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Europe on $223 million a day.

This piece appeared in 1979.

In the culture of the foreign service, the subject of European assignments occupies a special niche. Who, after all, doesn't long to be sent sometime in his life to Paris or London or Rome or any of the other great cities of Western Europa? The lure is obvious-it's living, first of all, in The Developed World, which, as any foreign service officer knows, means toilets that flush, telephones that work, and hot and cold running water. There are large swatches of the globe where that isn't the case. There are also all the wonderful things to do that come with living in Europe-the great museums and cathedrals to visit; the pleasant weekends spent in the countryside searching for (and invariably finding) the perfect little provincial auberge.

But in the long run, what has been good for the lives and careers of the "Europhiles" has not necessarily been what is good for the country. An entire area of foreign policy-our European policy-has not been seriously examined or questioned since World War II. By this, of course, I don't suggest that there hasn't been discussion o "the problems of the Western Alliance" and so on; indeed, few foreign policy topics are more frequently discussed than those having to do with Europe. What I mean is that the underlying dogma upon which the U. S.-Europe relationship is based-a dogma that was devised some 35 years ago-has almost never been questioned since.

When was the last time the foreign policy establishment took a fresh look at whether it still makes sense even to have a joint Western defense or a NATO umbrella? Or whether it was really in America's best interest to continue spending upwards of $81 billion a year to keep NATO in business? That isn't happening, largely because the people who are in a position to question the dogma are the ones so tied to it. These people include not only the diplomats who live and work in Europe but the journalists who write from there, the military brass who operate from there, and even the congressmen who junket there.

Take the military. The military saw in NATO a chance to get in on the same kind of career and lifestyle benefits that their brethren in the foreign service had enjoyed for so long. Bases would have to be established in cities and towns all over Italy and France, Germany and Belgium. There would be a new, sudden need for military liaison officers stationed hither and yon, and military outposts where up-and-coming colonels could "consult" and "study" with their Italian counterparts. Being in Europe would no doubt turn out to be a great ticketpunch, while providing that same style of living that embassy staffers had grown so fond of. Indeed, in some cases, the military did the foreign service one better by establishing ports, as the Navy did, in towns like Villefranche-which may well be the most picturesque city on the Rivieria.

Probably the officers involved in choosing Villefranche as a navy port could list a half-dozen iron-clad strategic reasons for doing so. And if the navy ships were lit up each night in the harbor, well that, too, was surely done for reasons of security-it was only incidental that lit ships added immeasurably to the ambiance of the Villefranche scenery.

Congressmen, likewise, find Europe irresistible. In 1980, 75 of them made hard-hitting, fact-finding trips to England, and 71 made trips to France. In contrast, only seven visited Saudi Arabia. To make sure their correspondents are where the action is, newspapers have stationed their foreign affairs heavyweights, like Flora Lewis and R.W. Apple and Len Downie, in Paris and London, too. What kind of big news is there left to be written in Paris and London? Well, you can interview visiting congressmen.
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Title Annotation:The Culture of Institutions
Author:Nocera, Joseph
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Feb 1, 1989
Words:637
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