, and hasn’t been heard of since. And so on. Even the Germans have been at pains recently to emphasize that they don’t clear all their policy decisions in Paris.

But maybe we over here are the ones who are getting it wrong: maybe this isn’t so much an academic exercise than an extended application letter, written in light of the above-mentioned relocation efforts and the new job openings arising out of them. One could see how this kind of stuff might appeal to those members of the Neocon camp who have reportedly been telling Washington journalists that they are in the business of making reality rather than managing or interpreting it. That said, the suspicion that a magazine published by as august an organization as the Council on Foreign Relations might not be employing fact-checkers cannot but be distressing for its loyal European readers.