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The Way We Live Now


We are witnessing the dissolution of an international system. The core of that system, and its spiritual heart, was the North Atlantic alliance: not just the 1949 defense treaty but a penumbra of understandings and agreements beginning with the Atlantic Charter of 1941 and spreading through the United Nations and its agencies; the Bretton Woods accords and the institutions they spawned; conventions on refugees, human rights, genocide, arms control, war crimes, and much more besides. The merits of this interlocking web of transnational cooperation and engagement went well beyond the goal of containing and ultimately defeating communism. Behind the new ordering of the world lay the memory of thirty calamitous years of war, depression, domestic tyranny, and international anarchy, as those who were present at its creation fully understood.1

Thus the end of the cold war did not make the postwar order redundant. Quite the contrary. In a post-Communist world the fortunate lands of Western Europe and North America were uniquely well placed to urge upon the rest of the world the lessons of their own achievement: markets and democracy, yes, but also the benefits of good-faith participation in the institutions and practices of an integrated international community. That such a community must retain the means and the will to punish its enemies was effectively if belatedly illustrated in Bosnia and Kosovo (and, in the breach, in Rwanda). As these episodes suggested, and September 11, 2001, confirmed, only the United States has the resources and the determination to defend the interdependent world that it did so much to foster; and it is America that will always be the prime target of those who wish to see that world die.

It is thus a tragedy of historical proportions that America’s own leaders are today corroding and dissolving the links that bind the US to its closest allies in the international community. The US is about to make war on Iraq for reasons that remain obscure even to many of its own citizens. The war that they do understand, the war on terrorism, has been unconvincingly rolled into the charge sheet against one Arab tyrant. Washington is abuzz with big projects to redraw the map of the Middle East; meanwhile the true Middle Eastern crisis, in Israel and the Occupied Territories, has been subcontracted to Ariel Sharon. After the war, in Iraq as in Afghanistan, Palestine, and beyond, the US is going to need the help and cooperation (not to mention the checkbooks) of its major European allies; and there will be no lasting victory against Osama bin Laden or anyone else without sustained international collaboration. This is not, you might conclude, the moment for our leaders enthusiastically to set about the destruction of the Western alliance; yet that is what they are now doing. (The enthusiasm is well represented in The War over Iraq by Lawrence Kaplan and William Kristol, which I shall discuss below.)

The Europeans are not innocent in the matter. Decades of American nuclear reassurance induced unprecedented military dystrophy. The Franco- German condominium of domination was sooner or later bound to provoke a backlash among Europe’s smaller nations. The inability of the European Union to build a consensus on foreign policy, much less a force with which to implement it, has handed Washington a monopoly in the definition and resolution of international crises. No one should be surprised if America’s present leaders have chosen to exercise it. What began some years ago as American frustration at the Europeans’ failure to organize and spend in their own defense has now become a source of satisfaction for US hawks. The Europeans don’t agree with us? So what! We don’t need them, and anyway what can they do? They’re feeling hurt and resentful in Brussels, or Paris, or Berlin? Well, they’ve only themselves to blame. Remember Bosnia.2

Yet today it is the Bush administration that is resentful and frustrated: it turns out that the French, at least, can actually do quite a lot. Together with the Belgians and Germans in NATO, and the Russians and Chinese at the UN, they can thwart, foil, delay, hinder, check, confound, embarrass, and above all irritate the Americans. In the run-up to war in Iraq the US is now paying the price for two years of contemptuous disdain for international opinion. The lèse-majesté of the French in particular has driven America’s present leadership into unprecedented public expressions of anger at its own allies for breaking ranks: in President Bush’s deathless words, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” Worse, it has led to paroxysms of sneering Europhobia in the US media, shamelessly promoted by politicians and commentators who should know better.

