A hectic NATO summit in Istanbul, Turkey, early this week threatened to open new rifts between the United States and its European allies. In his fourth meeting with EU leaders in a month, President Bush lobbied for NATO instructors to help train Iraqi security forces, while France and Germany balked. Many Europeans wonder what role NATO should play in global politics as its ranks expand and the United States struggles to get commitments from unwilling EU allies. These tensions were overshadowed in American papers by the surprise handover of power to Iraq, but the summit was heavily covered in Europe.
The conference itself was a scene of chaos: Tens of thousands of protestors hurled small bombs and Molotov cocktails at more than 24,000 Turkish police as war planes patrolled the skies above Istanbul. Bombings leading up to the summit only increased anxiety levels, leading one widely published Turkish columnist to bid the NATO leaders farewell with the headline, "Thank god, they left safe and sound."
The action on the inside was only slightly less intense, with Jacques Chirac refusing to allow NATO troops or insignia on the ground in Iraq. The French president was visibly angry during meetings on Monday after Bush announced the early handover. According to a Le Monde report, "Chirac barely disguised his irritation on Monday each time a journalist used the name of the American president … to the point of forgetting every reminder of historic Franco-American ties."
While Chirac and Bush seemed to drift apart once again, British Prime Minister Tony Blair stood strongly by his American ally. Though other governments, including France, seemed to be surprised by the handover news, the Guardian reported that Bush and Blair "had synchronized their watches and nodded at each other at the moment of transfer in Baghdad." Blair still faces criticism at home for his close alignment with Bush, particularly over four British citizens detained at Guantanamo Bay whom the United States has refused to release into British custody. One enraged Scottish politician was quoted in the Scotsman asking, "How can the Prime Minister pursue a shoulder-to-shoulder relationship with George Bush when he seems to spend most of his time on his knees?"
Even Turkey came out of the summit with mixed signals, despite receiving Bush's public endorsement in its bid for EU membership. In his closing speech, Bush also forgave the Turks for not allowing coalition troops to their country as a route of attack to Iraq. "Democracy," Bush said, "does not involve automatic agreement with other democracies. Free governments have a reputation for independence, which Turkey has certainly earned." The Turks wisely took this all with a grain of salt. One op-ed writer in the Turkish Daily News noted that NATO leaders are "leaving behind a nation bewildered with praise of all kinds." The piece went on to suggest that if Bush really thinks Turkey is so great, he should help them get into the EU and solve the Cyprus issue. Meanwhile, the status of the Kurds in Iraq (a far more serious problem for the Turks) went almost unmentioned.
The larger questions of NATO's role in the world attracted more attention in European papers covering the summit. An editorial in the London Daily Telegraph noted that "fashionable anti-Americanism" threatens to destroy the special relationship between the United States and Europe—America offers an umbrella of military security, and Europe "provides gratefulbut not uncritical political support for the defense of freedom." Making the point more bluntly, a writer in Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung suggested that the NATO conference was awkward for some very simple reasons. "Many EU governments are wary of telling their people what is in store: more money for international troop deployments, more danger far from home and more deaths. The new transatlantic unity is a fairy tale." (Translation courtesy of the Guardian.)