Beware of punditry now assuring us that, because we have seen the error of our ways and are now penitent, Europe is back on board. A contrite Mr. Bush–his critics imply–now seeks to smile more like Reagan and bite his lip like Clinton, and drop the old, scary “dead or alive,” “Old Europe,” and “smoke ‘em out” lingo.
All this spin hides the real problem, which has nothing to do with Bush. The ethicists of Europe don’t want to see success in Iraq, since it might be interpreted as a moral refutation of their own opposition to Saddam’s removal. So let us in turn stop begging old Europe, NATO, and the EU to participate in the rebuilding or policing of the country. To join or help, in the collective European mind, would be to suggest that an emerging democracy far away was worth our own sacrifice to rid the world of Saddam Hussein. Liberating Iraq, shutting down Baathist terror, and establishing consensual rule, after all, was a dangerous–and mostly Anglo-American–idea, antithetical to all the Europeans have become.
Understandably, they do not want to be lumped in with the “missionaries of democracy” who evoke the ire of terrorists or the disdain of oil-producing grandees. They do not wish to forgive the debts run up by Saddam Hussein for their overpriced junk. And they most certainly are not willing to do any favors for Texas-twanged George W. Bush, whom they hope will be gone in less than six months. All this is not their world, which operates on self-interest gussied up with the elevated rhetoric of the utopian EU–appealing to an Al Gore’s Earth-in-the-Balance mindset rather than to serious folk who worry about genocide and mass murder.
So there are reasons our alliances cannot simply be glued back together again, and they transcend neo-con zeal and Bush as el Loco cowboy. Europeans, aside from a few tiny brave countries and courageous individuals, will no more participate in the “illegal” action in Iraq than they did in the “approved” and “legal” Afghanistan intervention, where about 7,000 NATO troops now help a postbellum liberated population of 26 million. Even if we sent Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and Jesse Jackson as an obsequious trio, the Euros would not act in a resolute, muscular way.
To the small degree Mr. Bush supposedly encountered a more conciliatory attitude from Europeans, it was likely because wiser heads in Germany finally saw that their animus had nearly succeeded in generating an American consensus to end the free defense of Europe–not because of a new remorseful “multilateralism” by the president. A quarter of Americans now see France as an enemy–not an ally or even a neutral–and the number is growing. Any sane person who carefully examined America’s relationship to Europe over the last 60 years would have advised the Germans and French not to throw away something so advantageous to their own national interests. But they did, and now we must move on.
It was moving to commemorate the Normandy invasion on its 60th anniversary, but politely left unsaid amid the French-hosted celebrations was the real story of 1944 and 1945. We owe it to the dead, not just the living, to remember it with some integrity and honesty. Most of the Nazis’ own European subjects did little to stop their mass murdering. There was no popular civilian uprising inside Germany or out. Most Germans were hostile to the onslaught of American armies in their country, preferring Hitler and the Nazis even by 1945 to so-called American liberators. When they did slur the Fuhrer it was because he brought them ruin, not the blood of millions on their hands. When they did stop fighting the Americans, it was because the thought of surrendering to the Russians was far worse.
Most Frenchmen either refused to resolutely fight the Germans or passively collaborated. The idea of a broad resistance was mostly a postwar Gallic nationalist myth. Those who spearheaded a few attacks on German occupiers were more likely led by Communists than by allied sympathizers, and thus fought in hope more of an eventual Soviet victory over the Nazis than an American one.
Meanwhile, those born after World War II in these two countries either know nothing about the American sacrifice or chalk the invasion up to the insanity of war in general. I won’t even speak of a sense of gratitude, because that is an emotion almost as archaic to the contemporary European mind as patriotism. Nearly 30 percent of all Frenchmen polled last year wished Saddam to defeat the United States in Iraq.
Of course, Europe and America are both democratic and Western–and will and should remain friends and partners. That said, we should also agree that our differences had been buried in the aftermath of World War II, the subsequent Marshall Plan, and American efforts to organize the defense of the continent against Soviet aggression.