Two myths dominate public discussion of Europe in America today. The first, which would be funny but for the harm it is causing, is the notion of an “Old” and a “New” Europe. When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld proposed this distinction in January it was taken up with malicious alacrity on the Pentagon cheerleading bench. In The Washington Post Anne Applebaum enthusiastically seconded Rumsfeld: Britain, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic (the signatories to a letter in The Wall Street Journal supporting President Bush) have all “undergone liberalization and privatization” of their economies, she wrote, bringing them closer to the American model. They, not the “Old Europe” of France and Germany, can be counted on in the future to speak for “Europe.”3

The idea that Italy has embarked on “economic liberalization” will come as news to Italians, but let that pass. The more egregious error is to suppose that “pro-American” Europeans can be so conveniently distinguished from their “anti-American” neighbors. In a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, Europeans were asked whether they thought “the world would be more dangerous if another country matched America militarily.” The “Old European” French and Germans—like the British—tended to agree. The “New European” Czechs and Poles were less worried at the prospect. The same poll asked respondents whether they thought that “when differences occur with America, it is because of [my country’s] different values” (a key indicator of cultural anti-Americanism): only 33 percent of French respondents and 37 percent of Germans answered “yes.” But the figures for Britain were 41 percent; for Italy 44 percent; and for the Czech Republic 62 percent (almost as high as the 66 percent of Indonesians who feel the same way).4

In Britain, the Daily Mirror, a mass-market tabloid daily that has hitherto supported Tony Blair’s New Labour Party, ran a full-page front cover on January 6 mocking Blair’s position; in case you haven’t noticed, it informed him, Bush’s drive to war with Iraq is about oil for America. Half the British electorate opposes war with Saddam Hussein under any circumstances. In the Czech Republic just 13 percent of the population would endorse an American attack on Iraq without a UN mandate; the figure in Spain is identical. In traditionally pro-American Poland there is even less enthusiasm: just 4 percent of Poles would back a unilateralist war. In Spain, voters from José Maria Aznar’s own Popular Party overwhelmingly reject his support for the war; his allies in Catalonia have joined Spain’s opposition parties in condemning “an unprovoked unilateral attack” by the US on Iraq; and most Spaniards are adamantly opposed to a war with Iraq even with a second UN resolution. As for American policy toward Israel, opinion in “New European” Spain is distinctly less supportive than opinion in the “Old” Europe of Germany or France.5

If America is to depend on its “New” European friends, then, it had better lower its expectations. Among the pro-US signatories singled out for praise by Mr. Rumsfeld, Denmark spends just 1.6 percent of GNP on defense; Italy 1.5 percent; Spain a mere 1.4 percent—less than half the defense commitment of “Old European” France. The embattled Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has many motives for getting photographed next to a smiling George Bush; but one of them is to ensure that Italy can hold on to its American security umbrella and avoid paying for its own defense.

As for the East Europeans: yes, they like America and will do its bidding if they can. The US will always be able to bully a vulnerable country like Romania into backing America against the International Criminal Court. But in the words of one Central European foreign minister opposed to US intervention at the time of the 1999 Kosovo action: “We didn’t join NATO to fight wars.” In a recent survey, 69 percent of Poles (and 63 percent of Italians) oppose any increased expenditure on defense to enhance Europe’s standing as a power in the world. If The New York Times is right and George Bush now regards Poland, Britain, and Italy as his chief European allies, then—Tony Blair apart—America is leaning on a rubber crutch.6

And what of Germany? American commentators have been so offended at Germany’s willingness to “appease” Saddam, so infuriated by Gerhard Schröder’s lack of bellicose fervor and his “ingratitude” toward America that few have stopped to ask why so many Germans share Günter Grass’s view that “the President of the United States embodies the danger that faces us all.” Germany today is different. It does have a distinctively pacifist culture (quite unlike, say, France). If there is to be war, many Germans feel, let it be ohne mich (without me). This transformation is one of the historic achievements of the men of “Old” Europe. When American spokesmen express frustration at it, they might take a moment to reflect on what it is they are asking—though at a time when Saddam Hussein is casually compared to Adolf Hitler, and the US defense secretary can call Germany a “pariah state” along with Cuba and Libya, this may be too much to expect. But should we really be so quick to demand martial enthusiasm of Germany?

