ACROSS THE POND
Meet the Ugly European
After years of deploring American imperialism, the Continent's gripe about American isolationism.
BY MARK STEYN
Wednesday, June 13, 2001 12:01 a.m. EDT
This week, George W. Bush is making one of his rare forays into what I believe the official State Department maps label "The Rest of the World." But before he left for Europe he took the precaution of sending his hosts a "Wish I Weren't Here" postcard, announcing unilaterally that the number of annual U.S.-European Union summits is to be cut from two to one. This move so stunned the chancelleries of Europe that they took time out of their hectic schedule of sneering about what a cretin/oil stooge/blundering cowboy the guy is to complain that for some unfathomable reason the cretin/stooge/etc. doesn't want to hang out with them.
In other words, Mr. Bush is the U.S. president Europe's been demanding for decades. You no longer, as half the present European cabinets did in their youth, have to jump up and down outside the U.S. embassy shouting "Yankee, go home!" because this Yankee's got no desire to leave the house in the first place. So the only question now is why, after years of deploring American imperialism, Europe's anti-Yank elites have seamlessly moved on to being just as snide and patronizing about American isolationism. Le Monde, the bible of France's lefty establishment, ran a cartoon the other day showing on one side the world in chaos and on the other Uncle Sam at his desk, fast asleep with his phone unplugged. Yankee, come back!
The Rest of the World's verdict on the new administration was deftly summarized by the Reuters diplomatic editor, Paul Taylor, in his assessment of the first 100 days: "In just 14 weeks, he has angered China, cold-shouldered Russia, humiliated South Korea, worried Japan, dismayed the Arab world, irritated the European Union, outraged environmentalists and snubbed campaigners for global justice."
Wow! Now that's what Broadway producers call a money review! I cut it out and stuck it on the fridge, and it was only on rereading it that it occurred to me Mr. Taylor might have intended his remarks disapprovingly.
If so, the best way to answer him is to consider the alternative: For eight remorseless years, Bill Clinton kissed up to China, schmoozed North Korea, yukked it up with Yasser Arafat and conducted EU summits like a Friars' Club roast, kibitzing and cutting up with "Gerhard," "Wim," and "Jacques" as if he were Steve Lawrence and they were Henny Youngman, Joey Bishop and Buddy Hackett. Bill Clinton divided foreigners into those he bombed and everyone else, all of whom--the president of Brazil, the prime minister of Kazakstan, the deputy tourism and fisheries minister of the South Sandwich Islands--were his best friend and not just a wonderful human being but a great humanitarian.
And what does America have to show for it? From the Middle East to the Balkans to last week's election results in Northern Ireland, the limitations of the Clintonian speak-sappily-and-carry-a-big-shtick approach are all too evident. Of course, Jacques Chirac isn't Buddy Hackett, and his fastidious Gallic distaste for America's cheesy glad-hander was painful to behold. But the Europeans put up with it because, generally speaking, they got their way and nothing was asked in return. "A politically united Europe," declared Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, "will be a stronger partner to advance our common goals."
Oh, really? In 1998, when Mr. Clinton was threatening Iraq with Gulf War II, the only task force he could assemble was comprised of a zillion American B-52s, 14 British Harriers, the Canadian ship Toronto, and some backup from Down Under. The Clinton coalition, 1998: the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand. What do these countries have in common? Well, let's see . . . Language: English. Head of state: Her Majesty the Queen. When Mr. Clinton, the great multiculturalist and diversity-celebrator, called in his chits from abroad, you couldn't help noticing a certain uniculturalism and homogeneity. And in five years' time, with Britain tied in to a common EU defense policy, you can forget about those 14 Harriers.
At this point, it should be said that by "Europe" I'm referring to the Continent's governing elite, which leans left. But it's not really about left or right in the sense of political alternatives so much as a permanent European governing class with very tight rules of admission. For half a century, Austria exemplified the Euro-ideal, a two-party one-party state where, whether you vote for the center-left party or the center-right party, you wind up with the same center-left/center-right two-party coalition. When 29% of Austrian voters were impertinent enough to plump for Joerg Haider's Freedom Party, the EU put the squeeze on them with sanctions and boycotts. As the Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson put it, "The program that is developing in Austria is not in line with EU values." No, indeed. In the new Europe, the will of the people is subordinate to the will of the Perssons.
Mr. Persson will be President Bush's host in Goteborg this week and, though he will not put it quite so bluntly, he feels the program that is developing in America is not in line with EU values. The other members of the Western world have reached a consensus on Mr. Bush and it's this: He's the foreigner, the odd one out.
Whether or not Mr. Bush is (as the European press assures us) a simpleton, he's certainly straightforward. And straightforwardness tends to expose the tortured contradictions of others. There are some genuine areas of international disagreement between America and Europe--on culture, Kyoto and the Balkans, where the Clinto-Blairite school of moral imperialism and caring warmongering has run up against the unfortunate fact that in this part of the world there are no good guys, only ever-shifting permutations of bad guys. (That is how the French like it.) But that in itself doesn't account for the increasing anti-Americanism, not just in the traditional sense--Americans are vulgar, obese buffoons in stretch pants, etc.--but in more explicit ways.
The heirs to the old Continental empires believe they've found a structure--the European Union--that can challenge the pre-eminence of the U.S., and they're in a hurry to do so. A decade ago, with Yugoslavia disintegrating, the EU told the Americans to butt out. "The hour of Europe has come!" declared Jacques Poos.
Who's Monsieur Poos? Well, he was the foreign minister of Luxembourg, a country the size of Hartford, Conn., and, under the EU's rotating presidency, the man in charge of European foreign policy. A couple of weeks back, I chanced to be sitting next to a former British foreign secretary who was weeping tears of laughter as he recalled the pretensions of the lion of Luxembourg. Granted, Monsieur Poos isn't so funny if you're on the receiving end of the Pax Luxembourgiana. The hour of Europe came and went, and several hundred thousand corpses later the EU was only too grateful for the Americans to butt in.
The latest vehicle for Europe's superpower ambitions is the new "Rapid Reaction Force." Washington frets that this is some kind of European army in embryo. If only. There's already a European army on the Continent: It's called the U.S. Army, and, because it's happy to take the gig, the Europeans are absolved from the considerable expense of defending themselves. In making up the slack for their vestigial armed forces, America is subsidizing the swollen welfare states of Western Europe.
It's clear that the two pillars of the Western Alliance are coming apart, and not because of the Americans. Ever since World War II, every single change of party in the White House or Downing Street has presaged a similar change at the next election across the Atlantic: Churchill/Eisenhower; Kennedy/Wilson; Nixon/Heath; Wilson/Carter; Thatcher/Reagan; Clinton/Blair. But Mr. Bush's victory and Tony Blair's re-election mark the end of this trans-Atlantic synchronized swimming, and symbolize a broader divergence.
To European leaders of both left and what passes for right, the U.S. is increasingly the misfit of the Western democracies--wedded to such bizarre propositions as capital punishment, gun rights, nonsocialized health care, nonmetric weights and measures, compulsorily pasteurized cheese, nonconfiscatory taxation, free speech, etc. The first alone would make the U.S. ineligible for EU membership.
So we now have the curious spectacle of the unelected apparatchiks of an ersatz superpower jetting to Washington to lecture the administration on the death penalty. Who's the global bully now? The EU, which can't even prevent genocide on its own frontier, prances round the world sticking its nose into areas where it either knows nothing (Korea) or lacks the will to make any useful contribution (Palestine). Welcome to the age of the Ugly European.
Mr. Steyn is a columnist for Britain's Telegraph and Canada's National Post.