Wednesday, July 14, 2004

America and Europe

One of the major criticisms of the Bush Administration is that it has strained relations with our European allies. In particular, the invasion of Iraq is cited as an example where the administration's "unilateral" policies have driven away friends such as France and Germany, and made America unpopular worldwide. It is true that the Bush Administration has often been clumsy in its diplomacy. As Donald Rumsfeld famously said, "I don't do diplomacy", and it often shows. I say that as someone who likes Rumsfeld and usually appreciates his candor. Should the Bush Administration win a second term, it would be well advised to occasionally tone down its rhetoric, as Eliot Cohen recommends in the July/August 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs.

Having said that, the idea postulated by the Democrats that a Kerry/Edwards administration, by abandoning Bush's "unilateralism", will somehow allow us to "restore our alliances" and make us popular again in western Europe is a pipe dream. By implying that European anti-Americanism and criticism of America simply reflects opposition to George W. Bush, they have vastly oversimplified the issue. European anti-Americanism goes well beyond the current administration and its policies, and electing John Kerry won't change this.

Take, for example, the issue of Darfur, where literally hundreds of thousands of lives are in jeopardy from the Sudanese regime's campaign of genocide. Surely the Europeans can put aside their differences with the administration to take action? Unfortunately, no they can't. One major European nation has already expressed its opposition to imposing economic sanctions on the Sudanese dictatorship, let alone taking more forceful action. Care to guess which one?

France says it does not support US plans for international sanctions on Sudan if violence continues in Darfur.


In Darfur, it would be better to help the Sudanese get over the crisis so their country is pacified rather than sanctions which would push them back to their misdeeds of old," junior Foreign Minister Renaud Muselier told French radio.

France led opposition to US moves at the UN over Iraq. As was the case in Iraq, France also has significant oil interests in Sudan.

Mr Muselier also dismissed claims of "ethnic cleansing" or genocide in Darfur.

"I firmly believe it is a civil war and as they are little villages of 30, 40, 50, there is nothing easier than for a few armed horsemen to burn things down, to kill the men and drive out the women," he said.

Source: BBC News, July 8, 2004

Please note the key sentence: "As was the case in Iraq, France also has significant oil interests in Sudan." See this USAID Web page for more information. Block 5 belongs to the French oil conglomerate Total Fina Elf, which also held substantial oil concessions in Saddam's Iraq. Blood for oil, indeed! How a Kerry Administration would persuade the French to abandon their economic interests in order to actually put a stop to genocide has yet to be explained.

Look at the issue of Afghanistan. Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan was unanimously supported by our European allies, and the stabilization part of the operation is run by NATO. Yet, when the United States asked that NATO's rapid reaction force be sent to Afghanistan to help provide security for this fall's elections, one nation vetoed the idea. Guess who?

France yesterday blocked a U.S.-backed plan to use a special NATO force to safeguard elections in Afghanistan this fall, despite a plea from Afghan leaders that the troops are badly needed.

Source: Washington Times, June 30, 2004

There is much criticism of the Bush administration for not doing more in Afghanistan. Yet, as Jackson Diehl noted in the July 5 Washington Post, the NATO contribution in Afghanistan has so far been feeble. As he mentions, the Europeans are citing Bush's "unilateralism" as a pretext for not getting further involved. Diehl points out however that:

(E)ven if the Europeans were more enthusiastic, they might have little to contribute. Germany, the largest country in the European Union, has 270,000 soldiers in its army -- yet its commanders maintain that no more than about 10,000 can be deployed at any one time. No matter the politics, the German Parliament is unlikely to authorize an increase in the current ceiling of 2,300 troops for Afghanistan. And Germany is the largest contributor to the NATO operation -- France, which has never liked the idea of NATO operations outside of Europe, has only 800 soldiers there.

The idea that the Europeans will not work with us on these issues due to Bush's unilateralism is belied by the fact that they are cooperating with us on other matters. Both the French and Germans have signed on to the Proliferation Security Initiative, designed to interdict the flow of WMD materials between rogue states and terrorist networks. Most importantly, there is no evidence whatsoever that US-European cooperation against Islamist terrorists has been hurt by the dispute over Iraq. Reuel Marc Gerecht pointed this out in the April 12/19 2004 Weekly Standard:

Anybody hear about the French DST (internal security) or the DGSE (foreign intelligence) turning off a spigot of information about Islamic extremists? According to a senior French intelligence officer, the first and principal exchange point for the United States and continental European security services is Paris. Does this sound like the French elite (which really would like to see George Bush get demolished in Iraq and John Kerry elected) has a problem with intelligence cooperation? Anybody heard of any problems with the Spanish, who just got scorched, so the theory goes, because of their alliance with us in Iraq? How about the Russians, Pakistanis, Uzbeks, or Chinese?

In short, European governments are willing to work with the "unilateral" Bush Administration, provided they feel it to be in their own best interest. Therefore, it would stand to reason that when they pursue a different agenda than the US, that they are also acting in their own perceived best interests, as opposed to merely reacting to American "unilateralism". Part of the problem, as Robert Kagan noted in his famed 2002 essay "Power and Weakness", is that most western European countries lack both the will and the capacity to behave forcefully on the world stage. In addition, many European countries have growing populations of Muslim immigrants, which have proved in some cases to be a breeding ground for radical Islamists. Finally, many European governments are constrained by the anti-American attitudes of their populations. Therefore, countries such as France and Germany are content to rely on intelligence and law enforcement to try to contain the jihadist threat, while shying away from the efforts of the Bush Administration to deal forcefully with the radical Islamist terror movement, its sponsors, and the conditions that have produced it.

But what of European public opinion? Isn't it true that the Bush Administration squandered the world's sympathy with its bellicose unilateralism? Actually, no. Yes, even the French felt bad over 9/11, but they got over it rather quickly. A little over six months after the September 11 atrocities, the French made a bestseller out of Thierry Meyssan's obscene conspiracy theory that the Pentagon wasn't actually hit by an aircraft. Please note that this was before Iraq became an issue, before "freedom fries", before the New York Post referred to the "axis of weasels".

As writers such as Jean-Francois Revel and Bruce Bawer have explained, European anti-Americanism is deeply-rooted and has developed over decades. The reason why George W. Bush is hated by so many in Europe is because to them he is the embodiment of their anti-American stereotypes: The simple minded gunslinging cowboy. John Kerry might prove to be more personally popular among Europeans, but nothing he can do will change their underlying attitudes. People who say that America is hated because of our policies often fail to understand that others' perceptions of what we do are shaped by a variety of social, cultural, historical, and ideological factors. No cliches about "rebuilding alliances" or "rejoining the family of nations" will change this.


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