The Atlantic divide

An Alliance at Risk: the United States and Europe since September 11

Laurent Cohen-Tanugi Translat

The central premise of this book is that Europeans have forgotten the time when, not so long ago, American culture dazzled the world. Laurent Cohen-Tanugi depicts the immediate postwar period as a kind of "golden age" when, for most western Europeans at least, the United States embodied "enthusiasm, generosity, security". In this, he takes his cue from another Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, the left-leaning 19th-century aristocrat who became disenchanted with the revolution in his own country, and wrote: "In America I saw more than America: I saw the image of democracy itself." Despite the twists and turns that Franco-US relations have taken since then, Cohen-Tanugi remains an unabashed admirer of American society. His starting point in this book is the bitter truth that, in the contemporary world, "faith in America . . . has given way to a more or less virulent hostility from Islamabad to the banks of the Seine".

Cohen-Tanugi argues that although "hatred" of America has greatly increased since 11 September, its real origins date back to the late 20th century. The US, he writes, began to lose its way in the latter years of the cold war when, unaware that an unprecedented victory was at hand, policy-makers in the White House found themselves unable to conceive of a world without the comforting certainties of the east-west divide. The chaos in the Balkans, the Rwandan genocide, civil war in Somalia and the rise of radical Islam came as great shocks to the Washington hawks who had earnestly wanted to believe Francis Fukuyama's thesis that the end of the cold war was indeed the "end of history". History, Cohen-Tanugi warns grimly, always defies oversimplification.

The 11 September and subsequent events have certainly shown this to be true. But, he argues, they have also led to a widening of the "Atlantic divide", the strategic vacuum between the US and the European powers that al-Qaeda has proved so adept at exploiting. Cohen-Tanugi borrows his version of the "Atlantic divide" from the American neoconservative thinker Robert Kagan, whose key insight into the relationship between the US and Europe is that it is based on a disparity of power. According to Kagan, the US's superior firepower and military technology give it a duty to pacify the world with force. In contrast, the less militarily powerful Europeans want to make the world safe with laws.

Strangely, Cohen-Tanugi does not challenge Kagan's simplistic assumptions about the European world-view, nor does he seriously attempt to refute his dangerous conclusions. Instead, he offers an anodyne solution to the impasse separating Europe and America. His "third way", or "new Atlanticism", turns out to be drearily familiar. His "solution" is no more than an approximate plan to make the EU stronger and more united, enabling it to take a more forceful role in advising the US on global governance.

Although written by a Frenchman, this book offers almost no insight into how Europeans really think and act. For example, there is no examination of the tangled political and cultural affinities between France and its former Muslim depen- dencies, nor of the way in which French foreign policy in the wider Arab world, from de Gaulle to Chirac, has been shaped by these internal and external conflicts. Yet these are precisely the kinds of discussion that would have stood as correctives to the oversimplified history Cohen-Tanugi deplores in other writers.

But this is not history so much as propaganda. Cohen-Tanugi, a lawyer by training, hopes to defend the US against the charges that lesser nations have recently laid against it. These range from ignoring its global responsibilities in relation to the Kyoto Protocol to a general contempt for international justice. He accepts without question Kagan's definition of the Atlantic divide as one based on "power" and "weakness", but it does not occur to him that it may simply be a question of legal and illegal forms of government. It is hardly surprising, then, that he does not wonder why even Alexis de Tocqueville, a lifelong defender of liberty, finally lost his faith in America.

Andrew Hussey's most recent book is The Game of War: the life and death of Guy Debord (Pimlico)

12 issues for £12