Twenty-four hours or so after landing in Paris for a five-city tour in search of the new European anti-Americanism, I found myself in one of the coolest places on the planet: a big old ugly hockey arena on the outskirts of town, surrounded by 15,000 people waiting for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band to come onstage. The concert turned out to be a pretty standard Springsteen concert. But it’s always interesting to see him play abroad, and Paris enjoys a special place in Springsteen lore. It was here, back in 1980, that Bruce first talked politics with his fans. Largely self-educated, Springsteen had been given a copy of Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager’s A Short History of the United States. He read it and told the crowd that America “held out a promise and it was a promise that gets broken every day in the most violent way. But it’s a promise that never, ever dies, and it’s always inside of you.”
You can tell a lot about a continent by the way it reacts to Bruce Springsteen. Tonight, at the Bercy Stadium, the typically multigenerational, sold-out Springsteen audience could be from Anytown, USA. Everybody knows all the lyrics, even to the new songs. Toward the end of the evening, Bruce announces, in French, “I wrote this song about the Vietnam War. I want to do it for you tonight for peace,” and 15,000 Parisians, standing in the historic home of cultural anti-Americanism, scream out at the top of their collective lungs, “I was born in the USA,” fists in the air.
You can’t be anti-American if you love Bruce Springsteen. You can criticize America. You can march against America’s actions in the world. You can take issue with the policies of its unelected, unusually aggressive and unthinking Administration, and you can even get annoyed with its ubiquitous cultural and commercial presence in your life. But you can’t be anti-American. George W. Bush is “like a cartoon stereotype” representing “the worst side of the US culture,” Jordi Beleta, 45, told Phil Kuntz of the Wall Street Journal, outside Barcelona’s Palau Sant Jordi two nights after Paris. “Bruce is real. He’s a street man.” A Reuters reporter found a similar story in Berlin: “America can keep Bush but Springsteen can come back here as often as he wants,” said Rumen Milkov, 36.
To be genuinely anti-American, as the Italian political scientist Robert Toscano points out, is to disapprove of the United States “for what it is, rather than what it does.” Bush Administration officials and their supporters in the media would like to confuse this point in order to dismiss or delegitimize widespread concern and anger about the course of US foreign policy. To listen to their words, Europe has become a smoldering caldron of anti-Americanism, in which even our best qualities are held against us by a jealous, frustrated and xenophobic population led by cowardly, pacifistic politicians. The picture painted in the US media is one of almost relentless resentment.
I heard it first about France, where an anti-McDonald’s movement had taken hold, and a xenophobic, neofascist Hitler apologist managed to come in second in a national presidential election. Walk into a French bookstore and you will find titles like Who Is Killing France?, American Totalitarianism, No Thanks Uncle Sam, A Strange Dictatorship. French newspapers are filled with blistering criticism of the US role in the world. Le Monde, for instance, pulled no punches when it recently termed Bush’s Middle East policies “extraordinary, unjust and arrogant.”
Well, France is France, but even in Britain, whose prime minister, Tony Blair, has proven Bush’s most reliable and articulate ally across the pond, mainstream papers like the Mirror announce in large headlines–on July 4, no less–“The USA Is Now the World’s Leading Rogue State.” (The more liberal Guardian said the United States is an “unrepentant outlaw” nation.) Will Hutton, a former editor of the Observer, wrote a book portraying the United States as in “the extraordinary grip of Christian fundamentalism”; boasting a “democracy” that is “an offense to democratic ideals,” where the “dominant conservatism is very ideological, almost Leninist,” and is bolstered by “tenacious endemic racism,” with an economy that “rests on an enormous confidence trick,” and in which, incidentally, “citizens routinely shoot each other.”
I heard it about Italy, where the left was historically dominated by an anti-American Communist Party, and hundreds of thousands gathered to demonstrate against US-led globalization in July 2001 and again against the planned war in Iraq in November.
