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Jewish World Review Feb. 18, 2002 / 7 Adar, 5762

Barbara Amiel

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America's war on terrorism is a fight for all democracies: What the European elite are clueless about -- LONDON | IN this week's Spectator, Matthew Parris makes a distinction between the well-mannered Wasp patricians of America's eastern seaboard and the rest of America which in the future, he warns, "will be guided by individuals and ideas of a coarser sort."

Parris's distinction is accurate, but I think he is mistaken in his emphasis.

The world of Park Avenue has never set the tone of America. The polite society of the Rockefellers, the literary and political salons of the William F Buckleys, where one would find a languid John Kenneth Galbraith holding forth on yachting and geo-politics, were only the icing on American taste, not its flavor or content.

This is what lies behind the antipathy to America of a broad spectrum of the elites of our society, from Hampstead's salon socialists to High Tories, from Oxbridge to the unashamedly anti-American BBC. Their dislike emanates from a culture clash based on a different class and taste.

The entire tone of American society and culture has always been set, unlike ours, by what older European cultures view as the "lower classes." America is the one society in history that had a class revolution as its base and whose revolution actually produced freedom.

America has a great powerhouse of intellectuals, artists and elites, but it has always been the masses that shape the tone, voice and manners of the way all Americans dress, celebrate and work. This is not to our taste. To paraphrase Ortega y Gasset, when the masses revolt, they are pretty revolting.

One can see it in the manifestations of American patriotism, with flags prominently attached to the bonnets of cars or babies' buggies, and how everyone from president to pauper has hand ostentatiously on heart while the national anthem is bellowed. To us, this is gauche in the extreme.

Europe and Britain might have a greater proportion of "lower middle-class" people than America, but the tone of our culture and manners is still set by upper-class tastes and habits --- though only just.

I find it highly paradoxical, incidentally, that what rubs up our salon socialists the wrong way is the spectacle of a society in which "the people" truly set the standards. These cultural abrasions are one source of Europe's resentment against America. But when we say "Europe," we are talking about a string of social democratic governments.

Some of those members of the social democratic international (including critics at the Guardian and the Independent) hate America's use of the word "evil" for other reasons. They dismiss this word as "simplistic."

Their derision speaks to the illusions so many of the Left held about the empire that Ronald Reagan named as evil, as well as the myths the Left held about the so-called "colonial" movements that resulted in the Islamic Revolution of Iran, the Ba'athist regime of Iraq or the North Korean dictatorship.

The Left hates having its youthful illusions branded as "evil" and wants a word that pays more tribute to the complexity of its mistakes. Even if they now see their early values as flawed, they want them recognized as being morally complex. None of them, including pacifists and sentimentalists, wants former dreams or present misconceptions trampled by the unambiguous phrase "axis of evil."

Some critics argue that in carrying on military action against states that harbor terrorists, America is simply looking after its own national interests. Countries do naturally pursue their own national interests and any government that failed to do so would betray its own mandate.

But the national interests of America generally coincide with the interests of people everywhere that favor freedom, prosperity and democracy. There has not been a single example of the US supporting a tyrannical regime against a freedom-loving democratic regime.

It has supported repressive regimes friendly or neutral to the West, including the Greek junta, Pinochet in Chile, or South Vietnam after it was invaded by North Vietnam. These were geo-political decisions based on the need to counter the greater evil of the Soviet Union. Unless we define our own national interest as supporting repression, tyranny and terrorism, the West's agenda to date coincides exactly with that of the United States.

A lot of critics protest that anyone who criticizes America is labeled anti-American, just as anyone who criticizes Israel is labeled anti-Semitic. This is usually nonsense. The greatest supporters of the US have at times been scathing in their criticism of aspects of American domestic or foreign policy and no one mistakes them for being anti-American.

I have criticized aspects of US and Israeli foreign and domestic policy in unequivocal terms for nearly 30 years without such labels. One can tell a criticism that is directed from base dislike of a country, and it can be found in the Guardian's descriptions of a drive for world "hegemony" as the motive for America's foreign policy.

American triumphalism is admittedly irritating. It is disturbing to see the world's only superpower quite so sure of itself. Indeed, though I am entirely supportive of American action and believe that what they name as evil is evil, I understand the concern with this hyper-confidence. A country that is so all-powerful and imbued with such certainty of its cause can, in theory, become a very dangerous entity.

Unlike tyrannies, of course, democracies have to synchronize public sentiment with their policy intentions. But the necessary American rhetoric to rally public opinion is beginning to sound virtually oriental.

An American military broadcast to the Taliban was equally disturbing: "Attention Taliban! You are condemned. Did you know that? The instant the terrorists you supported took over our planes, you sentenced yourself to death. You have only one choice Surrender now and we will let you live." It could have been Lord Haw Haw or Tokyo Rose.

Reagan's naming of the evil empire was necessary. Bush's naming of the evil axis may have been necessary, but I take a dim view of barking dogs. Talking belligerently strikes me as the verbal equivalent of those cultures that rejoice in firing their guns excitedly into the air. A strong, silent America might be more reassuring.

The worrisome aspect of European and British criticism of America is the way it will be interpreted by the terrorists. Many of the actions of tyrannies over the years, from the Germans to the Soviets and now the Islamists, have been based on the misconception that the West was divided, not understanding that when the chips were down, it was not really as fractious as it seemed and that what the totalitarian mind saw as disunity was dissent and argument among democracies.

In this context, one cannot ignore the appalling words of the EU Commissioner for External Relations, Chris Patten, in the Guardian last week. Mr Patten characterised September 11 as "the dark side of globalization" and saw its remedy as addressing "the root causes of terrorism and violence".

Patten's Shavian views are probably due to his combination of a Catholic notion that all people are good and a socialist view that all people are ultimately perfectable. For him, the authors of a ruthless murder of thousands of innocent people were motivated by legitimate grievances and the answer to their crimes is to address these grievances.

In his world view, when faced with evil, one must look for the "root causes" and ameliorate them, even if in practice it means rewarding them. Applied to crimes of this kind, this is a complete inversion of all logic. On this basis, once the Battle of Britain was over, we should have stopped fighting Hitler in order to find out what the "root causes" were of the grievance that made this man want to kill millions of innocent people.

Though America has 200,000 soldiers buried in Europe, Europe has a historic memory of war on its own soil. If you have had first-hand experience of war, national or personal, you probably emerge from it feeling that anything is better than that. C owardice may be elevated into wisdom.

But there are certain situations where temporizing, appeasement and running away aggravate a situation. America and its allies are on different paths at the moment, but the power and the moral right are with America. America will act unilaterally - a word the Europeans spit out as a term of abuse.

This time America has been the victim of an act of war and will refuse to act as Europe's happy St Bernard, ready to go wherever the Europeans point. This time it is the American bulldog that knows that standing up and fighting is the safest option in the long run. Patten quoted Churchill to bolster his views. The old half-American warrior would not be on his side.

JWR contributor Barbara Amiel is a columnist with London's Daily Telegraph, where this column originated. Comment by clicking here.

01/29/02: Pity the al-Qa'eda detainees? Why is liberal 'torture' kosher?
12/18/01: What those in the London salons don't -- or won't -- see
12/04/01: We are not risking world war so women can show their ankles
11/20/01:"Anti-terrorism" has become the Western world's equivalent of the Arabian Nights' "open sesame"
11/06/01: We must rediscover a war mentality that persists through vicissitudes
10/31/01: The West is fighting to rescue Islam, not destroy it

© 2001, Barbara Amiel