-- President George W. Bush starts his Iraq victory lap in Poland on Saturday and goes on to St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary celebration to offer President Vladimir Putin of Russia tepid congratulations and advice on how to get back in the White House's good graces.
Then he goes to Evian in France to drop in on the Group of Eight meeting of the major industrial countries, and on the next day to the Middle East.
Both at Evian and in the Middle East he runs into problems of nationalism that he probably doesn't understand and his advisers are unwilling to admit.
In the Middle East, a messianic nationalism based on Biblical prophecy is confronting a Palestinian nationalism rooted in a 2,000-year possession of the disputed territories. The only solution is compromise.
The Israeli and U.S. governments and the American Jewish community must all confront the reality that Israel cannot have peace, democracy and security and at the same time continue aggressive territorial expansion and the effective military occupation of 3 million Palestinians. This is what Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has just told his fellow Israelis.
At Evian Bush will face Europe's "old" nations, which happen to be three of the five most important industrial nations in the world. He undoubtedly will indicate his displeasure with the two that led the opposition to his intervention in Iraq.
He and his entourage think that pressure, punishment and displeasure - no Texas ranch invitations for the miscreant national leaders - will eventually force them back into line.
This conviction suggests that the Bush government leaders don't understand the history of the Cold War alliances. NATO prospered because American leadership was light and consensual, and everyone supported the cause. Soviet alliance leadership was oppressive, intolerant, exploitative and accompanied by military intimidation. It had little popular support in the Warsaw Pact countries. The system eventually collapsed, to much rejoicing.
Why? Nations with authentic national cultures don't put up with domination when the people don't accept the ideas of the dominator. When his power weakens there is nothing to hold the system together.
Washington has effectively if uncomprehendingly been trying to turn the trans-Atlantic alliance from consent and consensus into a system of intimidation and pressure.
The Bush administration says that it wants U.S. representatives inside EU institutions. (What about reciprocal EU observers in Donald Rumsfeld's office?) It sees the European Union as a potential threat and wants to divide it. It has succeeded, up to a point. But in the long run it is up against nationalism.
Let's look at a current example. For years Washington has been telling the Europeans to spend more on defense - meaning on NATO-integrated systems. But a week before the G-8 meeting, the Europeans took the following decisions:
Seven countries contracted to buy 180 Airbus-manufactured military transports, the most ambitious military project yet undertaken in Europe. The 15 member nations of the European Space Agency agreed to launch Europe's own 30-satellite global positioning system, known as Galileo, a rival to the Pentagon-controlled GPS. Washington bitterly opposes Galileo. The Space Agency also committed a E2 billion credit to the troubled Ariane space launcher, until recently the global leader in commercial space.
This is not what the United States had in mind. It demonstrated the reality of European nationalism and European self-interest. These are far more important than how France and Germany vote at the United Nations. They are not affected by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's irascibility, or by who snubs whom at Evian, or even by who's invited to barbecue at the Crawford ranch.
© 2003 the International Herald Tribune