And I heard it, perhaps most alarmingly, about Germany, which, since World War II, has always been a bastion of support for the United States. In spring 2002, when Bush visited Berlin, the mayor announced that he would have to leave town, and tens of thousands of Germans participated in more than twenty-five large anti-US demonstrations. The sentiment was hardly limited to the demonstrators, moreover. Not only did Chancellor Gerhard Schröder manage to win re-election by running less against his opponent than against Bush’s proposed war in Iraq, refusing cooperation under any circumstances, including full UN approval–but his justice minister, Herta Däubler-Gmelin, even compared Bush to Hitler. (According to Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher, Däubler-Gmelin was only saying “what many Germans believe.”)
Meanwhile, beyond the Afghanistan war, I could find no support anywhere in Europe for the Bush Administration’s policy priorities: none whatsoever for US withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty or for attempts to weaken the Chemical and Biological Weapons (CBW) conventions, for opposing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the International Criminal Court (ICC), and not much at all for forcible “regime change” in Iraq. And there was a general disgust with the Bush Administration’s formulation–initially explicated in Bush’s 2002 State of the Union speech–of an “Axis of Evil” against which all civilized nations must ally themselves. In England, the Guardian termed the speech “Hate of the Union.” As Jörg Lau, a Die Zeit correspondent in Berlin who is quite sympathetic to the United States, ruefully notes, the speech was “unanimously unpopular” in Europe. “I mean it was just so stupid, they are always talking about good and evil, in quasi-religious terms, and it gives us a strange sense of relief. Bush is always showing himself to be utterly stupid…. And we just sit back and wait for him to do it. It’s unhealthy.”
Even such famously pro-American voices as Chris Patten, the much-admired conservative former governor of Hong Kong–now EU Commissioner for External Relations–have taken to complaining about the Bush Administration’s launch into “unilateralist overdrive,” with its “absolutist” approach to world affairs. These views, moreover, are mirrored almost perfectly by those of Frankfurt University philosopher Jürgen Habermas, the titanic figure of the European democratic (and pro-American) left, who warns, “Many Americans do not yet realize the extent and the character of the growing rejection of, if not resentment against, the policy of the present American Administration throughout Europe, including in Great Britain. The emotional gap may well become deeper than it has ever been since the end of World War II.”
Based on all of the above and far more, a number of American observers have concluded that these European attitudes–which they define as anti-Americanism–are potential grounds for divorce. Indeed, this view is becoming conventional wisdom in the center-right nexus that dominates US mainstream debate. New York Times bigfoot pundit Thomas Friedman laments what he terms “the new anti-Americanism, a blend of jealousy and resentment of America’s overwhelming economic and military power.” Karl Zinsmeister, editor of the American Enterprise Institute’s monthly magazine, attended a meeting of European movers and shakers in Warsaw in April 2002 and discovered only “animus, jealousy, and willful spite” toward the United States. The conservative economist Irwin Stelzer warns that many European nations “are ceasing, or may have already ceased, to be our friends.” Today, “much of the psychological drive for Euro-nationalism is provided by anti-Americanism,” notes former National Review editor John O’Sullivan. Participating in an AEI-sponsored symposium, the Canadian pundit Mark Steyn added, “I find it easier to be optimistic about the futures of Iraq and Pakistan than, say, Holland or Denmark.”
An imminent Euro-American divorce is also envisioned in a 11,500-word essay titled “Power and Weakness” by the neoconservative foreign policy writer Robert Kagan, which has taken on a kind of talismanic quality in Europe of late. The essay, which appeared in the Hoover Institution’s publication, Policy Review, has been translated and reprinted and e-mailed all across the Continent, creating something of a rude awakening for many Europeans. “It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world,” Kagan writes. “On the all-important question of power–the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power–American and European perspectives are diverging…. That is why on major strategic and international questions today, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus: They agree on little and understand one another less and less…. When it comes to setting national priorities, determining threats, defining challenges, and fashioning and implementing foreign and defense policies, the United States and Europe have parted ways.”
