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Monday, February 17, 2003

Our Opinion

Old Europe, New Europe, and Real Europe (A Last Roll Call Before War)

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s comments about the “old” and “new” Europe are notorious by now. We should all be grateful to him, however, for daring to express what was, until he spoke up, a hushed, conspiratorial whisper among the extreme right wing (which is to say the mainstream) of the Republican party. The defense secretary is, of course, right on target in referring to France and Germany as the “old” Europe: the cathedrals at Chartres, Notre Dame, and Mont Saint Michel, or Goethe’s Faust and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, represent, each in its own way, the quintessence of what it means to be European. Even for younger generations of the Old World, however, for which Quasimodo, the classical Walpurgisnacht, or the Ode to Joy are vague echoes of an even vaguer past, “Paris-Berlin” is more than the title of a famous exhibition held in the late Seventies at the Beaubourg; it constitutes the fundamental axis of identity for — if truth be told — most Europeans.

Nonetheless, for many (we fervently hope that it is still not most) Americans, it constitutes another type of axis, if not exactly of evil, at least of evil’s “appeasement” (or, to quote the less genteel description among the American right, an “axis of weasels” ). In the event, must be forgiven for taking some umbrage at this accusation, if for no other reason than all of this Website’s founders were born in Europe — and yet, we all met in America. In the end, of course, it is precisely in that serendipity that a much profounder analysis of Europe (and of the United States) is to be found than the one expressed by Secretary Rumsfeld’s predictable prejudices (and transparent attempts to divide Europeans), but we’ll get to that at the end.

If nothing else, the one lesson that no one — least of all a US bureaucrat — needs to teach Europeans is the meaning of freedom. In many ways, the history of the twentieth century is the history of Europe’s bloody continental struggle with that concept and reality. (Several years ago, Mark Mazower, a historian of Europe who also happens to be a European historian, wrote a history of that period called Dark Continent.) Which, of course, leads to the next point: there is nothing more offensive to European ears — let alone to their sense of morality — than to be lectured by Americans on the need for, and meaning of, sacrifice. How many times does it have to be repeated: eight million dead in the First World War, five times that in the Second. How many were Americans and how many Europeans? And of those 40 million who died between 1939 and 1945, how often must it be reiterated that in what Americans increasingly see as “their” war — and that of their “greatest generation,” no less — at least half, or a staggering 20 million, were citizens of the Soviet Union?

And where did those two wars take place? Far away certainly from New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, DC. Which is perhaps why, in the last decade or so, since they’ve gotten over the “Vietnam syndrome,” when Americans talk of war, they cannot suppress a fundamental (and thoroughly undisguised) arrogance that truly freezes the flesh. Yet, Europeans are neither stupid nor, like most Americans, historical amnesiacs. As Joschka Fischer, Germany’s foreign minister, has said endlessly, and repeated again last week to Mr. Rumsfeld himself at the Munich security conference, Europeans — and Germans especially — understand how deeply their freedom today is the gift of American generosity, and valor, and an enormity of spirit that is probably unique in the annals of nations and international war and peace.

Which is further to say that Europeans are anything but uncomprehending of or, even worse, ungrateful for the central role the US has played in their historical achievements in the postwar era. If anything, what rankles with Europeans — indeed, has created the present and, we believe, unbridgeable schism between them and the US — is that the latter now seems to abhor, and seeks to repudiate, the entire global security structure and international architecture that it fought to put in place during the past half-century.

That was then and this is now
The most specious — and morally inapposite — comparison thrown around earlier this month, before and after US secretary of state Colin Powell went to the Security Council to present the US “case” against Iraq (against the UN and its inspectors, actually), was that between the latter’s political dog-and-pony show and Adlai Stevenson’s genuine attempt 40 years earlier to seize the moral high-ground at the same forum. During the Cuban missile crisis, then-US representative Stevenson — and, obviously, the Kennedy administration for which he spoke — went to the Security Council to do two things, both of which were diametrically opposed to the current Powell-Bush strategy.

