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

But what of attitudes? Evidence from the European Union’s Eurobarometer polls, the leading French polling service SOFRES, and the ADL’s own surveys all point in the same direction. There is in many European countries, as in the US, a greater tolerance for mild verbal anti-Semitism than in the past, and a continuing propensity to believe longstanding stereotypes about Jews: e.g., that they have a disproportionate influence in economic life. But the same polls confirm that young people all over Europe are much less tolerant of prejudice than their parents were. Among French youth especially, anti-Semitic sentiment has steadily declined and is now negligible. An overwhelming majority of young people questioned in France in January 2002 believe that we should speak more, not less, of the Holocaust; and nearly nine out of ten of them agreed that attacks on synagogues were “scandalous.” These figures are broadly comparable to results from similar surveys taken in the US.9

Most of the recent attacks on Jews in Western Europe were the work of young Arabs or other Muslims, as local commentators acknowledge.10 Assaults on Jews in Europe are driven by anger at the government of Israel, for whom European Jews are a conven- ient local surrogate. The rhetorical armory of traditional European anti-Semitism—the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” Jews’ purported eco- nomic power and conspiratorial net-works, even blood libels—has been pressed into service by the press and television in Cairo and elsewhere, with ugly effects all across the youthful Arab diaspora.

The ADL asserts that all this “confirms a new form of anti-Semitism taking hold in Europe. This new anti-Semitism is fueled by anti-Israel sentiment and questions the loyalty of Jewish citizens.” That is nonsense. Gangs of unemployed Arab youths in Paris suburbs like Garges-les-Gonesses surely regard French Jews as representatives of Israel, but they are not much worried about their patriotic shortcomings. As to Jewish loyalties: one leading question in the ADL surveys—“Do you believe Jews are more likely to be loyal to Israel than to [your country]”—elicits a consistently higher positive response in the US than in Europe. It is Americans, not Europeans, who are readier to assume that a Jew’s first loyalty might be to Israel.

The ADL and most American commentators conclude from this that there is no longer any difference between being “against” Israel and “against” Jews. But this is palpably false. The highest level of pro-Palestinian sympathy in Europe today is recorded in Denmark, a country which also registers as one of the least anti-Semitic by the ADL’s own criteria. Another country with a high and increasing level of sympathy for the Palestinians is the Netherlands; yet the Dutch have the lowest anti-Semitic “quotient” in Europe and nearly half of them are “worried” about the possible rise of anti-Semitism. Furthermore, it is the self-described “left” in Europe that is most uncompromisingly pro-Palestinian, while the “right” displays both anti-Arab and anti-Jewish (but often pro-Israel) bias. Indeed, this is one of the few areas of public life in which these labels still carry weight.11

Overall, Europeans are more likely to blame Israel than Palestinians for the present morass in the Middle East, but only by a ratio of 27:20. Americans, by contrast, blame Palestinians rather than Israel in the proportion of 42:17. This suggests that Europeans’ responses are considerably more balanced, which is what one would expect: the European press, radio, and television provide a fuller and fairer coverage of events in the Middle East than is available to most Americans. As a consequence, Europeans are better than Americans at distinguishing criticism of Israel from dislike of Jews.

One reason may be that some of Europe’s oldest and most fully accredited anti-Semites are publicly sympathetic to Israel. Jean-Marie Le Pen, in an interview in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz in April 2002, expressed his “understanding” of Ariel Sharon’s policies (“A war on terror is a brutal thing”)—comparable in his opinion to France’s no less justified antiterrorist practices in Algeria forty years earlier.12 The gap separating Europeans from Americans on the question of Israel and the Palestinians is the biggest impediment to transatlantic understanding today. Seventy-two percent of Europeans favor a Palestinian state against just 40 percent of Americans. On a “warmth” scale of 1–100, American feelings toward Israel rate 55, whereas the European average is just 38—and somewhat cooler among the “New Euro- peans”: revealingly, the British and French give Israel the same score. It is the Poles who exhibit by far the coolest feelings toward Israel (Donald Rumsfeld please note).13


In recent weeks both these American fables about Europe have been folded into an older prejudice now given an ominous new twist: intense suspicion of France and the French. France’s procrastination at the UN has brought forth in the US an unprecedented burst of rhetorical venom. This is something new. When De Gaulle broke with the unified NATO command in 1966, Washington—along with France’s other allies—was annoyed and said so. But it would not have occurred to American statesmen, diplomats, politicians, newspaper editors, or television pundits that France had somehow “betrayed” America, or that De Gaulle was a “coward” and the French were ungrateful for the sacrifices Americans had made on their behalf and should be punished accordingly. Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon all respected De Gaulle in spite of his foibles, and he returned the compliment.14

