With the tremendous razzmatazz of the U.S. nomination campaigns, some important political events in other countries have been under-publicized. Startling is the imminent adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon, intended to transform Western and Central Europe into a functioning confederacy. And so is the decisive defeat of the left in the London mayoral elections and the Italian general elections.
The treaty of Lisbon, which would substantially amend the legal underpinnings of the European Union, establishes the priority of European legislation over that of formerly sovereign national parliaments; gives new impetus to a common European foreign and security policy; and takes a giant step toward Eurointegration, which most Europeans don't want.
This begs the question of what has emboldened the British and French governments, particularly, to ignore the wishes of their electors on such an important issue. The British government promised a referendum on any substantial change to political institutions. It now claims that the most profound alteration to the rights of Parliament since the Glorious Revolution of 1687 (which was not at all glorious, any more than the Treaty of Lisbon is insignificant) did not meet the criterion of substantial change.
Prime Minister Brown promised a full parliamentary debate, but has done everything possible to stifle debate. He is almost certain to lose the next election (no party except the Thatcher Tories has won four straight full terms in the United Kingdom since before the First Reform Act in 1832). Polls show heavy majorities against ratifying the Treaty of Lisbon. It is hard to reject the suspicion that Gordon Brown realizes he came too late to the headship of the government to resist electoral defeat and that this is his lunge for lasting fame.
In France, President Sarkozy, though the best-disposed leader toward the Anglo-Saxons in the history of the Fifth Republic, believes that France can best preserve her influence in the world as a co-leader, with the British and the Germans, of a greater Europe. The French rejected in a referendum the ramshackle European constitution proposed by their former president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing. Lisbon relaunches much of it, and Mr. Sarkozy has implausibly explained that since this is a French initiative, he has a moral obligation not to conditionalize it with a referendum.
This is nonsense, but he can probably rely on French political chauvinism, and worldly French prurience about the winsomeness of his bright, beautiful, and free-spirited wife, and the length of his term (another four years), to get over this hurdle. The French like stylish sexual aplomb, even if they disguise it for a time with bourgeois humbug, as they did with the Sarkozys. And they have had so many constitutions in the last 220 years (18 in fact), that they have largely lost interest in their contents.
It is very brazen for the British and French governments to promise a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty; realize they are unable to win a referendum, and substitute a promise for a thorough parliamentary debate; realize that could be inconvenient; and put on the whips and try to force a quick legislative disposition.
A few years ago, this would have been a bridge too far, and the resulting outcry would have prevented it. The Europeans have become frightened by their own weakness; by their own failure to regain great influence in the world for the European Union; or even to respond effectively to Islamic infiltration.
But more than that, without it much being mentioned, they have become fearful of the shortcomings of American unilateralism, and of a unipolar world with uncertain American leadership. American strength made European weakness affordable for decades. It may not be affordable much longer.
It has been this loss of confidence in U.S. leadership that has made the four lost years of the pre-Surge Iraqi occupation the greatest blunder in U.S. military history except for the strategic misconception and tactical mismanagement of Vietnam. Apart from that, and the failure to put out torpedo nets and air patrols around Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States has not made many military mistakes in its history. General Petraeus has started to retrieve the Iraqi one, and his promotion to theatre commander, whereby he oversees Afghanistan and Iraq also, is very welcome.
The European resignation to a federalism it doesn't believe in is leavened by humor and is of no benefit to the left. The new mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is almost a folk hero. He is compulsively amusing, and once asked a woman whose vote he was soliciting, on her doorstep, when she said that she would vote for him as M.P.: "But madam, why?" Mr. Johnson defeated a Castroite-leftist, Ken Livingstone, whom Tony Blair expelled from the Labour Party because of his strident Marxist views. To emancipate one of the world's greatest cities from such a regime was a signal achievement.
Another indication that Europe retains its sense of humor and knows better than to veer back to the left, is the Italian election, and the return of Silvio Berlusconi as prime minister, the destruction of the Italian Communist Party, and the election of a conservative mayor of Rome.
Mr. Berlusconi didn't promise much and was his usual bawdy self in the campaign. He didn't even really try to rebut his opponent's charge that his greatest accomplishments in his former term as prime minister were a hair transplant and a facelift.
The next U.S. president will have to start rebuilding the Western Alliance and the prestige of his country. This need not be difficult, but it will require consistent effort and a rigorous plan of action. For the first time in almost 20 years, the Americans will have some political lessons to learn from the Europeans.
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