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Jewish World Review July 16, 2002 / 7 Menachem-Av, 5762

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Talking back to Europeans


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com (UPI) | A favorite accusation of many members of the European elite is that Americans are given to "simplistic" thinking. "It's more complicated than that," they say when an American strips an issue down to its fundamentals.

More often than not, this appeal for "nuance" masks sophistry and paralysis. But in the spirit of Atlanticism, let's begin by saying that the troubled U.S.-European entente is indeed complicated.

First, the terms "European" and "American" are overly categorical when applied to policy. The "European" preference for engagement over confrontation, process over outcome, yin over yang, multi-nationalism over unilateralism, and collectivism over individualism is shared by the leadership of the Democratic Party, almost all of the American professorate, as well as the U.S. media and arts establishments.

And the "American" approach finds greater resonance with the European rank and file than with an elite shaped and selected by its ability to subordinate nationalistic interests to those of peaceful political integration.

For more than 50 years, "those who could play that game" rose to the top, said Walter Russell Mead, senior fellow in U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Also, Mead called Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar "totally pro-Bush." Moreover, British Prime Minister Tony Blair's position is "way nuanced" compared with France and Germany, Mead said. So antagonism to the "American" approach is found mostly within "the German and French-speaking democratic left."

But Blair is out in front of his Labor Party, the leadership of which is anti-American to the bone. And asked about the British elites, Mead replied: "They're having a poisonous little fight with us now."

On the bright side, Mead said voters in the recent series of European elections consistently picked "the least anti-American" of the options before them. Former French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine, who accused the United States of being a maladroit "hyperpower," is out of office.

And Mead said even the European political stratum is "not as angry" with the United States as it was during the Vietnam War. "People should remember that all of this yelling and screaming that we're hearing now is really not as loud as it was at some of the times in the Cold War, which people now retrospectively talk about as the Golden Age in Europe-U.S. relations," he told United Press International.

So now that the ever-lasting complexity has been acknowledged with appropriate nuance, let's get down to business.

Barring a unifying catastrophe, an unbridgeable gap will continue to divide the European political class and American populist nationalists -- including some very sophisticated thinkers -- who Mead calls Jacksonians after the seventh U.S. president, Andrew Jackson (1767-1845). Both U.S. and European elites tend to dismiss this tradition as "primitivism," but it really embodies folk wisdom and common sense that cosmopolites ignore at their peril.

And while democratic leaders sometimes must follow their consciences regardless of the wishes of their constituencies, they are morally obligated to govern in concert with the wishes of an electorate in the right.

The United States is the last remaining global power, and -- as Mead put it -- the accommodationist instincts of European intellectuals "don't work very far beyond the frontiers of the EU." That's the long and the short of it. Simplistic? No. Elemental? Yes.

Mead said a divergence of interests as well as outlook prevents Europe from effective partnership with the United States in many parts of the world.

A good example, he said, is in Asia, where the United States faces real security challenges. "Europe's not ever going to get involved on the American side in a war against China. Why would they do that? What possible reason would they have?" Mead asked.

And when many Europeans look at the Middle East, "what they see is a colonial war. Israel is France, and the West Bank is Algeria."

Mead said Europeans have drawn two lesions from 20th century history. "One is in the end you always lose colonial wars, so it's much better to end it quickly and cut your losses. And two is that colonialism and imperialism are the most evil things on earth."

There's nothing worse than a reformed offender, I observed.

"Exactly," Mead agreed. "And they can't help it. Everybody approaches the Middle East emotionally, let's face it. They just have a different set of filters on. What we see that they can't see is if a bunch of people are making suicide bomb attacks on you, and then you make concessions, you're teaching people that all they have to do to make you do what they want is to attack you with suicide bombings."

I differ from Mead in my belief that Europe eventually would pay a real price if even a far-off democracy such as Taiwan were to be crushed with impunity. In this Hobbsean world, I see a closer long-term community of interests between the two pillars of Western civilization -- Europe and America -- than do many other observers.

Therefore, I believe Jacksonians should calmly and consistently make the case for American populist nationalism. Acknowledge the counter-arguments, and explain why they are wrong. When the charge of "simplistic" thinking is made, expose the sophistry behind it. Stick to the fundamentals. Don't be distracted by slippery modes of disputation or dazzled by fancy footwork.

President Bush should never underestimate the power of the bully pulpit. On Sunday Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland credited the president's June 24 speech with a "mellowing" of the European consensus on the Middle East.

Don't look for immediate results, but seeds that lie dormant can germinate years later under the right conditions.

Above all, don't let Europeans get away with posing as more highly evolved creatures who are weak relative to the United States because they have been properly appalled by the horrors of war. Remind them that they have chosen geopolitical irrelevance because they would rather put their money into welfare states than spend it on defense -- and, to some extent, they get a free ride from the U.S. military establishment.

"I think the real problem the Europeans face is that Europe really thinks that its place in the world is as America's equal," Mead said. "But they aren't in a military or a political sense. And they're not going to be. In fact, they're probably going to become less our equal. Their populations are shrinking. Without massive immigration, their economies will shrink steadily. Their pension funds are so underfunded, their retirement crunch makes our Social Security problems look like nothing.

"And the way they're set up now, most of their immigrants are coming from the Muslim Middle East and North Africa. Many of the immigrants are not assimilating. And the Europeans don't know what to do about that."

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