“Europeans have done something that no one has ever done before: create a zone of peace where war is ruled out, absolutely out,” explains Karl Kaiser, director of something called the Research Institute of the German Society for Foreign Affairs in a piece in Wednesday’s Chicago Tribune. “Europeans are convinced that this model is valid for other parts of the world.”
Well, that explains everything. People have been trying to figure out why Europe and the United States disagree so much these days, and the answer was right there in front of us all along. The ‘peens think a system of endless haggling over the circumference of cucumbers and the number of cubes of Feta cheese in a Greek salad is the sort of thing that we can drape over, say, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. It’s just that simple.
The article, “Europe asks why U.S. can’t see its ‘miracle,’” even begins with a high-pitched legal battle in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg over whether or not parmesan cheese made outside the environs of the Italian city of Parma can be called parmesan cheese. You might have to wait a while for the made-for-TV movie, but I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I tell you that war was averted and cheese from Parma is the only parmesan cheese in Europe.
Anyway, the gist of the disagreement between Europe and America is the ‘peens think they achieved lasting peace through endless conversations in Swiss hotels with bottles of bubbly water and plates of runny cheese scattered about the table. Americans think the reason Europeans have achieved lasting peace has something to do with the fact that every time these conversations broke out into full-blown brawls, the United States marched into the room and imposed order like a parent getting the kids to stop wrestling over the remote control.
This is a profound difference in perspectives and a profound example of how history informs ideology. The Europeans think their “miracle” was achieved through talk. Americans think this miracle was achieved through tanks. And that is all the difference in the world.
Now, obviously, this is an oversimplification. The Europeans understand that NATO and America’s leadership in WWII and the Cold War were very important to European stability and prosperity. And Americans understand that diplomacy and politics were integral ingredients to the recipe for the European Union. But this tanks versus talk divide is real.
The other night, the fair Jessica and I (she hates it when I call her the Missus) stumbled on, of all things, a fascinating conversation lead by, of all people, Bill Moyers. The panel included Fareed Zakaria, Charles Krauthammer, and a number of other academics and journalists.
The part I caught revolved around a debate on whether or not “we” — meaning the West — should use the “international system” or military power to defeat al Qaeda. (A lot of the flavor is lost in the transcript, but here it is.)
One side led by Seyla Benhabib, a professor at Yale and expert on Turkey, and Eric Rouleau, a leading French journalist, argued that America is being too simplistic in the war on terrorism. They feel that to leave the legal-political “international system” in favor of a good-versus-evil approach is “naïve.”
“Osama bin Laden may be evil, I agree with you as a moral category” argued Benhabib. “But in the political legal realm we have to deal with these canons, with these categories that we have. That’s why I would be cautious as a political person, to use this term. Because it muddies the water.” In other words, call the 9/11 hijackers “evil” in the privacy of your own home, but don’t do it in public because, according to Ms. Benhabib, in public we must deal with al Qaeda as negotiating partners. “We have to understand [al Qaeda's] grievances that we can comprehend and negotiate about. Grievances about the stationing of troops in … American troops in Saudi Arabia, grievances about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. This is what we have to respond to…” The language of good and evil isn’t helpful because it doesn’t encourage good-faith negotiations.
Obviously, Charles Krauthammer thought all of this was batty. He explained that the language of good and evil was very helpful in World War II, for example, because we were good and the Nazis were evil and it helped to keep the players straight. He also told Benhabib, “the model that you’re employing is a judicial model. Under your model, the day after Pearl Harbor, FDR should have appeared in the congress and said ‘we are going to have a trial of the leaders of the Japanese Navy who attacked us in Pearl Harbor.’ The legal model applies after the war is over and you’ve killed the enemy …”
Rouleau chimed in to call Krauthammer’s arguments “simplistic.” “Allow me to say that the French and Europeans are maybe just more sophisticated than what you’ve heard today,” he added in what seemed like pitch-perfect self-parody. His point, though, was the same: “We should not go out from the international system which has allowed us for 50 years to maintain peace in a large way in the world…. I think we should remain very faithful to the system we have. It is not a perfect system, far from that, but it is a system which has imposed law and order in a terrible world we are living in.”
Obviously, the response to all of this is “Are you on crack?” But Charles Krauthammer was more diplomatic. He said: “Right well, American simplicity liberated Europe three times in the last century. We stumbled our way around lacking Gallic sophistication, liberating your country twice from the Germans and all of Europe once from Communism.”
Anyway, I don’t want to be a press agent for Bill Moyers especially since I think that’s what Satan has planned for me if I go to Hell. But, I think you get the point. There are very “sophisticated” people who believe that the U.N. Charter and a stack of EU regulations are what kept the peace for the last 50 years. And there are very “simplistic” people who think the arsenal of democracy — a.k.a. the Seventh Fleet, the 101st airborne, and the Marine Corps — had a little more to do with it. It’s the difference between thinking the law keeps criminals from doing bad things and believing the sheriff keeps criminals from doing bad things.
This is vitally important to keep in mind as the shrieking from Europe over a war with Iraq intensifies. If we go to war with Iraq, the Europeans will shudder at our belligerence as if we’d used a cheese knife on a piece of fish. They will argue that the European way and the international system can solve everything without violence. And they will simply be wrong, but sophisticatedly so.
“European officials,” writes the Chicago Tribune’s R.C. Longworth, “say they want to keep Washington happy. But they aren’t willing to abandon a union and a process that has turned their continent from a war-flattened wasteland to a landscape of peace and prosperity unprecedented in European history, just to please the Americans.”
Well, no one is asking them to. All we’re asking is that they don’t lecture us about their “better way” when they are beneficiaries of our simplistic approach. Yeah, sure, the Europeans have accomplished a lot, but they couldn’t have accomplished any of it without a bodyguard.
The best illustration of this isn’t Western Europe, but Japan. If the United States had not defeated Japan, ruled it for about a decade, rewritten its constitution, and agreed to provide for its defense, undoubtedly Japan would be more militaristic than it is today. Of course the Japanese should be congratulated for their accomplishments too. But only a fool would say the “Japanese miracle” proves that Iraq can transform itself from within into a peaceful, prosperous democracy. Japan, like Europe, is a model of peace precisely because America doesn’t operate according to the European model.
So, either help us out or go argue about the appropriate weight of a croissant, but don’t get in the way.