by Jerome a Paris
Sat Oct 3rd, 2009 at 09:24:42 AM EST
The Economist has yet another column moaning about more distance between Europe and the US and suggesting ominously that this is a bad thing.
But the arguments used are rather revealing - although maybe not of what the Economist would want us to focus on.
The main gripes are that (i) the Americans feel Europeans are not doing enough on Afghanistan and Iran and (ii) the Europeans are disappointed by Obama's policies on various topics.
From the American side, there is frustration that the Obama administration's multilateral humility has not been matched with more European help in Afghanistan, or a promise in every European capital to back tougher sanctions on Iran. (Yes, it looks as if they are building a bomb, goes the line in some places that do business in Iran, but if we stop selling things, the Chinese will just take our place.)
Beyond the usual casual accusations of a cowardly European dominated by lowly corporate interests (because no, that certainly doesn't happen in the US), and of Europe's lack of gratitude for Obama's change in behavior (we're asking "please" instead of ordering you, so you have no excuse to say no now), it is kind of funny to read this on the same day that one can find, in the WSJ, the following headline: France Plays Unaccustomed Role: Diplomatic Hawk, xith the following lead: Once the world's self-proclaimed international mediator, France is now trying its hand at pit-bull diplomacy with Iran.
The Economist does acknowledge that Americans are misreading Europeans on Afghanistan:
American diplomats insist that Europeans see a failed Afghan state as a direct threat to their security. That is not true. "A very small number" of European governments believe Afghanistan is on the front-line of the war on terror, says one senior Brussels man. Most sent troops just to maintain good relations with America. Europe's governments fear there is no strategy for winning the war but "some are afraid to tell the Americans the truth."
While they carefully stay away from stating that this "truth" is actually correct (it's only the claim of a "senior Brussels man," an eminently clueless or suspect category, of course), they do indirectly note the only thing which makes sense about the Afghan war: it's all about European fealty, and Europe's cowardice in confronting the US about a pointless - and lost - war.
More interesting, yet, is the commentary about Europe's unhappiness with the US: the article insists several times that Europeans are ungratefully failing to acknowledge American efforts at preaching multilateralism:
From the American side, there is frustration that the Obama administration's multilateral humility has not been matched with more European help in Afghanistan
In Brussels on September 30th America's assistant secretary of state for European affairs, Philip Gordon, warned the Europeans that the Obama administration needed something in return for its punt on multilateralism. If "in a year from now", Europeans have not decided to offer more help in Afghanistan and tougher sanctions on Iran, he said, "plenty of Americans will say, you know what, let's do it our way."
In other words, as noted above: we're no longer ordering you, just requesting you, to do stuff, so you have no reason not to do it - as if real multilateralism did not mean precisely the willingness to accept no for an answer, along with accepting to be bound by the same rules as others! "Let's do it our way," indeed. Requesting things used to be good enough in the good old days, when the odd "no" would be tolerated, but most of Europe did say "yes" usually. But after Bush, there's probably no going back to this without a rebuilding of trust. Acknowledging that other points of view exist is not enough, if they're still not listened to.
Then there's a funny broadside that's worth posting in full:
The EU is an elite, supranational project, and only indirectly democratic. This creates a structural problem whenever it talks to the Americans. Eurocrats often get on well with administration officials (another secret is that European bigwigs found the second-term Bush lot congenial to deal with). The bigger problem is usually Congress, which acts as a lightning rod for American popular opinion. In Europe no such partisan democratic body exists (the European Parliament is more remote from voters and less powerful than Congress, and MEPs live in a warm bath of mushy conventional wisdom). Euro-types boast that the EU stands for stirring values like leadership on climate change or opposition to the death penalty. It is less clear that you could win a mandate for such things from European voters, which may be why they are not directly asked.
If people in Brussels struggle to understand how troublesome Congress can be to an American administration, they should try this mental aid. Congress is a bit like France: prickly, status-obsessed, ruthless in defending national interests and addicted to subsidies for special interests such as farmers or industrial champions. Both are ambivalent about free trade: as the Copenhagen climate talks near, it is France and certain American senators who want to talk up "green tariffs" in case China and India duck binding limits on carbon.
All the Economist's bogeymen are there in two short paragraphs:
- the usual comments about the EU being "elitist" and "undemocratic" - from the smugest and most self-righteous column in the most unabashedly elitist newspaper around, and in the same paragraph as a withering explanation of why "democratic" Congress is hopelessly wrong on everything that matters;
- the traditional proxy of "French" for "evil" - Congress is a little bit like France: arrogant, PITA, and wrong on everything;
- additinally, "euro-types" fit a profile which is regularly used for liberals - out of touch, with grand but unrealistic ideas, naturally elitist and self-absorbed, and too cowardly to admit they secretly like America, even Bush's;
Add in more than a bit of projection (accusing the MEPs of living in "conventional wisdom" - obviously not the kind that the Economist propagates - and, again, of elitism) and you pretty much have the mission statement of the Economist.
Finally, a few more paragraphs to put Europeans back in their place:
You can overstress biography, but a Kenyan-American raised in Hawaii and Asia could be forgiven for remembering that Europe was a continent of colonial powers before it proclaimed itself a beacon of moral values, and for considering the Pacific to be just as strategic as the Atlantic.
Americans may not realise how horrible their health-care debate looks to outsiders. It is not just that it is blocking other legislation. The partisan nature of today's Congress looks mad to Europeans brought up to value consensus. Europeans also know that "European-style" health care does not include death panels prescribing euthanasia for grannies and are offended by the way such tosh is alleged in America.
Europeans can NEVER claim the moral high ground - remember, they were colonizers, their (centuries old) past limits their future in a way that the invasion of Iraq or the legitimation of torture doesn't, obviously. That's because they're irrelevant - Asia is so much more important (it must be a pain to be the correspondent in charge of writing about Europe, heh). And of course, the only thing wrong with the healthcare debate in the US is the bipartisanship, not the fact that America's power-that-be would seemingly rather let people go bankrupt or die than limit the profits of insurance companies...
But that's me, being elitist, out-of-touch, arrogant and snobbily Frenchy again. But I do have an excuse: I'm actually French.
And the Economist doesn't like what I stand for. And they have a bigger audience than me, sadly.