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Europe and America: Like Fire and Water

How do natural calamities in the United States and Europe serve as a powerful political metaphor?

August 18, 2002

How do natural calamities in the United States and Europe serve as a powerful political metaphor?

The United States and Western Europe used to see eye-to-eye on most issues. Of course, their closeness was largely the result of a necessity. For much of the past century, they faced common enemies — first, Germany and then the Soviet Union.

However, there was also a community of interests on both shores of the Atlantic. It was based on a shared history, values, moral codes, political and economic systems. Undoubtedly, much of that is still in place.

Nevertheless, over the past decade, Western Europe and the United States have been gradually drifting apart. To be sure, there are still occasional shows of unconditional unity.

For example, after September 11, America's NATO allies invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. It equates an armed attack against one member of the alliance with an attack against all.

But such moments of solidarity have been rare and short-lived. In fact, they merely underscore the current rifts between the former allies that have now become a rule rather then an exception.

Great Britain, being the one European country with a particularly close "special relationship" with the United States, finds itself increasingly acting as a go-between. It tries to sooth tempers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Disagreements now cover a wide range of issues — from genetically engineered foods to the way to run their economies.

In international affairs, on all the momentous issues of the day, Europe and the United States increasingly find themselves on the opposite sides of the barricade.

Those issues include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which have led to accusations and counter-accusations of war crimes and anti-Semitism flying across the Atlantic. Recent confrontations have also involved the war in Iraq and the international criminal court.

And, wouldn't you know, nature itself seems ready to add itself to the list of divergences. The United States has experienced one of the hottest — and driest — summers on record.

Much of the country has been suffering from a drought. Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and a number of national parks around the United States have experienced severe wildfires.

Europe, on the other hand, has been drowning in severe floods. Great Central European cities, such as Prague and Dresden, have seen many of their historic buildings damaged by rising rivers.

These extreme weather conditions highlight a major transatlantic spat. After all, environmental policy is a key political issue on which the United States and Europe stand divided.

As floods spill across Europe and wildfires blaze in the United States, one has to wonder: Is this climatic metaphor nature's way of pointing out that Europe and the United States are now as far apart as fire and water?