Today, respectable columnists demand that France be kicked off the Security Council for obstructing the will of the US, and they remind their readers that if it had been left to France “most Europeans today would be speaking either German or Russian.” Their colleagues in less-restrained publications “want to kick the collective butts of France” for forgetting D-Day. Where are the French when “American kids” come to rescue them, they ask: first from Hitler, now from Saddam Hussein (“an equally vile tyrant”)? “Hiding. Chickening out. Proclaiming Vive les wimps!” Part of a “European chorus of cowards.” As a new bumper sticker has it: “First Iraq, then France.”15

American vilification of the French—openly encouraged in the US Congress, where tasteless anti-French jokes were publicly exchanged with Colin Powell during a recent appearance there—degrades us, not them. I hold no brief for the Élysée, which has a long history of cynical dealing with dictators, from Jean-Bedel Bokassa to Robert Mugabe, including Saddam Hussein along the way. And the Vichy years will be a stain on France until the end of time. But talk of French “surrender monkeys” comes a touch too glibly to American pundits, marinated in self-congratulatory war movies from John Wayne to Mel Gibson.

In World War I, which the French fought from start to finish, France lost three times as many fighting men as America has lost in all its wars combined. In World War II, the French armies holding off the Germans in May–June 1940 suffered 124,000 dead and 200,000 wounded in six weeks, more than America did in Korea and Vietnam combined. Until Hitler brought the US into the war against him in December 1941, Washington maintained correct diplomatic relations with the Nazi regime. Meanwhile the Einsatzgruppen had been at work for six months slaughtering Jews on the Eastern Front, and the Resistance was active in occupied France.

Fortunately we shall never know how middle America would have responded if instructed by an occupying power to persecute racial minorities in its midst. But even in the absence of such mitigating circumstances the precedents are not comforting—remember the Tulsa pogrom of May 1921, when at least 350 blacks were killed by whites. Perhaps, too, Americans should hesitate before passing overhasty judgments about “age-old” French anti-Semitism16 : by the end of the nineteenth century France’s elite École Normale Supérieure was admitting (by open competition) brilliant young Jews—Léon Blum, Émile Durkheim, Henri Bergson, Daniel Halévy, and dozens of others—who would never have been allowed near some of America’s Ivy League colleges, then and for decades to come.

It is deeply saddening to have to restate these things. Perhaps they are of no consequence. Why should it matter that Americans today think so ill of France and Europe that America’s leaders sneer ignorantly at “Old” Europe and demagogic pundits urge their readers to put out the ungrateful Eurotrash? After all, French anti-Americanism is an old and silly story, too; but it has never seriously impeded transatlantic relations and grand strategy.17 Are we not just seeing the compliment returned, albeit at an unusually high volume?

I don’t believe so. The Americans who laid the framework for the only world most of us have ever known—George Marshall, Dean Acheson, George Kennan, Charles Bohlen, and the presidents they served—knew what they wished to achieve and why the European–American relationship was so crucial to them. Their successors today have their own very different conviction. In their view Europeans, and the various alliances and unions in which they are entwined, are an irritating impediment to the pursuit of American interests. The US has nothing to lose by offending or alienating these disposable allies of conven- ience, and much to gain by tearing up the entangling web of controls that the French and their ilk would weave around our freedom of movement.

This position is unambiguously stated in a new short book by Lawrence Kaplan and William Kristol, The War over Iraq: Saddam’s Tyranny and America’s Mission. Both men are Washington-based journalists. But Kristol, who once gloried in the title of chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle and is now a political analyst for Fox TV, is also the editor of The Weekly Standard and one of the “brains” behind the neoconservative turn in US foreign policy. Kristol’s views are shared by Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and others in the power elite of the Bush administration, and he articulates in only slightly restrained form the prejudices and impatience of the White House leadership itself.

The War over Iraq is refreshingly direct. Saddam is a bad man, he ought to be removed, and only the US can do the job. But that is just the beginning. There will be many more such tasks, indeed an infinity of them in coming years. If the US is to perform them satisfactorily—“to secure its safety and to advance the cause of liberty”—then it must cut loose from the “world community” (always in scare quotes). People will hate us for our “arrogance” and our power in any event, and a more “restrained” American foreign policy won’t appease them, so why waste time talking about it? The foreign strategy of the US must be “unapologetic, idealistic, assertive and well funded. America must not only be the world’s policeman or its sheriff, it must be its beacon and guide.”

