Is This the End of the West?

Well, the numbers are in and the numbers don't lie. At the Madrid aid conference, Saudi Arabia pledged $1 billion in new loans and credits for Iraq -- and Germany and France pledged 0 new dollars. Add it all up and the bottom line becomes clear: Saudi Arabia actually cares more about nurturing democracy in Iraq than Germany and France.

Ah, you say, but that's unfair. Germany and France opposed the war, so why should they pay anything more than their share of the paltry EU contribution? Actually, it's not unfair, when you remember that before the war, France and Germany were obsessed with the lifting of UN sanctions on Saddam Hussein's regime -- in the name of easing the suffering of the Iraqi people.

Well, the United States has removed the whole Hussein regime, which was the real source of suffering for the Iraqi people, and yet that seems to be worth nothing to Germany and France. So there we have it: Pretending to ease the suffering of the Iraqi people -- by calling for the removal of sanctions but keeping Hussein in power so he can buy lots of stuff from Germany and France -- is priceless to them. But easing the suffering of the Iraqi people by removing Hussein's whole sick regime is worthless to them.

Ah, you say, but that's unfair. The leaders of France and Germany have a principled position. They honestly believe that democracy is not possible in Iraq or anywhere in the Arab world -- and trying to deliver it will just make things worse. Now, that's an honest argument worthy of debate. But they never say that out loud -- they simply complain at the UN that the United States has not transferred sovereignty to the Iraqi people more quickly. If their real concern was empowering Iraqis to run their own lives, wouldn't they be in there helping Iraqis get their act together faster?

What I'm getting at here is that when you find yourself in an argument with Europeans over Iraq, they try to present it as if we both want the same thing, but we just have different approaches. And had the Bush team not been so dishonest and unilateral, we could have worked together. I wish the Bush team had behaved differently, but that would not have been a cure-all -- because if you look under the European position, you see we have two different visions, not just tactical differences. Many Europeans really do believe that a dominant United States is more threatening to global stability than Hussein's tyranny.

The more I hear this, the more I wonder whether we are witnessing something much larger than a passing storm over Iraq. Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of "the West" as we have known it -- a coalition of U.S.-led, like-minded allies, bound by core shared values and strategic threats?

I am not alone in thinking this. Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister, noted to me in Brussels the other day that for a generation Americans and Europeans shared the same date: 1945. A whole transatlantic alliance flowed from that postwar shared commitment to democratic government, free markets and the necessity of deterring the Soviet Union. The United States saw the strength of Europe as part of its own front line and vice versa -- and this bond "made the resolution of all other issues both necessary and possible," Bildt said.

Today, however, we are motivated by different dates. "Our defining date is now 1989 and yours is 2001," Bildt said. Every European prime minister wakes up in the morning thinking about how to share sovereignty, as Europe takes advantage of the collapse of communism to consolidate economically, politically and militarily into one big family. And the U.S. president wakes up thinking about where the next terror attack might come from and how to respond -- most likely alone. "While we talk of peace, they talk of security," Bildt said. "While we talk of sharing sovereignty, they talk about exercising sovereign power. When we talk about a region, they talk about the world. No longer united primarily by a common threat, we have also failed to develop a common vision for where we want to go on many of the global issues confronting us."

Just as we once had U.S.-Soviet summits to ease the tensions of the Cold War, maybe it's time for a U.S.-French-German summit to ease the tensions of the post-Cold War. Leaders of all three nations have behaved badly and have weakened the West, even if they have not ended it.

It's time to chart a new Atlantic alliance, but not one that is based on nostalgia for 1945 -- one that really bridges the differences between 1989 and 2001.

Thomas L. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times, where this comment first appeared.