France is playing the peace card because it is the only one it holds. But for fragile entities like Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, France, which recently failed to impose its military will on a small West African state (the Ivory Coast), has nothing to offer. In the end, as Hobbes pointed out, covenants are useless without swords to enforce them.
Mr. Kagan might have also paid more attention to personalities and leaderships. It was Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II who began the process, from outside, that produced the implosion of the Soviet empire. Again, it was Mrs. Thatcher who persuaded an uncertain President Bush that he must reverse the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. And if Mrs. Thatcher had still been in office when the war ended, we can be certain she would have insisted that the allied victory be followed by the destruction of the Saddam regime. If Bush Sr. had not weakly allowed Saddam to stay in power, all Bush Jr.'s present troubles would have been avoided; indeed, it is possible that 9/11 would not have taken place.
Personalities rather than deeper forces often play a determining role in Old Europe. The EU, far from being an embodiment of the rule of law, as Mr. Kagan argues, is fundamentally corrupt and in a sense lawless. French governments invariably break or ignore its rules when they conflict with national interests. Jacques Chirac is an opportunist with a long record of malfeasance. If he did not enjoy ex officio immunity, he would be under indictment. His current anti-Americanism is in part an effort to win over his accusers on the left.
Chancellor Schroeder is a confused and depressed figure who does not know what to do about Germany's stagnant economy. To tag along behind Mr. Chirac at least gives him a role from which a certain base popularity may be squeezed. Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, like Mr. Chirac, is fighting off criminal charges. But at least he does not pose as the champion of the rule of law.
For all these reasons, I trust that American policy makers will not accept the view that basic differences exist between America and Europe. What they should try to avoid are entangling alliances in which a single rogue power, like France, has the right to inhibit America's pursuit of her vital national interests.
This means Washington must take a critical look at NATO and the United Nations, neither of which reflects America's true singularity as the world's only superpower. America should look, rather, to bilateral deals with powers that really matter, like Russia, China, India and Japan -- deals based, like the special relationship with Britain, on a practical community of interests. What America should avoid, in any case, is legal obligations that prevent it from doing what it knows to be right and necessary.
Mr. Johnson's latest book is "Napoleon," in the Penguin Lives series.
OF PARADISE AND POWER By Robert Kagan (Knopf, 103 pages, $18)
THE WAR OVER IRAQ By Lawrence M. Kaplan and William Kristol
(Encounter Books, 153 pages, $25.95)