What is wrong with this? In the first place, it displays breathtaking ignorance of the real world, as ultra-“realist” scenarios frequently do. Because it confidently equates American interest with that of every right-thinking person on the planet, it is doomed to arouse the very antagonism and enmity that provoke American intervention in the first place (only a hardened European cynic would suggest that this calculation has been silently incorporated into the equation). The authors, like their political masters, unhesitatingly suppose both that America can do as it wishes without listening to others, and that in so doing it will unerringly echo the true interests and unspoken desires of friend and foe alike. The first claim is broadly true. The second bespeaks a callow provinciality.18

Secondly, the Kristol/Wolfowitz/ Rumsfeld approach is morbidly self-defeating. Old-fashioned isolationism, at least, is consistent: if we stay out of world affairs we won’t have to depend on anyone. So is genuine Wilsonian internationalism: we plan to be at work in the world so we had better work with the world. A similar consistency informs conventional Kissinger-style realpolitik: we have interests and we want certain things, other countries are just like us and they want certain things too—so let’s make deals. But the new “unilateralist internationalism” of the present administration tries to square the circle: we do what we want in the world, but on our own terms, indifferent to the desires of others when they don’t share our objectives.

Yet the more the US pursues its “mission” in the world, the more it is going to need help, in peacekeeping, nation-building, and facilitating cooperation among our growing community of new-found friends. These are projects at which modern America is not markedly adept and for which it depends heavily on allies. Already, in Afghanistan and the Balkans, the German “pariah” state alone provides 10,000 peacekeeping soldiers to secure the ground won by American arms. US voters are famously allergic to tax increases. They are unlikely to raise the sort of money needed to police and reconstruct much of Western Asia, not to mention other zones of instability where Kristol’s “mission” may lead us. So who will pay? Japan? The EU? The UN? Let us hope that their leaders don’t look too closely at Kaplan and Kristol’s sneeringly unflattering remarks in their regard.

Some of what the authors have to say about past failings is on target. The UN, like Western Europe, vacillated shamefully over Bosnia and Kosovo. The Clinton administration, like Bush senior before it, turned away from humanitarian crises in the Balkans and Central Africa. If the US under Bush junior is now resolved to fight brutal tyrants and armed political psychopaths, so much the better for us all. But that certainly wasn’t the case before September 11. Back then American conservatives were disengaging from the international sphere at dizzying speed—who now remembers Condoleezza Rice’s contemptuous dismissal of “nation-building”? Why should America’s friends place their trust in this newfound commitment and expose themselves to violent reprisals on its behalf?

No reasonable person could object to the hot pursuit of Osama bin Laden. And there is a case, too, for military action against an Iraq that refuses to disarm. But to extend these into a mission statement for open-ended and unimpeded American actions to transform the condition of half of humanity, at will and in the teeth of international dissent; indeed, gleefully to anticipate, as Kristol and Kaplan and others do, the prospect of such international opposition—this sounds too much like a practice in search of its theory. It is also vitiated by one uncomfortably hard nugget of bad faith.

“Israel” has one of the longest index entries in this little book. “Palestine” has none, though there is one lonely reference to the PLO, listed as an Iraqi-supported terrorist group. Kristol and Kaplan go to considerable lengths to emphasize the importance of Israel as an American strategic partner in the new Middle East they envisage, and they offer as one justification of a full-scale war on Iraq that this would improve Baghdad’s relations with Israel. But nowhere do they evince any concern for the Israel–Palestine imbroglio itself: a rapidly burgeoning humanitarian crisis, the single greatest source of instability and terrorism in the region, and a festering object of disagreement and distrust between the two sides of the Atlantic. The omission is glaring and revealing.

Unless Kristol and his political mentors can explain why an ambitious new American international mission to put the globe to rights is silent on Israel; why the newly empowered American “hegemon” is curiously unable and unwilling to bring any pressure to bear on one small client state in the world’s most unstable region, then few outside their own circle are going to take their “mission statements” seriously. Why should the US administration and its outriders care? For a reason that the men who constructed the postwar international system would immediately have appreciated. If America is not taken seriously; if it is obeyed rather than believed; if it buys its friends and browbeats its allies; if its motives are suspect and its standards double—then all the overwhelming military power of which Kristol and Kaplan so vaingloriously boast will afford it nothing. The United States can go out and win not just the Mother of All Battles but a whole matriarchal dynasty of Desert Storms; it will inherit the wind—and worse besides.

So please, let us stop venting our anxieties and insecurities in vituperative macho digs at Europe. Whatever his motives, French President Jacques Chirac has been voicing opinions shared by the overwhelming majority of Europeans and a sizable minority of Americans, not to speak of most of the rest of the world. To claim that he, and they, are either “with us or with the terrorists”—that disagreement is betrayal, dissent is treason—is, to say the least, willfully imprudent. Whether we need the Europeans more than they need us is an interesting question and one I shall take up in a subsequent essay, but the United States has everything to lose if Europeans fall to squabbling among themselves for American favors; our leaders should be ashamed of themselves for gleefully encouraging this.19 As Aznar, Blair, and their collaborators wrote in their controversial open letter of January 30, 2003, “Today more than ever, the transatlantic bond is a guarantee of our freedom.” This is as true today as it was in 1947—and it cuts both ways.

February 27, 2003; this is the first of three articles.

This Issue

March 27, 2003