As the world's leaders gather in Evian at the G-8 summit (search), the divide between Europe and the United States over Iraq continues to loom large. But President Bush has a formidable ally at his side: British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Indeed, the Anglo-U.S. special relationship is at its strongest point since the days when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan bravely fought the scourge of Soviet communism.

Blair's high-risk strategy on Iraq has reaped enormous dividends in Washington. The British prime minister wields a great deal of influence in a city where foreign leaders are usually given short shrift. Far from being Bush's "poodle," Blair has emerged as a key figure helping shape the direction of U.S. strategic thinking.

In stark contrast, Washington views the leaders of France and Germany with deep suspicion, and their views have little bearing on the future direction of U.S. foreign policy. Similarly, the views of the European Union (search) as an organization have been dismissed as an irrelevance, or at best as a minor irritation. It is doubtful that one in 100 Americans could even identify Romano Prodi as president of the European Commission, while Blair has become a household name.

As a consequence of Blair's standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Bush since Sept. 11 (search), British prestige and power on the global stage has been immeasurably enhanced. Britain is now unquestionably the world's second-most important power — politically, strategically and militarily — and was the keystone of the 50-nation U.S.-led "coalition of the willing" formed to unseat Saddam Hussein. Britain is also the natural leader of the "New Europe," working in alliance with Spain, Italy and Poland to head a group of more than 20 pro-American nations across the continent.

The current divide offers London a rare opportunity to shape the destiny of Europe. The debate over Iraq is less about the future of the Middle East than it is about the future of the continent. For the first time in the past half-century, Franco-German hegemony in continental Europe is being eroded, and France and Germany now represent the minority view in Europe.

All of this means that now is an ideal time for Britain and America, with the support of the Poles, Czechs and other nations of Eastern and Central Europe about to enter the European Union, to present a new, positive vision for Europe. The grandiose dream of a united federal Europe, so beloved of French and German strategists, must be firmly rejected. In its place, London and Washington must call for a flexible Europe, united by a common heritage and culture, but which maintains the principle of national sovereignty at its core.

With this new vision of Europe, U.S. and British national interests converge. A common European foreign and security policy that prevents Britain from fighting alongside the United States would be a nightmare scenario for planners in Washington. The intense debate over Iraq has resulted in a fundamental shift in U.S. policy toward Europe. For 50 years the United States has encouraged and helped drive the process of European integration. However, the Bush administration is beginning to conclude that a monolithic Europe is neither in the interests of the citizens of the United States nor the people of Europe.

Indeed there are many senior figures in the Pentagon and in the White House who would share the assessment of Lady Thatcher in her latest book Statecraft — "that such an unnecessary and irrational project as building a European superstate was ever embarked upon will seem in future years to be perhaps the greatest folly of the modern era."

The vociferous condemnation of U.S. foreign policy that has emerged across Europe since Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech has awoken a sleeping giant, which until recently had been content to quietly acquiesce in what German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer once described as "the finality of European integration." In the coming years we can expect to see Washington take a more pro-active and aggressive approach toward Brussels and work more with individual European states, rather than attempt to deal with a weak and comically self-deluded Brussels.

It will be in America's interests to strengthen the hand of those European governments that oppose the concept of a highly centralized Europe. In the years ahead there will be increasing calls in Washington for a Europe of independent nation states, held together not by an artificial constitution and undemocratic government, but by the principles of free trade, individual liberty and national identity.

Britain, by virtue of her prime minister's farsighted diplomatic support for America, has assured itself the primary role in driving this new vision of Europe, which in the end will best suit the many diverse citizens of the continent.

Nile Gardiner is Visiting Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy, and John Hulsman is Research Fellow in European Affairs, at  The Heritage Foundation.

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