PARIS - President Bill Clinton's ''victory swing'' around Europe includes the presentation to him, in Aachen, Germany, of a prize for his contribution to European unity. This seems an agreeable demonstration of German amiability, or of irony.
The Clinton administration, usually without meaning to, has made a number of contributions to European unity, but their cumulative effect has been to America's disadvantage. They have united the Europeans against the United States.
Mr. Clinton cannot be held responsible for the latest trans-Atlantic conflict, over America's offshore Foreign Sales Corporations, regarded in Europe (and now by the World Trade Organization) as illegal export subsidies, since they are mandated by Congress.
Nor is he responsible for the practices of U.S. industrialized agriculture, which produces food Americans want to eat, even if Europeans don't.
His aggressive promotion of U.S. corporate and financial interests is what he was elected to do, at least in the opinion of those who pay for U.S. presidential elections these days. The European governments do no less for their own. However, the administration's strong-arm style has made its own contribution to European unity, since taking no prisoners solidifies resistance.
The issue that today is pushing the Europeans toward a confrontation with Washington on security policy is the administration's support for a national missile defense against terrorist ''rogue states,'' regarded in Europe (and by its U.S. critics) as not only destabilizing but unreasonable - even, as the Scots might say, as a trifle daft.
Defense Secretary William Cohen, who defends the rogue nation argument, said recently that a terrorist nuclear, chemical or biological attack on the United States was ''not only possible, but probable'' within the next 10 years.
If Mr. Cohen seriously believes this, he would be regarded in Europe as a candidate for confinement. If the United States acts on that assumption, it will find itself an isolated nation within a decade, and Europe more unified than it has ever been in looking out for its own security.
That is a worst-case scenario, however not an unreasonable one, since it now seems that missile defense will form the principal security policy legacy of this administration and will be pursued in one form or another by the administration to follow, whether that of Al Gore or George W. Bush.
Governments need ''simplified pictures of reality,'' as Harvard's Samuel Huntington has said - ''paradigms'' that oversimplify (or caricature) reality in order to give policymakers what they can think is a general theory about what is going on in the world.
A U.S. diplomat sympathetic to the administration once told me, ''If only we had a theory to link together Russia, Bosnia, Somalia, Islam. ...'' He seemed to believe there could be such a theory, and that without it, the government was condemned to confusion.
The Clinton administration has found its theory by adopting the rogue-nation paradigm. This links three out of those four problems together (perhaps four out of four in the future, if Russia becomes hostile - or five out of four, if those who promote China as the next rogue nation are successful).
The administration has even added rogue persons, starting with Osama bin Laden, the Saudi Arabian import-export trader who lives in Afghan seclusion, despite worldwide manhunts and the Pentagon's missile attacks directed against him.
John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in his last book about the institutional rigidity of U.S. foreign policy, ''which holds it on course even when it is visibly wrong'' and thus incorporates a ''commitment to error.'' Errors made about enemies tend to become self-validating. The course set by the Clinton administration on this matter validates the observation.
The administration has already made a significant contribution to European security unity with its manifest hostility to the idea of a European ''identity'' within NATO. That provoked Europe's decision to create an independent European army corps, the point of which, as Germany's Greens have been so disobliging as openly to say, is Europe's ''emancipation.''
The need for such an emancipation was unintentionally demonstrated by the NATO Kosovo intervention, which revealed European military weakness and more to the point, revealed to the allies that NATO was less an alliance than a simple instrument of American policy.
The outcome of all this may be good for Europe, but it is not so good for the American relationship with the Europeans or with its allies elsewhere. As Peter Rodman of the Nixon Center writes in the forthcoming issue of the Washington quarterly The National Interest, most of the world's other major powers, allies included, now have made building ''counterweights to American power'' one of the main trends in international politics today. It is this which Mr. Clinton's successor will have to handle.
Copyright 2000 IHT