But with European war, massive American aid, and Communism no longer present realities, the Atlantic world reverted to its natural tensions. Along with the Berlin wall, our NATO-inspired alliances also had a great fall. Well before George W. Bush assumed office, America and the Europeans split over differing ideas about liberty, free markets, class, race, and religion. And these shards are not going to be simply glued back into their proper places to reconstitute the fragile trans-Atlantic whole. As Europe addresses its demographic time bomb–with ever-increasing entitlements, less and less defense spending, and ever greater schizophrenia as it vacillates between paranoid repression and dangerous laxity–its angst about the freewheeling and upbeat United States will only grow.
Vocal supporters of the old Atlantic-American alliance are only half right in their bromides for putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. Yes, they are correct that we should speak more softly and listen more. But if America had once done to NATO what the French or Germans did to us last year, the pretense of an alliance would now be long over. Imagine what would have happened if Paris or Berlin had mobilized to preempt Milosevic while the United States refused–claiming with Russia in the Security Council that such unilateral, non-U.N. approved action was brinksmanship of the worst sort–and then strong-armed other NATO countries to oppose European efforts.
Let us publicly hope for the miraculous reconstitution of NATO’s shattered fragments into a real alliance; and then accept its quiet and permanent dismemberment on the pavement after a job well done. Meanwhile, seek bilateral partnerships with willing European countries, continue to unilaterally withdraw troops from Germany, and then start reducing elsewhere our unnecessary military presence–perhaps first in Spain. Of course, there will be difficulties–initial higher costs in redeployment, hurt Euro feelings, and hysteria from trans-Atlantic pundits–but scaling back from Europe is long overdue.
We seek not to punish Europe by our departure, but to save it from itself. The problem is not just that our troops are doing nothing in places like Germany, or merely that they are more needed elsewhere–they do real damage by their presence in enabling an increasingly strident and opportunistic pacifism and an anti-Americanism fueled by dependency and ignited by resentment.
The continent is now the repository of Western heritage–a beautiful museum or amusement park, if you will, of caretakers and custodians. Unless that changes, we should no more expect Europeans to participate in the slogging in Iraq or Afghanistan than we should count on Disneyland guides venturing into nearby South Central to adjudicate gang violence, or Smithsonian docents to keep the piece in D.C. neighborhoods. Barring a 9/11-like event at the Parthenon or Louvre, one cannot–and should not–ask people to do what they simply cannot and will not do.
But isn’t the Atlantic Alliance critical to American security? Sadly, no. Right now it de facto does not exist and we are in no greater danger due to its absence. Instead, the key is not to force Europe to be an ally, but to ensure by our absence that it is a friend–or at least a Swiss-like neutral–in the present fight against terrorists and their sponsors. Shared intelligence and mutual encouragement against terrorists do not require NATO. Perhaps Mr. Powell needs to give up on expecting Europeans to do anything real in the present war, and Mr. Rumsfeld needs to praise them far more for doing nothing.
I fear that we should expect over the next 50 years some pretty scary things coming out of Europe as its impossible postmodern utopian dreams turn undemocratic and then ugly–once its statism and entitlement economy falter; Jews leave as Arabs stream in; its shaky German-French axis unravels; its next vision of an EU mare nostrum encompassing North Africa and Turkey begins to terrify Old Europe; and its pacifism brings it real humiliation from the likes of an Iran or China. Indeed, despite Europe’s noble efforts to incorporate the former Warsaw Pact, we are already seeing such tensions in the most recent EU elections.
We all like the Europeans and wish them well in their efforts to create heaven on earth. But in the end I still think we Americans are on the right side of history in Iraq–while they are on no side at all.
–Victor Davis Hanson, an NRO contributor, is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and author of The Soul of Battle and Carnage and Culture, among other books. His website is www.victorhanson.com.