To the degree that Kagan is correct–and many members of the European cultural and intellectual elite fear he might be, particularly regarding the perception of Europe within the once-Atlanticist US foreign-policy establishment–this is big news. Much of the history of the twentieth century can be told through the rubric of the US-European relationship. Two world wars, the cold war, most of what is considered high culture in the United States and much of our popular culture, including our best cinema and works of literature, are unthinkable without Europe’s example and influence. Until recently, so too has peace on the Continent been unthinkable without US leadership. Even today, according to Javier Solana, US-European trade remains the largest trade and investment relationship in the world, totaling roughly $500 billion, with an estimated 6 million jobs in the United States and Europe depending on its continued efficacy. If a divorce is genuinely in the offing, then a tectonic shift in the shape of the world will almost certainly be the result.
But is Kagan really right? Yes, if you take the unilateralist/ militarist ambitions of the Bush neoconservatives and the red/green post-New Leftist worldview of the Schröder government as your templates. But there’s a great deal more to the state of transatlantic relations than the hostility of George W. Bush and his supporters toward Gerhard Schröder.
Make no mistake, anti-Americanism is a serious concern in many nations on numerous continents. But none of these are in Europe. A recent survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found anti-US feelings on the rise in nineteen of twenty-seven nations it investigated. Virtually all the hostility, however, is found in Middle Eastern and Central Asian nations.
Of course, while Europe is making impressive, albeit uncertain, strides toward unification on many levels, the very word “Europe” remains a kind of convenient fiction. But even if you allow for nearly the entire spectrum of views, from the nonfascist right to the noncommunist left, you find virtually no support for the tone or the substance of the current Administration’s policies. Neither, however, will you find much of anything that might fairly be labeled anti-Americanism.
In September, when dismay over a growing rift between America and Europe was rife, the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations published the results of an ambitious transatlantic survey. Americans and the citizens of six European countries (Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland) were asked about Iraq, foreign policy and one another. You’d never know it judging by the policies of their leaders, but the views and priorities of the United States and Continental populations were remarkably similar. Approximately half of both surveyed populations named global warming as a major threat to national security. (Seventy percent of Americans surveyed said the United States should sign the Kyoto Protocol even when a possible negative impact on the domestic economy was cited; and 65 percent supported US participation in the International Criminal Court even when the possibility of trumped-up charges brought against US soldiers was mentioned.) Support to strengthen the UN stood in the high seventies on both sides, and there was majority support for strengthening institutions like the WTO and NATO. Also, the citizens of these European nations think rather well of Americans. They gave America a favorability rating of sixty-four out of a hundred, just six points below that of the EU. And conversely, nearly 80 percent of Americans surveyed supported strong EU leadership in world affairs.
Where the contrast is greatest between Europeans and Americans is in their views of the US government itself.* (See footnote) As the survey authors note, “In contrast with people in most other countries, a solid majority of Americans surveyed think the United States takes into account the interests of other countries when making international policy.” Yet with the exception of Germany, majorities of Europeans believe that George W. Bush makes decisions based entirely on US interests, with no regard for the rest of the world, according to the Pew survey.
Writing in the AEI symposium, Washington pundit Jonathan Rauch views the polling evidence described above and announces, “The real problem is European elites.” But he is exactly wrong. If you look at the numbers above, the views of European elites comport quite consistently with those of both their own and the American publics. It is not the European elites who are the problem. It is ours.
Talk of divorce between Europe and the United States was under way when 9/11 hit and served to remind both sides how many things they held in common, compared with the relatively trivial matters–or so it seemed–that tore them apart. The Continent overflowed with spontaneous symbols of what Schröder called “unconditional solidarity.” Le Monde ran a banner headline declaring Nous Sommes Tous Americains. Millions held vigils, rallies and prayer services. Fantastic amounts of money were collected. Stars and Stripes hung everywhere. And NATO’s invocation of Article 5 of its common defense treaty, as Michael Ignatieff notes, “articulated this sense of a common trans-Atlantic identity under attack.”
