USA Oui! Bush Non! | The Nation


USA Oui! Bush Non!

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Like their predecessors among "the best and the brightest" who led us into Vietnam, contemporary US leaders believe they have little to learn from the experiences of those who have faced similar quandaries. But on merely pragmatic grounds, the United States has much to gain from an alliance with Europe in the war on terrorism. As Anne Applebaum noted in Slate:

Eric Alterman would like to thank the Investigative Fund of
the Nation Institute and the German Marshall Fund (US) for their
financial support of his research in Europe.

CORRECTION: Alessandro Portelli is
the correct name of the professor of American literature at the
University of Rome. Jürgen Habermas is, of course, a philosopher of
the Frankfurt School (as Alterman originally wrote), who is also
affiliated with Frankfurt University.

About the Author

Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

Also by the Author

Sometimes the best things are the least appreciated.

The mainstream media are unwilling to hold the architects of the war accountable.

The cell that plotted the World Trade Center attacks was, we now know, based largely in Hamburg, Germany. The Arabs who assassinated the Afghan leader Ahmed Shah Massoud were carrying Belgian passports. Al Qaeda operatives have been discovered in Spain, in France, in Britain. To catch them, we need Europe's police forces, we need Europe's intelligence services, we need Europe's knowledge of its own growing Islamic population.... During what is going to be a war with many different phases, we will also need Europe's help in fighting some of the other, nonmilitary battles. Already Europe has pledged more than the United States toward the rebuilding of Afghanistan.... Everybody's money will be needed to help restore order, not just in Afghanistan but in Somalia and Sudan and eventually, someday, Iraq.

At home, it is perhaps too much to hope that the Bush Administration mandarins might rethink the lessons they believe themselves to have learned about the efficacy of unilateral military power. The neoconservatives are too firmly in control and the forces of multilateralism--as occasionally represented by Secretary Powell--in a constant state of retreat. The Bush neocons have decided they can proceed just fine on the basis of a shifting set of mission-specific coalitions, rather than pay any heed to concerns of traditional friends and allies.

If the Europeans hope to be able to limit America's ability to act unilaterally without concern for the world's good opinion, they will need allies in America itself. The obvious choice would be the American people, since, as survey after survey over a period of decades has demonstrated, Americans' beliefs about international issues--particularly security-related issues--are much closer to those being articulated in Brussels than in Washington.

Alas, owing to the weakness of US democratic institutions, particularly with regard to foreign affairs, these values enjoy virtually no expression in the American political system. The simplest solution to both of these problems--the lack of a committed, multilateralist partner for the Europeans and the lack of an authentic democratic voice for the American people in the conduct of foreign policy--would be for something to take place that hasn't happened in more than thirty years. It would be for the Democratic Party in the United States to develop a post-Vietnam foreign policy based on the genuine needs and desires of the American people. If the Democrats could find the courage to cast aside their tired and self-defeating me-tooism--heightened by fears of a kind of know-nothing McCarthyism employed by Republicans whenever multilateralist issues are even raised--the Europeans would have a partner for their discussions and a means to engage America in constructing a safer and more peaceful world than the Bush Administration has in mind.

The chances of this right now admittedly look slim. The Guardian's Hugo Young notes that the Bush Administration does not represent a complete break from its predecessor. "Unilateralist wrecking of the Kyoto treaty and the International Criminal Court began with Clinton." But the Clintonites were merely bowing to political realities of which the Bush people are the living embodiment. Significantly, Serge Halimi suggests, "Basically, most people in Europe would like to go along with the United States. Our governing elites share the same vision of the future as yours. But they need to sell their acquiescence to the public by talking about ethics, human rights, free markets." The Democratic Party could seize both the political and moral high ground by making foreign policy, in Halimi's words, "something we agreed to collectively beforehand, something meant to make the world safe for democracy." George Bush's father, Halimi notes, was successful with his Gulf War talk of a New World Order. George W. Bush "does not believe in this talk. Nor does he fake it--or not convincingly. He loves to brag that he makes all the decisions. This makes it more difficult even to the most pro-American among us--and God knows there are plenty of those."

There is a pro-American world out there, in Europe in particular but elsewhere as well. It is just waiting for an America it can respect as well as admire. For all the intentional insults this Administration has thrown their way, our European well-wishers have not given up on what's best in us, no matter how often they feel forced to voice their frustration with the leaders our fundamentally flawed political system presents them with. The time has come for the true democrats among us, of every political stripe, to begin the arduous political and intellectual task of constructing a foreign policy that protects and defends our values as well as our people. Fortunately, it is not a task we will have to undertake alone. We remain blessed with friends and allies who, like a good spouse, know our fears and weaknesses better perhaps than even we do.

If we build it, they will come. Just ask Bruce Springsteen.

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