Prime Minister Blair and President Bush were in Prague, in the heart of Europe, for a NATO meeting. They were seated, with a small coffee table between them, and they were answering questions. The camera at first took in both leaders as they were seated, feet squarely planted on the ground. My usually lazy eye thought it noticed that Dubya was wearing cowboy boots. But the camera moved to a headshot so fast I wasn’t sure that I had seen it clearly.
Later that night I watched the news again, and I saw the same shot again. He was. The President of the United States was wearing cowboy boots. Dubya was wearing cowboy boots in Europe! This was significant. This was an especially significant political statement because he had been getting a lot of flack from Europeans (from Western Europeans, to be more precise) for being a cowboy. Cowboys—to such Europeans—have always epitomized what they most dislike about Americans: We are so unlearned and so unsophisticated, so simple. And, of course, cowboys practice cowboy diplomacy, they like to go at things alone. First Reagan and now this guy. Nothing but trouble.
Now this NATO meeting was important, to be sure. NATO is, according to the President, "America’s most important global relationship." And at this particular meeting it was going to be decided to enlarge the organization from nineteen to twenty-six members. It had already been enlarged in 1999 to include Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, but now invitations would be extended to seven other East European states: Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia. Please note that three of these countries, until relatively recently, had been a part of the USSR.
A lot of thought and negotiations had gone into all of this, not the least of which was making sure that the Russians would stop their objections. They had, and the deal was sealed. But this wasn’t headline-making stuff. Yet it should have been. This was another example of resolute American diplomacy. The world had changed in a way that no one could have predicted just a few years ago.
Remember that earlier this year the Bush administration had practiced cowboy diplomacy by unilaterally abrogating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. And remember how the Western Europeans (and the Democrats) yelled and howled that the stability of the world was coming to an end? That the Russians would be mightily displeased and a new arms race would ensue? Well, we got the Russians to agree and then the Europeans had to go along.
We also wanted to expand NATO, even though the idea of a military alliance (against Russia) seemed to be unnecessary or obsolete. The fact is that once we took care of the terrorists and their clients in Afghanistan (with just a few men and some smart weapons) it became obvious to everyone that the sole military power was the United States. It became clear that as a military alliance in this new American-dominated world, NATO was nearly irrelevant. It became another trans-national political organization, much like the European Union, except because it was transatlantic, we were also a part of it.
What does all this have to do with these Eastern European countries becoming a part of NATO? The new countries broaden the horizons of the Western Europeans, and act as a moderating influence on their temptations to be soft, squishy, and socialist. Besides, the E.U. will be dominated by Germany, whom the new members fear. The new East European members (along with Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic) add a moral element to the alliance that is now both necessary and good. These new members are much more pro-American than, say Germany or France. They see American involvement in Europe as a guarantee of their independence from both Russia and Germany. Only through NATO can such independence be guaranteed, not through the European Union. No wonder Bush received such a warm reception in Lithuania and Romania.
President Bush gave a couple of good speeches, one in Lithuania and one in Romania. In Bucharest—to the applause of ten thousand—he said: "Your country also brings moral clarity to our NATO alliance. You value freedom because you have lived without it. You know the difference between good and evil because you have seen evil’s face." In other words, you are able to understand the language of cowboys, and their ways. Bush also made clear—to the even louder applause of ten thousand—that should any nation threaten Romania or Lithuania, "the United States of America and NATO will be by your side."
It was also telling that the seven new members (with NATO hopefuls Croatia, Albania, and Macedonia) issued an especially pro-American statement on Iraq with the offer of military assistance. The Eastern Europeans are less likely than the Western Europeans to take America for granted.
In the words of Mircea Geoana, the foreign minister of Romania, these new members now bring a "pro-American critical mass to NATO." And, the geography should be noted: both Bulgaria and Romania are on the Black Sea, looking toward the Middle East, where U.S. cowboy diplomacy is likely to be engaged for some time.