But the Bush Administration’s response quickly dissipated virtually all the sympathy the tragedy inspired. As Jacques Rupnik, a former adviser to both French President Jacques Chirac and Czech President Vaclav Havel, puts it, “Americans are fond of saying, ‘The world changed on September 11.’ But what has changed is America. The extraordinary moral self-righteousness of this Administration is quite surprising and staggering to Europeans.”
Even in those nations like Italy and Spain, where the current conservative governments profess to support the US policies in Iraq, the populations do not. Josep Ramoneda Molins, director of Barcelona’s Centre de Cultura Contemporània and a columnist for El País, informs me that opinion polls in that nation continue to demonstrate a 70 percent rate of opposition to Bush’s Iraq adventure. Bush, he notes, “has the absolute complicity of the Spanish [prime minister], but the country does not like him.”
It should go without saying that such critical views of US political behavior hardly constitute “anti-Americanism.” And perhaps I’m a lousy reporter, but aside from the odd bit of graffiti, I couldn’t find much evidence of this allegedly new strain of anti-Americanism anywhere. You could even argue that Europeans demonstrate better taste in American culture than Americans do. Everywhere I went–Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, Berlin–I found a surprising embrace of things American. The schedule for the jazz festival I just missed in Madrid would shame any American city save New York. It’s not just Springsteen shooting to number one in eleven separate countries. Woody Allen, Michael Moore and Steven Spielberg rule the cinema advertisements. Tony Soprano and Carrie Bradshaw are the talk at office water coolers. Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Safran Foer and Colson Whitehead burn up the bestseller lists. I spied a copy of Michael Dobbs’s already-forgotten biography of Madeleine Albright in the window of a Barcelona bookstore, next to Philip Roth’s The Human Stain and Joseph Stiglitz’s attack on the World Bank and the IMF. Just try finding it on Fifth Avenue.
* Europeans and Americans also differ profoundly in their views of the Israel/Palestine issue at both the elite and popular levels. And this difference, with Americans being far more sympathetic to Israel and the Europeans to the Palestinian cause, has larger implications for other disagreements and misunderstandings. But because the question is so tangled in history, and raises such difficult issues regarding accusations of media bias, traditional European anti-Semitism, anti-Arab racism on both continents, etc., I’ve chosen to define it as beyond my mandate here, for fear of indefensible oversimplification. Back to text
It is not that there is no anti-Americanism at all in Europe. Virtually every European nation can point to some tradition of anti-Americanism in almost every aspect of its political and cultural life. More recently, though, leftist anti-Americanism, initially associated with powerful Marxist parties and, later, with opposition to the Vietnam War, has all but disappeared, with the partial and complicated exception of the antiglobalization movement.
Anti-Bushism, yes. There’s plenty of that. Europe is a continent whose political center of gravity remains almost as far to the left of center as America’s is to the right. The current German government governs from Wellstone/Feingold country. Even most of the conservative parties in Europe are to the left of the Democrats in this country. Cultural issues also divide; the negative reaction to Bush in Europe feels quite visceral. It’s not as if Europeans can’t stand the idea of a conservative Republican President. To a surprising degree, they warmed to Ronald Reagan, as Alain Frachon, who writes about foreign affairs on the editorial page of Le Monde, explains. “When Reagan was President, we never had the impression he was motivated by fundamentalism. He was divorced. He had worked in Hollywood. But this George Bush is totally foreign to us. He quotes the Bible every two or three sentences. He is surrounded by Christian fundamentalists. He says he has no problem sleeping after sending someone to death. There was a dose of charm, humor, of Hollywood to Reagan. But not to Bush. It’s another world and one we find extraordinarily hypocritical. No one told us that the Republicans had moved this far to the right.”
