President Bush supposedly charmed the Europeans, and now they purportedly don’t hate us any more. But from the recent trip, it is clear that Americans can still expect two things from the European public and its leadership: deep-seeded anti-Americanism and embarrassing contradictions. In that context, let us examine all the recent Eurobabble.
Don’t dare divide us into old and new! We speak with one voice from Warsaw to Lisbon. We aim to be as united as your states are in America–BUT help us to ensure that Europe has separate U.N. Security Council seats for Britain, France, and, we hope, Germany as well.
Stop using force to solve problems! Listen to our diplomats. Promote international courts. The world no longer works according to your silly laws of military power and deterrence–BUT don’t dare take any more American troops out of Germany.
Stay in NATO! You are pledged to the collective defense of Europe–BUT get used to the fact that we will soon have a new and rival independent EU military force.
Pay attention to the Muslim world! Hear us who have more experience with the Middle East. Try to incorporate, rather than isolate, the “other”–BUT stop telling us that we have to let Turkey into the EU.
Cease militarizing the globe! See instead the world as an interconnected family of liberal societies that is trying to settle differences by reason–BUT stop trying to prevent us from selling hi-tech arms to big Communist China to threaten tiny democratic Taiwan.
Learn from our more humane culture! See how our short work week, cradle-to-grave entitlements, and pacifism promote well-being–BUT how exactly do you rich and powerful Americans do all that you do?
Remember that we are your critical partners in the war against terrorism! Appreciate our unheralded work that goes unnoticed amid the loud bombs and tanks of you rowdy Americans–BUT Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization and cannot be labeled as such (and Hamas isn’t either and needs our financial support).
Sign Kyoto! Start acting like good global citizens! BUT quit suggesting we had a hand in the Rwanda mess, the Balkans mess, the Oil-for-Food Mess, the Saddam-reactor mess, the Hezbollah/Hamas mess, the Arafat mess…
Quit proceeding unilaterally! Refer events that affect the world to the U.N. Don’t just act on your own as if your deeds don’t affect others–BUT don’t remember the Falklands, the Ivory Coast, the unification of Germany, or the oil deals with Saddam.
Don’t tamper in the Middle East! Do you cowboys realize what madness you are unleashing? BUT if you succeed we might just stop our caricatures–IF democracy follows and we can take credit for and profit from it.
What are we to make of this strange passive-aggressive syndrome? The usual explanations, offered weekly during the last three years, are that in the post-Cold War era the monopoly on military force, and its accompanying opportunities for unilateral action by the United States, naturally earn opposition. Our military prompts envy and with it mistrust from those far weaker who seek to curb raw power with multilateral protocol, shame, and bureaucracy. Perhaps.
Of course, there have always been tensions arising from our two differing views of the Western cultural paradigm. Those disagreements are now brought to the fore thanks to the demise of the common threat of Soviet imperial Communism that could have overrun Western Europe in weeks. Europe bites now–simply because it can. Maybe.
But in all of our own lives–especially in the case with beloved teenagers–we have endured such immaturity: the 16-year old who demands “her” allowance and the freedom to use it as she wishes, but calls at midnight when she is broke; the 21-year-old who comes in at 3 A.M., but apparently chooses not to entertain such hours in his own home at his own expense.
These are the natural contradictions in the evolution from childhood to maturity. Europe may be old, but its union is young. It wants to be independent and powerful, but given its past bloody history and present utopian ideology it’s not sure quite what that entails. Its leadership points to a strong Euro, low inflation, trade surpluses, and a high standard of living, but is really more worried about a low birthrate, troublesome unassimilated minorities from the Middle East, static worker productivity, high unemployment, and poor rates of economic growth.
Europe has cash to buy off enemies like Iran and bribe terrorists like Arafat and Hezbollah, but apparently not the will to maintain a military to protect itself. No doubt it will have a part to play in the new Middle East, as it did in Eastern Europe–even as it quietly forgets how it slandered Reagan and Bush, who alone made that role all happen.
Our cousins abroad cannot figure out why a crass nation of former European rejects, led by a cowboy from Texas, is wealthier, stronger, and more willing to sacrifice for principle than a more venerated, cultured, and aristocratic civilization. Europe, it turns out, worships class and privilege in the flesh while it damns them in the abstract–even as the uncouth popular culture of America that has corrupted the planet is most welcome and at home in, of all places, Europe.
All this was known to our ancestors, chronicled in our literature, enshrined in our popular memory, and carefully noted by our diplomats from Jefferson and Lincoln to Roosevelt and Wilson. Yet the half-century aberration of the Cold War disguised our differences and lured us into collective amnesia. Unlike World War I, after World War II we wisely stayed on to prevent another conflagration. Yet having a common enemy in the Soviet Union misled some of us into thinking that an identical Europe and American would always see eye to eye, when we never really had–despite our cultural and democratic affinities. And now we have come to the end of the Age of Exception, a sobriety brought on by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the stark aftermath of September 11, which scrapped off the thin veneer and revealed particle board, not oak, beneath.
So if Europe sounds conflicted, that’s because it is. One symptom of such a troubled patient is its blustering rhetoric–as if words can mask reality, as if idealistic vocabulary and shots at America can substitute for faith in Western values, sacrifice, and risk-taking. One reason that Europe understands so well the braggadocio and sense of inferiority of the impotent Muslim world is that it suffers precisely from some of these same maladies in its own problematic relationship with the United States. A Muslim in Europe who puts a picture of bin Laden on his wall is the equivalent of a European chanting that Bush is Hitler: The Arab does not really wish to destroy the opulent European network that he counts on, nor does the European in jeans with a cell phone truly wish the U.S. would stop protecting his lifestyle. Yet each feels terrible about his own hypocrisy and accompanying appetites for what he professedly hates, and so looks to express angst on the cheap.
The world as we knew it is now in flux, and in one of greatest transformations since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Middle East is slowly rejoining civilization. In response, Europe snores, awakening only to chastise the United States, which alone set off the chain reaction of liberty. After all, would Europe send help to the Lebanese if the Syrians brought in more troops? Would it do anything if Iran announced that it actually does have five or six nukes and the missiles to deliver them? And would the vaunted EU joint force or the French navy mobilize if China invaded Taiwan or of North Korea shelled Seoul? Or does the free world stop at the borders of Europe? Did the Spanish army ensure the election in Iraq? In the meantime, it is better to damn the United States, which got al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, toppled Saddam, and ignited democratic movements across the Middle East.
What should the U.S. do about these aggravating moments, these 40-something nesters who like staying in the house but not maintaining or repairing it? Like all parents, ignore the childish slander and wish our Europeans well on their belatedly new lives. So close the door firmly with a warm hug, and remind them that they are still part of the family after all–always welcome for visits, but of course never quite encouraged to move back in.