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Thursday, May 01, 2003

Our Opinion

Eagles and Ostriches

In NATO we don’t suffer from too much America; we suffer from not enough Europe.
— German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, quoted in The New York Times, April 30

For those who are naive about US intentions regarding Europe (among whom we include Greece’s foreign minister), this week’s Economist must have been a rude awakening. One thing we like about the English-speaking world’s finest newsweekly is that it never allows its opinions to get in the way of the facts. The Economist is, of course, famously pro-American. On the other hand, it is also a sanctuary of serious journalism, so it always calls them as it sees them, and what it sees at the moment in US plans for Europe was pithily summed up in the title of its “Charlemagne” page, which focuses on European affairs and this week read, simply: “Divide and Rule?”

The question mark in the title is, in fact, the only question mark in the column, despite a few more interrogatives in the article, which are more rhetorical than substantive. We quote the opening:

A senior official from the Bush administration was recently asked by some visitors from the European Union to define American policy towards Europe. The word he came up with was “disaggregation.” To the Europeans it came as a shock: their interpretation of his jargon was that the Bush administration is increasingly tempted to junk the United States’ long-standing support for European integration and to move instead towards a policy of “divide and rule.”

The Economist might be a leading European voice of Atlanticism, but it’s still a European voice for all that, and it is warning its fellow Europeans that there’s something decidedly afoot. “Given that the Bush administration’s security doctrine is explicitly aimed at preserving [American] hegemony,” the magazine concludes, “it is hardly surprising that the United States is now a little warier of the process of European integration.”

It’s not surprising at all, if you ask us. (Why is it, really, that so many otherwise intelligent people — like, again, Mr. Papandreou — just don’t get it? Are they simply ignoring the obvious because they’re so scared of what the inevitable confrontation with the US will in fact entail sooner rather than later?) The only point on which we dissent from the British magazine is in its ascription of moderation to Mr. Bush’s administration. If we’ve learned anything — from the way in which he was not elected to the unprecedented manner in which he is willfully transforming the tax code into an instrument of aggrandizement for a tiny minority (who are already shamelessly aggrandized) — it is that George Bush is never “a little wary.” Quite the opposite, he is unyielding in his “core convictions,” which, unfortunately, are not only often peculiar and recondite, but also, at least as far as the rest of us are concerned, debilitating and even destructive. In the event, the US president and all his men and women — including his brazenly duplicitous secretary of state — are more than a little wary of Europe. They’re mad as hell, and they’ve decided that they’re not going to take it anymore.

Which is why it’s no longer simply a matter of, as The Economist states, the US “becom[ing] less inclined to suggest that it would be a good thing if the EU were to get its act together, and speak with one voice.” The very notion of one European voice frightens the bejesus out of the US administration. What it wants is a veritable chorus of cacophony: some British basso here, a little Spanish soprano there, some Italian tenor on the side, with a lot of dissonance in the background (from Denmark and Portugal and Austria, not to mention Poland and Hungary and the Czech republic) drowning out all voices. One voice? Anything but. For, as The Economist knows, “on a range of issues, from global warming to the International Criminal Court, a single European voice would be liable to say things that Washington does not want to hear.”

Without a doubt. Under the circumstances, better to “disaggregate.” (Where do these Washington wonks come up with these terms, by the way? The old empires were so much more direct and honest: Divide et impera cuts right to the chase.) The problem is, while we know what the US is doing, it’s not at all clear what Europe is doing. The good news is that a meeting of European nations, called to discuss a more coherent and independent European defense policy, concluded in Brussels two days ago. The bad news is that there were only four nations represented (and one of them was Luxembourg). Particularly disturbing from our standpoint was that Greece, which currently holds the EU presidency, did not even bother to attend as an observer. Neither did Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign-policy chief, despite his recent speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, in which he explicit warned the US against “cherry-picking” from among its (ostensible) European allies.

Defense is always a complex subject; multinational defense is infinitely more so. European continental defense — not to mention offense, in the specific sense of creating a viable transnational rapid-deployment force that could convincingly reflect, let alone compete with, US capabilities — seems so impossible a notion at the moment as to be downright discouraging. And yet, the time for decisions is upon Europe; it’s actually well past midnight. Either Europe will quietly, if sadly and shamefully, accept the new world order, or it will attempt to alter it according to its own vision of democratic purpose and human civilization built on concepts of voluntary exchange and integration, as opposed to those of imposed dominion and uniformity. At the moment, the American eagle is soaring unimpeded over the European continent (and every other, for that matter). Meanwhile, back on the ground, it seems that the only fauna for thousands of kilometers around are big, ungainly creatures that can only run or hide their heads in the sand. The time has come for some European raptors to make their reappearance, if for no other reason than to return some natural balance to what has become a pitiably depleted and diminished moral ecosystem.

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