Things were quite different under Bill Clinton. As Serge Halimi, the leftist editor of Le Monde diplomatique, the publication that is frequently accused of being the intellectual home of the anti-American worldview, argues, “The hostility to US policy would be lessened with Clinton in the White House, even assuming that these policies were exactly the same as Bush’s. Clinton’s ‘I feel your pain’ worked well in the international arena too, much better in any case than Bush’s ‘I don’t give a damn what you think.’ I assume people prefer to be lied to than they do being overtly despised.” Susan Neiman, an American who heads the Einstein Forum in Potsdam and has lived there on and off for twenty years, also draws a distinction between the European reactions to Clinton and Bush. “American leftists don’t appreciate what Clinton did,” she says. “He was the thinking person’s American Dream. Alive, unpretentious, he played the sax. For seven years in Europe, it was suddenly unbelievably cool to be American. Bush, on the other hand, is the American nightmare: a spoiled frat boy who doesn’t know or care about the rest of the world.”
What most Europeans seem to recognize is that this is a big, beautiful and damn complicated country. For every George Bush, we have a Spike Lee. For every Charlton Heston, we have a Paul Newman. For every Lee Greenwood, there’s a Lauryn Hill or a Wynton Marsalis. Globalization–which for the average European has got to be hard to distinguish from Americanization–appears to evoke little resentment from those who have normally been at the forefront of opposition to the encroachment of (vulgar, materialistic) American culture in Europe. On the left-wing fringes, there’s some hatred, sometimes expressed in violence against McDonald’s–but the ideologues of this movement, like the famous Jose Bové, will tell you that it’s really McDonald’s they hate, not the nation that happens to have spawned it. Le Monde, the traditional home of snooty Euro-superiority, is now publishing a weekly supplement from the New York Times in English. Frachon tells me, “You will find America in every section of the paper. America in rock and roll, movies, in our fashion. On TV too, America is there on a daily basis. This is sometimes irritating, but we are also addicted to it. We try to fight the replacement of French with English, but I do not want to miss The Sopranos.”
As Le Monde diplomatique‘s Halimi explains, “We in Europe speak of resisting the United States and its market fundamentalism. We then argue that the best way to achieve this is to build a strong Europe. And then how do we go about it? By creating a single market meant to compete with the United States, a single market that, precisely, demolishes in the very process by which it is built everything that was distinct about our national models. To be more in a position to compete like the United States, we become more like the United States, as if the alternative to GM is to build another Ford.”
In Germany, US-led globalization is barely an issue at all, despite the power and influence of the Greens. As one Bundestag staff member explained to me, “We do not even consider McDonald’s, Starbucks or these Hollywood studios to be American anymore. They are world companies that are bigger than any nation.” What’s more, the Germans could not be more different from the French in their discomfort with the notion of preserving their “culture.” Given the catastrophe of the Nazi period, one observer notes, “We don’t think German culture is something that needs to be preserved from outside influence.”
Liberal and leftist Spanish intellectuals seem to have an attitude of understanding of, if not admiration for, American capitalism. When I met Pedro Sorela, a novelist and frequent contributor to the liberal Spanish literary/political journal Letras Libres, in a fancy hotel bar in Madrid that is abutted on one side by a Starbucks and on the other by Planet Hollywood, he spoke rather ruefully of America’s so-called masters of the universe as “bastards, but bastards who have to support their investments. Myself, I admire the United States. I don’t want to marry the United States–I would like to see other films and other TV shows. Still, it’s a very effective foreign-affairs policy. I like Julia Roberts and Mel Gibson.”
Even though the alleged outbreak of a new anti-Americanism turns out to be a kind of journalistic mirage, the differences in the worldviews of European and US elites could still create enough friction to cause an explosion. The globalization of economic, environmental and security issues is making it more and more difficult for Europe to defend its welfare state against US efforts to impose its model on the rest of the democratic world. In its enormously controversial National Security Strategy, the Bush Administration proclaimed that the United States stood for “a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy and free enterprise.” In other words: World, it’s our way or the highway.