First — in the best tradition of American justice — Stevenson sought to directly confront the accused, the Soviet Union itself, in front of an international jury of its peers. It was not a coincidence that when the US ambassador actually turned and faced his Soviet counterpart, Valentin Zorin — memorably (and dramatically) asking him, “All right, sir. Let me ask you one simple question: Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the USSR has placed and is placing medium- and intermediate-range missiles and sites in Cuba? Yes or no? Don’t wait for the translation. Yes or no?” — Zorin testily replied that he wasn’t in an American courtroom and the Soviets would answer when they saw fit. The problem was, he was in a courtroom — the proverbial court of international public opinion — and the entire world trusted the prosecutor, knowing that Adlai Stevenson was a man of rare integrity and manifest devotion to international peace generally and amity between the US and the Soviet Union specifically. That is why, of course, Stevenson and the US won that day, in front of the entire world (which the Soviet Union realized almost immediately and quickly dismantled its missiles).

And what did they, and we, win exactly? Peace, of course. For all of us who actually lived through that period and have been indelibly marked by it, the time when the world stepped back from global self-extinction will forever be etched in our minds as a moment when peace was, almost miraculously, seized from the jaws of mutually assured destruction. Adlai Stevenson went to the Security Council to prevent war, not to provoke it. He went to save the peace of the world, not to savage it. If a reminder is required of how far the US has traveled on the royal roads of empire, one need only compare Adlai Stevenson’s historic moment in October 1962 with its pathetic Hollywood remake in February 2003. It was, of course, Karl Marx who famously commented that history always strikes twice: first as tragedy, the second time as farce.

Two days after Secretary Powell made his appearance at the UN, Stevenson’s son, former Illinois senator Adlai Stevenson III, wrote in The New York Times that he “couldn’t disagree more” with all those who compared the current secretary of state’s presentation with his father’s mission (“Different Man, Different Moment,” February 7). His father’s “moment,” he wrote, “had an obvious purpose: containing the Soviet Union and maintaining peace.” The current administration, by contrast, “has a different purpose: war.” Mr. Stevenson then concluded:

I like to think that if my father were in Secretary Powell’s shoes, he would have presented proof of an aggressive deployment of weapons of mass destruction and evidence that Iraq was closer to obtaining nuclear arms — a claim the administration made not so long ago. The Bush administration would have supported the United Nations, its inspectors and international containment of Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Members of the Security Council would not have to be cajoled into going along. The international community, for which this administration still presumes to speak, would support the United States, as it did in October, 1962, when America waged peace.

Waging peace? It’s clearly an oxymoron for this administration. It’s an old strategy: governments that come to power — even democratic ones — without any popular mandate have to fabricate legitimacy. When all else fails, invent enemies and crises — and then, invent some more. Are UN inspectors sanguine about compelling Iraq to comply with Resolution 1441? Do three of the other four permanent members of the Security Council oppose your war? Are antiwar demonstrations planned in 300 cities throughout the country and around the world? Start ramping up those codes orange, and scare people to death. After all, after September 11, everything has changed.

Including, clearly, our constitutional rights and guarantees. Future historians will undoubtedly remark on the (obscene) irony that the city in which the most heinous terrorist crime against the West — which is to say, presumably, the values of the West — took place was also the only city in the West (or in the world, for that matter) in which an antiwar march was banned. Osama bin Laden has obviously won. As for Attorney-General John Ashcroft and the president whose orders he carries out, they have finally managed to ensure that we are all Osama bin Ladens now, and that the Taliban is us.

Allies, not hit-men
A German minister of justice had to resign her position last year for stating the obvious: that George Bush’s jihad against Saddam Hussein was timed to divert attention from domestic issues in the United States. She then apparently went on to add: “That’s a popular method. Even Hitler did that.”

Whether or not what she said was true (it was) was irrelevant; she had insulted Mr. Bush by “comparing” him to Hitler (she didn’t, actually). Nobody noticed (or people purposely and strategically ignored) that she in fact never made such an incoherent comparison; what she did was compare methods of conscious, and conspicuous, political confusion — what the antiwar movement here in the US has accurately dubbed as weapons of mass distraction. Which is why she referred to the strategy as a “popular” one: it is. We’ve all seen it, whether we live in democracies or dictatorships: When things aren’t going well at home, stir up some “threat” to “national interests” abroad. And, while Americans find this hard to accept, this is a major reason why most of the world — yes, most of the world — does not believe a word the administration says about Iraq, or, as each day passes, about almost anything else.

This is not a passing storm. Mr. Bush has provoked a fundamental breach with Europe that will not heal quickly or completely; in fact, it will not heal at all. To be fair to him, it was bound to happen if the US continued on its imperial ways. With a president like Bill Clinton, however, or Al Gore, or even George Bush the elder, it might have taken another 10 or 20 or 40 years. What Mr. Bush has done in less than a year is essentially undermine the entire structure of the postwar alliance between Europe and the United States — which is to say the entire structure of global security in our time. It is, in a way, a breathtaking feat — albeit not one of which any American should normally be proud.

