THE ROT AT EUROPE’S CORE seems to be Germany:

ABROAD, HE’S ROBBED Germany of nearly all clout with his count-me-out stance on Iraq and his near-total absorption with domestic crises. No one even tries to understand his policies. One week he raises taxes by 23 billion, soon afterward his chancellery “leaks” a paper calling for the exact opposite. As if he had nothing more important to do, he’s suing two tiny regional newspapers for claiming his marriage is on the rocks. Woe betide them had they suggested he dyes his hair.

Few Germans can imagine this mess dragging on for the three and a half years left in his term. But it’s their neighbors who are really getting concerned. Germany’s troubles come at an inopportune moment for Europe. The global slowdown threatens its export-dependent economies. Its leaders are divided over everything from Iraq to the future shape of their newly enlarged Union. How to apportion power and decision making among so many members? Should there be a strong European president? Is inflation or deflation the greatest economic threat? With a stricken giant at its middle, Europe’s answers to these problems will be very different than just a few years ago. What’s more, its leaders now face another perplexing question—how will Europe manage a weak Germany and its aimless chancellor?

Fecklessness, it seems, has its price. Here’s the real irony:

Europe can certainly forget its ambitions of rivaling America, despite its hand-wringing over U.S. “unilateralism” and “hyperpower.” “Without a resurgent Germany,” says Britain’s MacShane, “Europe will never carry the same weight as the United States.” None more ardently pursued this vision than Germany. What a paradox that it should become the greatest obstacle to its realization.

The real paradox is in the notion that Europe could “rival” the United States while still being almost entirely dependent on the United States militarily. Such detachment from reality has its price. I saw someone on one of the talk shows saying that although the United States is the world’s only superpower, we should “act as if” other nations had similar clout. That’s the dreamworld that Europe has been living in. To which the proper response is, “As if!”