What has so far prevented a Euro-American break over Iraq has not been the Bush Administration’s respect for the views of its allies but its fear of a backlash at home. It seems likely that the only reason the Bush Administration even went near the Security Council before deciding to invade Iraq was because polls kept telling it that a UN endorsement was necessary for majority support. According to the German Marshall Fund survey, well over 60 percent of Americans questioned last autumn believed that a US invasion of Iraq would be justified only if approved by the UN, and 61 percent of Americans agreed that the most important lesson is that the United States needs to work more closely with other countries to fight terrorism. The Bush team was fully briefed on the results of the survey two days before the UN speech, and changed its language accordingly. They almost certainly were not caving in to French or Russian demands in order to reaffirm the integrity of the Security Council, as many of them give every impression of wishing it would just go away.
But even this is a tricky issue. This President presumably knows, like every President before him, that you can take America to war no matter what people think of the idea in advance, and they will support you, at least until something goes wrong. Bush & Co. were not willing to take that risk on Iraq, but they might somewhere else. What’s more, war is a particularly high-profile issue and possibly unique. The Bush Administration was able to thumb its collective nose at Europe (and most of the world) regarding Kyoto, the ICC, the ABM and CBW conventions, etc., and it paid no domestic price whatsoever, despite the fact that most of these treaties and agreements enjoyed either majority or plurality support at home. The sad fact is that most Americans do not care enough about foreign policy to make their views matter to elites, and elites are more than happy to keep it that way. They may care more about global warming, international cooperation and multilateral intervention than Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and Perle, but they don’t vote on the issue. Hence, their concerns don’t, in any material sense, really matter.
Alessandro Martelli, a professor of American literature at the University of Rome, told me that in the wake of 9/11 many Europeans yearned to see Americans develop some empathy for the suffering of the rest of the world as a result of their own tragic experience. “You can hear this in The Rising,” explains Martelli, who is one of Italy’s resident Springsteen experts, “as Bruce looks beyond the boundaries of the United States with moral courage and intelligence. But instead of Bruce we have Bush. And the dominant rhetoric has been of the exceptionalism of American sorrow.”
Similarly, when the war in Afghanistan began, Europeans hoped that war there “would turn the Bush Administration toward greater multilateralism,” as the editors of The Economist put it. Once again, it appears to have done just the opposite. Jacques Rupnik characterizes the American attitude this way: “We decide what is good and we decide what is evil. If Europe wants to follow us, fine; if not, too bad for them.”
It’s hard to argue that the Europeans are exaggerating. In May 2002 Colin Powell, speaking at an Air Force base in Rome, let the cat out of the bag on Bush’s definition of multilateral negotiation: “He tries to persuade others why that is the correct position. When it does not work, then we will take the position we believe is correct.” The “correct” position as enunciated by Bush is one of never-ending war based on the US definition of who is a friend and who is a “terrorist.” Lest this sound like hyperbole, consider the following statement: “Our war with terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end…until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.” And what if America ends up alienating the entire world in the process? “At some point, we may be the only ones left,” Bush told his closest advisers, according to an Administration member who leaked the story to Bob Woodward. “That’s OK with me. We are America.”
Virtually across the board, Europeans find this attitude dangerous, childish and ultimately counterproductive. Rupnik allows that “if terrorism were a state, and you could just flatten state X or Y and solve the problem, Europeans might say perhaps there’s something in it.” But as Spanish journalist Miguel Angel Aguilar, who helped found El País and now runs the Association for European Journalists in Madrid, explains, it is an enemy “against which sheer military might is not going to help you.” Spain, he notes, has fought a home-grown terrorist movement for thirty years. “Using the army turned out to be a disaster,” Aguilar observes. “We were trying to kill mosquitoes with bombs. Innocents were killed and democracy suffered and we were no safer.”
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:
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.