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Why is there a widening gap between the United States and Europe?

Each year, the U.S. and Europe drift between four-tenths of an inch and four inches farther apart. The drift results from a phenomenon called plate tectonics.

An underwater mountain range called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge rises between the two continents. It's named after Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who once was the governor of Pennsylvania, a mid-Atlantic state. This is where the North American and Eurasian continental plates are drifting apart. At the points of separation along the center of the ridge, molten rock oozes up from the Earth's mantle and cools to form a new sea bed. This keeps the Atlantic from draining through the holes and flooding hell.

In non-geological terms, the gap began growing with the end of the Cold War. From the end of World War II (an even more horrifying sequel than Look Who's Talking Too) until the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States and free Europe were united against a common, fur-hatted, commie-pinko, godless, bastard enemy. Sure, we had our differences with Europe. They thought we were loud and obnoxious; we resented them for creating and nurturing Marcel Marceau. But such disputes never threatened our unity.

Fast forward to the 21st century: The United States is the only superpower left. As someone once said about international relations, there are no friends -- only interests. Since thwarting the Red Menace no longer is our overriding mutual interest, our natural allegiance with Western Europe has soured some. Many Europeans think the U.S. is trying to exercise its power without regard to the rest of the world, particularly since the Bush administration took office. Well before 9-11 or the push for war in Iraq, the Europeans were ticked at us for incinerating the Kyoto Accord on global warming because it doesn't suit our short-term economic needs (or at least not the needs of big Republican donors). They're pissed at us for undermining the International Criminal Court by exempting Americans from it. And there's also an active and influential political left Euro-trashing us for our global economic initiatives, which they perceive as harmful to the developing world.

Russians (they're Europeans too, you know) are sore about their relative decline and resent Bush & Co. for voiding the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. They also hate that we keep nabbing their hottest women through all those Internet bride services.

Along comes Iraq. Regardless of what you think of the war, many Europeans think President Bush is a shoot-from-the-hip cowboy, hell-bent on a war from the get-go despite a flimsy rationale for it. That the troop buildup started before we even asked the United Nations to restart inspections only bolsters that impression. As if that wasn't enough diplomatic bungling for one issue, we've got Ol' Rummy mouthing off that France and Germany are "Old Europe," and right-wing politicians and commentators suggesting putting tariffs on French cheese to punish France for not supporting us. As someone who recently started the Atkins Diet, I find that possibility particularly irksome.

But don't let their cute accents and abundant body hair fool you into thinking that Europe is some magical, high-minded place filled with flawlessly principled, lovely people. It is, after all, the continent that invented World Wars I and II, colonialism, communism, fascism and liverwurst. This dispute is a wrestling match for power. As the most powerful nation, we're loath to stay involved in an institution (the U.N.) that checks our power. As middling powers, France, Russia and Germany support the U.N. because it's a forum that elevates their relative importance.

Funny, while we bitch and moan about how European leaders don't support us, polls show a majority of Americans want U.N. backing before we invade Iraq. Maybe the continental drift we should be worried about is the one separating the Bush administration from the American people.


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