These are not normal times, however, so Mr. Bush and his gang, especially Mr. Rumsfeld, have decided to summarily humiliate a number of European nations (comparing Germany’s stance on Iraq, for example, to that of Libya and Cuba) pour encourager les autres. It will not work because it cannot; indeed, like all such strategies, it reeks of manifest desperation. The fact of the matter — which Mr. Bush and his European confederates cannot wish away — is that there is a huge, bellowing elephant settled smack-dab in the middle of Europe’s living room, and it cannot be budged. That elephant is called public opinion and, in Europe — in every single country on the continent, old, new, or just trying to fit in — the clear, in most cases vast, majority of people are unswervingly opposed to war against Iraq. And, lest anybody have any illusions, all those politicians who now side with the US — but especially Tony Blair and José María Aznar — will pay the price of putting Mr. Bush’s welfare above that of their own countries. (Señor Aznar is particularly peculiar; memories of his Francoist youth, apparently, have lately given him delusions of grandeur for which he will undoubtedly suffer sooner rather than later.)

The future is now
The US will go to war. Of this there is no longer any doubt — although, because we trust the persuasive capabilities of Drs. Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, we still retain a smidgen of hope that wisdom and (if we may be allowed to borrow from our Greek heritage) sophrosyne will prevail. But we’re not optimistic. So, we suggest that Europeans start concentrating their minds and energies on a future that will clearly not wait. We have a few — given the circumstances, rudimentary — recommendations, or, at least, points of departure.

NATO. The current impasse over assistance to Turkey — and the unprecedented fissures it has exposed in this redundant alliance — is clearly a chronicle of a death foretold. For almost 14 years, since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, NATO has been an alliance in search of a mission. Those who predicted its demise at the time were only wrong about one thing: they did not account for the innate conservatism — to the point of incoherence — of all governments, which will never let go of a bureaucracy until it has absolutely confirmed its incontestable irrelevance and lack of reason.

What, precisely, is the “North Atlantic” alliance now other than a cover for otherwise unconcealed adventurism and imperial policing, the praetorian guard of the American imperium? Bosnia? Kosovo? NATO’s use in both cases simply confirmed Europeans’ inexcusable dependency on the US and Europe’s inability to provide for its own common defense and foreign policy. The absurd notion of invoking Article IV for the first time in the alliance’s history to defend Turkey against Iraq (!) is too ludicrous to even dignify with a response. The bell has been tolling for years, and it’s well past time we bury the corpse, which has been contaminating US-European relations — and actively sabotaging all new strategies for a collective European defense — for the last decade.

Turkey. We confess that sometimes we just want to give up on Turkey; in the event, we just throw up our hands in perplexity and frustration at its government. At a time when the country wants to prove that it actually belongs in Europe, when 85 percent of Turks oppose their own government’s actions, and when there is in fact no reason (let alone force majeure) to explain its capitulation to the US — and despite the fact that this capitulation will injure an economy that is already an almost congenital disaster — Turkey’s government must finally decide: is it an agent of US hegemony or an independent European nation that can be trusted to act as such?

Britain. The more we witness its actions, the more we suspect that Charles de Gaulle was right: Great Britain can never be trusted to become a conscientious, and self-consciously, European nation. Nevertheless, we cannot imagine a “Europe” in which the land of Shakespeare (or, for that matter, Charles Darwin) is absent. Again, however, Britain must finally decide: If its “special relationship” with the United States matters more to it than integration with a fully independent Europe, then it must get off the fence and tell the rest of Europe that both its heart and its (self-perceived) interests lie, not across the Channel but across the Atlantic. One thing is certain: at some point, the rest of Europe has got to put paid to Britain’s sabotage of the continent’s integration and unity.

Greece. The time has also come for Mr. Simitis to prove to his fellow citizens that there is more to an independent foreign policy than simply taking a position — in kneejerk fashion, it seems — to which the majority are always opposed. Readers of this Website know that is second to none in its staunch defense and support of the Simitis government, both on its stewardship of the country and, more specifically, on its foreign policy. There comes a time, however, when a foolish consistency does become a hobgoblin of little minds, “adored by little statesmen….” We do not believe that Mr. Simitis is a “little statesman”; far from it. We realize that he wants to prove that Greece has firmly nested in the Western family of nations. Being a part of the West, however, means knowing what the West is supposed to stand for. Independence of mind and resistance to compulsion are fundaments of that heritage.

