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February 14, 2003

European anti-Americanism

This blog is becoming interactive! My friend Lars Hasselblad Torres sent me the following email, which I quote with his permission: "Hey peter, scouted out your blog today, and noted your irritation with European anti-war movement. Is it safe to say their anti-americanism, or is it their tactics to get in the way of Bush policy? Anyway, thought you might find 'of paradise and power: america and europe in the new world order' of interest: robert kagan lays out a hobbesian vs. kantian mood form each." Lars then followed up with a set of good references to the whole question of US-European relations, including this link to the Foreign Policy Association. To Lars' list, I would add Timothy Garten Ash's good New York Review piece that collects virulently anti-European comments by senior US officials. These are at least as inflammatory and unjustified as the anti-American comments that set me off.

I suppose my suspicions about European anti-Americanism were born a long time ago, especially in graduate school in England. There's a lot of bad faith and scapegoating on the European left: a desire to attribute bad things to the US when European countries are just as responsible. I also think that people on the European left tend to attribute undesirable features of American life to something intrinsic and cultural about us—for instance, "American individualism"—when the causes of our problems apply to them as well. Three examples:

Which brings us to the current debate about Iraq. I think the French and others are completely right that we should postpone an invasion and try to strengthen the inspections. But to what extent is this difference of opinion a result of a cultural gap between the Europeans (allegedly "from Venus") and the Americans ("from Mars")? The US has an offensive military capacity that the Europeans lack, singly and collectively. So perhaps the US must play bad cop in order to allow the Europeans to play good cop. Absent a military threat from the US, there would be no inspections, and the Saddam regime would go completely unchecked and unchallenged. This would be morally unacceptable to the European left, especially if European companies continued to do profitable business with Iraq. If this is right, then there are not different cultures on either side of the Atlantic. Rather, the West is one culture; it relies on a powerful military that happens to be headquartered in the USA.

None of which excuses the ham-handed and sometimes offensive way in which Rumsfeld and other Bushies handle diplomacy ....

Posted by peterlevine at February 14, 2003 04:29 PM