Sixty years on Jun 3rd 2004 From The Economist print edition AP THOUGH there have been serious fallings-out before, this weekend's commemoration of the D-Day landings of 1944 finds relations across the Atlantic at an unusually low ebb. George Bush and Tony Blair, visiting the Normandy beaches to remember the day when Allied troops swarmed ashore to rescue mainland Europe from Hitler, cannot but feel bitter towards the present leaders of France and Germany for their behaviour before and after last year's war in Iraq. Whatever mistakes of tactics or judgment America and Britain may have made, Mr Bush and Mr Blair saw the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein as an urgent and honourable cause. Rightly or wrongly, they believed the safety of the West itself was at stake. Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder did not agree. However, the French president and German chancellor did not merely withhold their support. They worked hard to obstruct what their allies were trying to do. This was a highly unusual departure from the unwritten rules. America did the same thing in reverse, when it forced France and Britain to stop their invasion of Egypt in 1956. But the habit of Europe since the second world war has been to defer to the senior partner. At most, as in Vietnam, the Europeans have abstained, not gone out of their way to thwart American designs. Appeasers versus warmongers Following Iraq, commentators have therefore been quick to pronounce the alliance dead. The crude version of the argument from over-excited Americans is that Europeans are happy to be saved by America when the knife is at their throat (remember Hitler, the cold war, the American-led rescue of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo) but have blinded themselves to the new dangers of rogue states and Islamic terrorism, and can therefore not be relied on by America, which must save the world alone. The crude retort from some no less excitable Europeans is that an America unchecked by the Soviet Union and unhinged by September 11th has lost its bearings, thrown caution and international law to the winds, and is fuelling terrorism by seeming to pursue a crusade against Islam. Both sides of this argument are unpersuasive. They imply a permanent divergence across the Atlantic on deep questions of how to keep the world safe. But Iraq was not like this. Unlike the invasion of Afghanistan, which Europe supported, it entailed a fine judgment about the balance of risks and outcomes. In some ways, it was a one-off, turning on whether Saddam should be allowed to defy an arms-control regime the UN Security Council had clamped uniquely on him, and on whom the burden of proof should lie. Besides, the war divided opinion within both continents, not just between them. Americans as a whole have seemed readier since September 11th to feel themselves at war, and to hit back accordingly. This separates them from many Europeans. But policies, politicians and intellectual fashions change. In November, America might elect a new president who, even if he will not say that the war was a mistake, is not likely to repeat such an exercise. For good or ill, the less than elegant outcome in Iraq may dampen America's appetite for military solutions in future. However, the alliance-is-dead argument also comes in a rather more persuasive version. This holds that deep changes had begun to undermine the alliance long before Iraq. The end of dependency The second world war left America with a military, economic and moral pre-eminence that made it the natural leader of the free world. Its military power is still unsurpassed. But now Europe is rich too, andmore than two centuries after America's constitutional conventioninventing its own continent-wide system of power in the shape of the European Union. Mr Chirac wants the EU to be a counterweight to America. But even Europeans who do not share the Gaullist horror of a unipolar world think differently nowadays about the alliance. Free from the fear of Soviet invasion, they do not feel the same need of American protection, and so are less inclined to defer. Some Germans were ashamed when Mr Schröder found it electorally convenient in 2002 to denounce Mr Bush's adventurism in Iraq. Others greeted this as an overdue coming of age. You do not save a partnership by glossing over such profound changes in interests and attitudes. The transatlantic alliance will probably never again be as strong as it was when the Red Army was poised to storm through the Fulda gap and NATO was poised to repel it. And although a new and common peril has arisen in the form of Osama bin Laden and his jihad against Jews and Crusaders, this is not likely to provide the same sort of transatlantic glue. The nature of the new threat is too amorphous, and governments hold too many differing views about the right ways to deal with it. In the meantime, having finished its half-century post-war task of making Europe whole and free, today's America has shifted its focus to threats farther afield. Having been let down by France and Germany in Iraq, it may prefer in future to form ad hoc alliances with other countries instead of turning instinctively, as in the past, to a Europe that spends too little on defence and seems allergic to using what little military force it has. Absent the Soviet Union, an estrangement of this kind need not be fatal to world order. But it would still be a needless loss. When they act in unison, the rich democracies deploy overwhelming political and moral as well as military force. And there is much on which they should still co-operate: securing Afghanistan, sorting out Palestine, spreading democracy to the Arab world, persuading Iran not to build an atomic bomb. Some Americans think they can do all this alone; Iraq did after all show that France and Germany cannot prevent America from going to war if it wants to. But their opposition has made the post-war job in Iraq very much harder. And that is where to start mending relations. For all their pre-war differences, both sides have an interest now in making sure that Iraq enjoys peace and prosperity rather than degenerates into another terror-breeding failed state. The UN this week appointed an interim government for Iraq. What better moment to put aside the recriminations and work together for that?