Part of the problem is his foreign minister. Again, we respect George Papandreou a great deal. He is becoming the negative image of his father, however; just as his father could be counted upon to be (in appearance, at least) reflexively anti-American, the younger Papandreou has become reflexively pro-American. It is an irrational position in either case. Sometimes Americans are just plain wrong; in the last couple of years, they have been wrong on the outstanding global issues more often than not. We also believe that they are wrong in this instance, as do the overwhelming majority of Greeks and Europeans as a whole. If Mr. Papandreou believes otherwise, he must explain why; just saying so is neither acceptable nor legitimate in a democratic society.

And one more thing: the Greek decision to support Turkey’s request for assistance under Article IV of the NATO charter, instead of joining with Belgium, France, and Germany in opposition, is a scandal, pure and simple. Again, we are resolute supporters of the Simitis-Papandreou policy on Greek-Turkish rapprochement and Turkish integration into the European Union. The Greek government does both its own citizens and the citizens of Turkey a disservice, however, when it concedes to cynical and transparently mercenary ploys to “protect” that policy. In fact, by doing so, all it does is undermine it.

The United States. We mentioned at the beginning of this commentary that all of us who founded were born in Europe — in Greece, in fact, in the oldest corner of “old Europe,” where the notion itself was invented — but met here in the United States. That was not a coincidence, of course. This country was created as a haven, a sanctuary and retreat, from the kings and priests, tyrants and tyrannies, with which Europe has been plagued, and has in turn plagued the world. It also was — and, especially now, remains — a place where men or women could free themselves from the economic and social restrictions in which the Old World (not only Europe but Asia and Africa) still abound.

The Old World is indeed old, which means that its history is one of cruelty, despotism, murder, terror, and — more than occasionally — evil. The United States has always been proud of the fact that, as problematic as its own history might be, it can never compare to the sanguinary history of Europe or Asia or Africa. It is a good thing to be proud of. But pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. America’s “victory” in the Cold War was supposed to lead to millennial “dividends” of peace, prosperity, social progress, and amity in the world and among nations. Apparently, however, it led (whether directly or not is irrelevant) to September 11 — which, if nothing else, confirms how the road to hell is paved.

Because Europeans have suffered infinitely more than Americans from a variety of malignities (virtually all of them of their own making), they’ve now reached the point in their history in which they believe that those malignities can not only be diagnosed beforehand but actively reduced, and even eliminated completely, through radically different regimens of social and political health. They might be wrong, but they are at least trying. Nevertheless, in offices, conference rooms, and hallways everywhere inside the Beltway nowadays, the phrase that is bandied about by the American right more than any other in regard to Europe and Europeans is “surrendered sovereignty.”

Well, yes, that’s true. In fact, that’s the point. Europeans have realized that transnational integration — if it is to mean anything at all — is impossible without nations surrendering sovereignty. That’s what the euro’s all about, as well as the European parliament, the European commission, and, of course, the new European constitution to be unveiled in a few months in Greece that will consolidate what is in fact a vision of a genuinely European Union. George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and even “dovish” Colin Powell do not believe in surrendering sovereignty. Which is why we say that the current “rift” between Europe and the US is more than that, and permanent and unbridgeable. The paradigm for global integration for the United States is one nation’s sovereignty imposed on all others, or a “coalition of the willing” — all those nations, in other words, willing to be led by the United States. The European model is indeed “surrendered sovereignty,” whether in the form of the European Union or the United Nations. There cannot — and will not — be any compromise between these two fundamentally opposed visions of the global future.

Finally, there is in fact an old Europe. It was sitting behind Secretary Powell at the Security Council 12 days ago, flanking him on both sides. To his right, CIA director George Tenet, to his left, John Negroponte, the US representative to the UN: both Greek Americans, both sterling or, depending on your point of view, sad examples of an old Europe that came to the United States once upon a time and adopted its ways and means, right or wrong, hook, line, and sinker. Representing the new — or rather, the real — Europe meanwhile was the man chairing that particular session of the Security Council, Joschka Fischer. Once upon a time (not so long ago, actually), the German foreign minister, who comes from a militant left background, would have been considered a terrorist by the US secretary of state. Then again, who knows? He probably still is. Which is really too bad because Mr. Fischer, and people like him, are the truest friends America will ever have in the world.

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