As with so many other foreign-policy matters, there is room and reason for the United States to reassess its policy toward Europe. That policy was stable throughout the Cold War: support of anything that assisted the Western Europeans in being better Cold Warriors. The destruction of World War II and related conflicts such as the Spanish, Yugoslav, and Greek civil wars left all Europe from Castile to Leningrad and Stalingrad — except for Switzerland, parts of France, Scandinavia, and the British Isles, and pockets around Prague and Vienna — largely smashed to rubble and depopulated of young men. Tens of millions of people had been displaced. In such desolation and chaos, the advance of Western Europe’s Communist parties was a real danger. So was the proximity of Stalin’s mighty Red Army, only 100 miles from the Rhine, after he had violated every clause of the Yalta agreement, especially the guarantees of democracy and autonomy in Poland and “Liberated Europe.”
The United States developed the policy of containment: The West would not provoke or confront the USSR, but would assist threatened states against external intimidation and externally directed subversion. This became the Truman Doctrine, starting with Greece and Turkey, and was soon broadened to the Marshall Plan of economic recovery and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the most successful long-term alliance in history.
For 40 years, the United States was engaged in trying to impart courage to the Europeans. There were constant temptations to and from the leftist parties throughout Europe, particularly in Germany, France, and Italy (in the last two, the local Communist parties routinely polled over 20 percent of the vote, and waffly socialists another 10 or 15 percent, until the Eighties). These could always be easily distracted by Soviet pitches for “neutrality.” The Americans carried most of the defense commitment and steadily complained of uneven “burden-sharing.” The European reply was a specious improvisation that because Western Europe was closer to the Soviet bloc, it was at greater risk, so the Americans should compensate by providing most of the manpower and hardware. American strength, which much of Europe resented, enabled Europe to be weak and yet to remain free.
Many of the Europeans not only suspected the Americans of wishing to confine any conflict with the Soviet bloc to Europe, thus sparing America, but effectively proposed retention of the U.S. (and Canadian) guarantee of Western Europe, while edging far enough away from the Americans to make any Soviet-American dispute one that would be conducted directly between them, if need be, literally over the heads of the Europeans in the high altitudes of advanced weapons systems.
Only periodic bursts of exceptional European leadership and great dexterity in Washington kept the alliance functioning. In the 1948 Italian elections, Pope Pius XII’s announcement of the automatic excommunication of any Communist voter, coupled to President Truman’s statement that a Communist victory would cause the immediate end of all Marshall Plan assistance, probably saved the pro-Western De Gasperi government. In 1951 and 1952, West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer may have scored the greatest feat of statesmanship of the entire Cold War when he declined Stalin’s offer of German reunification in exchange for Cold War neutrality, and carried German public opinion with him. The same gambit from the Kremlin 20 years later would probably have succeeded. And in the 1980s, Britain’s Margaret Thatcher uniquely supported the American retaliatory air attack on Libya, and led the deployment of intermediate nuclear missiles in Western Europe. When the Left clamored for a nuclear-free Europe, she expressed her preference for a “war-free Europe.”
Throughout this difficult period, the U.S. understandably favored anything that would make the Europeans more staunch allies, including the federal integration of Europe, and the adherence of Britain to it. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, especially, noted that many of the sponsors of a politically united Europe hoped that the traditional Great Powers of Western Europe would then stand on each others’ shoulders and resurrect some of their influence of a hundred years earlier, before World War I and the cataract of Europe’s grievous self-inflicted wounds that followed it, served up by the Nazi and Communist whelps of the Darkest Age of European political history.
The motivation of many of the Euro-federalists as the Cold War ended and the Soviet threat evaporated was essentially anti-American. West German chancellor Willy Brandt and foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, British prime minister Edward Heath, French foreign minister Michel Jobert, most of the German Social Democrats, much of the British Labour party and the anti-Thatcher Tories, Gaullists, the French and Italian Left, and poseurs such as Canada’s long-serving prime minister Pierre Trudeau were rather, and sometimes luridly, anti-American.
Most of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment, and especially the Democrats, including Jimmy Carter and the Clintons, simply didn’t notice much of it, and they and those who served them just kept repeating the virtues of a united Europe as if in a trance.
Now, Europe is hobbled by the invoice for decades of paying social-democratic Danegeld to the workers and small farmers who so often in their history have mutated into revolutionary mobs. Europe, America, and Japan are all groaning under the weight of decades of overconsumption, the unproductive delusions of the service economy, and, in most countries (but not the U.S.), the degeneration of the social safety net into an unaffordable hammock of rich entitlements gouged from those who have earned the money and paid out to those who have not, with patchy regard to merit. And as Europe’s birthrate has imploded and it has replaced its own unborn with frequently disaffected Muslims, a new argument for transatlantic solidarity arises from the sudden erosion of the West and its emulators, such as Japan.
It must rank as one of history’s great ironies that on the heels of the immense and relatively bloodless Western victory of the Cold War, and the emergence of the United States as the world’s only unrivaled superpower in history, the whole West, except for Canada and Australia, quickly mismanaged itself into an anthill of decay and confusion.
In most of Europe, fewer working-age people work shortening working years to support an ever-aging and less active population. Greece is the precursor of the problems of almost all of the West, though it is poorer and has been even more incompetently governed than most.
The debt-ridden floundering of the U.S. and the torpid dyspepsia of most of Europe should be addressed together. It may be that President Obama’s socialistic quixotry at home and apologetic diffidence abroad will make American leadership more palatable in Europe than it was during the Cold War, but no one should count on it. While the U.S. has been shaken by financial and other setbacks, its residual strength, compared to much of Europe, has, if anything, grown, precisely because of the relative absence in the U.S. of the socialist over-regimentation that Obama professed to lament in his first official visit to Europe.
Eurofederalism has come to a dead end in the tenebrous thicket of official Brussels. The glib Euro-conceit of just ten years ago has almost vanished. There is a huge opportunity to reemphasize Western solidarity, and reform NATO from its present slovenly confidence trick of the “coalition of the willing” (meaning the countries that think, from time to time, that the American security guarantee is worth the commitment of token forces to U.S.-led military interventions).
The advanced and aspirant democracies should reinvent themselves in dedication to victory in the third great era of the world’s democratization, following the glorious victories of World War II over Fascism and of the Cold War over Communism. We have not got through those implacable Manichaean ordeals to enter the Spenglerian decline of the West. To quote famous preceptors, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
I shall offer some specific proposals next week.