A second Europhobic myth now widely disseminated in the United States is more pernicious. It is the claim that Europe is awash in anti-Semitism, that the ghosts of Europe’s judeophobic past are risen again, and that this atavistic prejudice, Europe’s original sin, explains widespread European criticism of Israel, sympathy for the Arab world, and even support for Iraq. The main source for these claims is a spate of attacks on Jews and Jewish property in the spring of 2002, and some widely publicized opinion polls purporting to demonstrate the return of anti-Jewish prejudice across the European continent. American commentary on these data has in turn emphasized the “anti-Israel” character of European media reports from the Middle East.7

To begin with the facts: according to the American Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which has worked harder than anyone to propagate the image of rampant European anti-Semitism, there were twenty-two significant anti-Semitic incidents in France in April 2002, and a further seven in Belgium; for the whole year 2002 the ADL catalogued forty-five such incidents in France, varying from anti-Semitic graffiti on Jewish-owned shops in Marseilles to Molotov cocktails thrown into synagogues in Paris, Lyon, and elsewhere. But the same ADL reported sixty anti-Semitic incidents on US college campuses alone in 1999. Measured by everything from graffiti to violent assaults, anti-Semitism has indeed been on the increase in some European countries in recent years; but then so it has in America. The ADL recorded 1,606 anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in the year 2000, up from 900 in 1986. Even if anti-Semitic aggression in France, Belgium, and elsewhere in Europe has been grievously underreported, there is no evidence to suggest it is more widespread in Europe than in the US.8

  1. 1

    See, classically, Dean Acheson, Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department (Norton, 1969).

  2. 2

    In the course of the 1990s the British steadfastly blocked efforts at the UN to implement military intervention against Milosevic, while French generals on the ground simply ignored orders, with the covert backing of their government.

  3. 3

    Anne Applebaum, “Here Comes the New Europe,” The Washington Post, January 29, 2003. See also Amity Schlaes, “Rumsfeld Is Right About Fearful Europe,” Financial Times, January 28, 2003, in which the author castigates Germans for lacking “vision”: what the Americans did for ungrateful Germans in Berlin in 1990 they are now set to repeat in Baghdad.

  4. 4

    See The Economist, January 4, 2003.

  5. 5

    For Czech and Polish attitudes to war with Iraq, see The Economist, February 1, 2003. For Spanish opposition to Aznar, see El País, February 3, 2003. Spanish commentators are especially sensitive to the need for European unity, and Aznar is deeply resented for what is seen by many in Spain as his feckless action in signing the WSJ statement. Many of Aznar’s own supporters regard it as insultingly insufficient for him to repeat, as he has taken to doing, that “between Bush and Saddam Hussein I will always side with Bush.” But then Aznar has career ambitions: he is angling for future appointment to a senior international position, and he needs American and British support.

  6. 6

    See the survey of transatlantic attitudes in a poll conducted by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the German Marshall Fund of the US at www.worldviews.org. For NATO member-state defense expenditures see La Repubblica, February 11, 2003. See also The New York Times, January 24, 2003. The antiwar views of a Central European diplomat were expressed in a private communication. Like many other politicians from former Communist Europe, he was reluctant to air his criticisms of American policy in public: partly from a genuine affection and gratitude toward America, partly out of apprehension concerning the consequences for his country.

  7. 7

    See Christopher Caldwell, “Liberté, Egalité, Judéophobie,” The Weekly Standard, May 6, 2002. Some American commentators take their cue from a recent spate of books published in Paris, purporting to demonstrate that France’s 500,000 Jews face a second Holocaust at the hands of “anti-racist” anti-Semites. The most hysterical of these pamphlets is La Nouvelle Judéophobie by Pierre-André Taguieff (Paris: Fayard, 2002), in which the author (who has written sixteen other books on the same topic in the past thirteen years) writes of a “planetary Judeophobia.” Taguieff’s mischievous scare-mongering was the subject of an admiring puff by Martin Peretz in The New Republic, February 3, 2003. In a similar key see also Gilles William Goldnadel, Le Nouveau Bréviaire de la haine: Antisémitisme et antisionisme (Paris: Ramsay, 2001), and Raphaël Draï, Sous le signe de Sion: L’antisémitisme nouveau est arrivé (Paris: Michalon, 2001). Drai’s first chapter is titled “Israel en danger de paix? D’Oslo à Camp David II.”

  8. 8

    See “Global Anti-Semitism” at www .adl.org/anti_semitism/anti-semitism globalincidents.asp, and “ADL Audit: Anti-Semitic Incidents Rise Slightly in US in 2000” at www.adl.org/presrele/ asus_12/3776_12.asp.

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