In characteristic English style, Peter Mandelson smiled wanly and spoke politely as he plunged the knife into recently departed European leaders during an appearance last month at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“I make, obviously, no personal comment at all on the records of President Chirac or Gerhard Schroeder in Germany,” said Mr. Mandelson, a former British cabinet minister whose ruthless fealty to Tony Blair was among the attributes that earned him the nickname “The Prince of Darkness.”
“But to say that they had a strong vision of Europe—that is, a strong sense of European destiny and progress – I think would be a slight exaggeration,” he explained. “And I think to describe Mr. Chirac—and in his late years of office, Mr. Schroeder – as strong Atlanticists would also be erring on the side of the generous.”
Mr. Mandelson’s comments elicited some snickers from the audience on Park Avenue. But they were merely an entertaining detour en route to his larger point, which was that transatlantic relations were—at least in his view—improving.
He divined “an important opportunity for us” in the elections of Nicolas Sarkozy in France and Angela Merkel in Germany. “Why? Because both of them are self-confessed Atlanticists,” he said.
Mr. Mandelson needed little encouragement to focus closer to home during a brief interview with the Observer immediately after the event.
He asserted that the arrival of British prime minister Gordon Brown would only solidify the closeness that existed between the UK and the U.S. during Tony Blair’s premiership.
“I don’t think you’ll see a shift, I think you’ll see continuity,” he said. “Gordon Brown views the United States as Britain’s most important bilateral relationship, exactly in the way that Tony Blair did.”
Mr. Mandelson also poured cold water on the suggestion that domestic pressure upon Mr. Brown to create a greater sense of separation between Britain and the U.S. could prove too intense to resist.
“No, I don’t [agree],” he said. “Look, I’m not going to disguise from you that there are many in Britain—mainly but not only on the Left of the political spectrum—who dislike Mr. Bush’s policies, who would like to see Britain distancing itself more from the administration. But if you’re asking me whether that’s going to lead to some major departure or rupture, then I most certainly don’t [think so], no.”
Turning his attention once again toward the current leaders in France and Germany, Mr. Mandelson claimed that their presence had already lent an “improved tone” to transatlantic relations.
The former British cabinet minister is far from alone in perceiving a new dawn to be creeping over the horizon.
“In many ways, the galaxy of international leaders has never been better for the United States,” Erik Goldstein of Boston University’s International Relations Department told the Los Angeles Times earlier this year.
The ascensions of Ms. Merkel and, particularly, Mr. Sarkozy have been heralded by American conservatives, who see their victories as evidence that anti-Americanism is neither as widespread nor as trenchant among Europeans as some have suggested. After all, they argue, didn’t Mr. Sarkozy’s detractors label him ‘Sarko the American’, and did he not win over French voters regardless?
Mr. Sarkozy’s victory, Fred Thompson said in an ABC radio commentary, “has been a serious blow to those who claim that America has earned the undying hatred of Europeans… A French president who openly admires America is an embarrassment to those who view us as the country bumpkin cousins of the sophisticated Europeans.”
The New York Sun put things even more colorfully in an editorial: