Thomas L. Friedman: An American in Europe

Friedman on being in Europe:

That sense that America is now so powerful that it influences everyone else’s politics more than their own governments – so everyone wants to vote in our elections – is something you hear more and more these days.

Elizabeth Angell, a 23-year-old American studying at Oxford, told me that a Pakistani friend at school had asked her if he could just watch her fill out her absentee ballot for the U.S. election. “He said to me, ‘It’s the closest thing I am going to get to voting. I wish I could vote in your election because your government affects my daily life more than my own.”‘

The one concrete result of the U.S. election will probably be to reinforce Europe’s focus on its own efforts to build a United States of Europe, and to further play down the trans-Atlantic alliance.

“When it comes to emotions, the re-election of Bush has reinforced the feeling of alienation between Europe and the U.S.” Moïsi said.

“It is not that we are so much against America, it is that we cannot understand the evolution of that country. This election has weakened the concept of ‘the West.”‘

Funnily enough, the one country on this side of the ocean that would have elected Bush is not in Europe, but the Middle East: It’s Iran, where many young people apparently hunger for Bush to remove their despotic leaders, the way he did in Iraq.

An Oxford student who had just returned from research in Iran told me that young Iranians were “loving anything their government hates,” such as Bush, “and hating anything their government loves.” Tehran is festooned in “Down With America” graffiti, the student said, but when he tried to take pictures of it, the Iranian students he was with urged him not to. They said it was just put there by their government and was not how most Iranians felt.

Iran, he said, is the ultimate “red state.” Go figure.

Holidays and vacations

Treasa adds her two cents

I believe a lot of people work longer hours to look good. I’ve past experience of that too.

I really need to simmer down because ultimately, this doesn’t really matter. I don’t work in America, I don’t want to work in America. I can just about cope with the fact that trouble shooting a problem with them is almost unbearable, because they don’t know their network but they expect me to know their network. Meanwhile, I’ll just calculate how many days annual leave I’ll need to use for my exams, cos I don’t get exam or study leave for this Masters relevant to my job I am doing part time.

The Widening Atlantic: Niall Ferguson

Niall Ferguson is talking about US-European relations, a subject oft-covered on this blog. I am a subscriber so I have full online access to all the Atlantic’s archives, while most of you poor people out there don’t subscribe. I will quote liberally…

Putting out his stall, he points out that Bush is one of the most disliked US presidents in European history.

According to a poll conducted by Globescan and the University of Maryland, 74 percent of Germans wanted to see John Kerry beat Bush in November, while only 10 percent favored the president. Even in the United Kingdom the public backed Kerry over Bush by 47 percent to 16 percent.

But, Ferguson argues, the gap between the US and Europe has been widening for 15 years – but it has much more to do with changes in Europe than in the US. He continues:


This is not a fashionable view, least of all in academic circles. A clear majority of those who think, write, and talk about international relations for a living believe that the transatlantic alliance system – what used to be known simply as “the West”- can and must be restored, by means of adjustments in U.S. policy.

The Oxford historian and journalist Timothy Garton Ash argues in his new book, Free World, that the United States and the European Union have too many common interests to become permanently estranged. He sees “no inexorable drifting apart of two solid continental plates” but, rather, “overlapping continental shelves.” In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, Robert E. Hunter, a senior adviser to the Rand Corporation and a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, also called for a shoring up of the Atlantic alliance. The Bush administration’s “experiment in unilateralism,” he wrote, had merely revealed “the limits of such an approach.” Kenneth Pollack, a member of the National Security Council under Bill Clinton and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, urges the Bush administration to work in tandem with the Europeans to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

But Ferguson doubts that any mending of relations between the two sides is possible, for three reasons:

1. The primary reason for the transatlantic alliance was the Cold War. During the Cold War we should be aware that the French, Germans or British were not particurlarly pro-American. Unity with America was practical not ideological. Once the Soviet bloc collapsed incentive for parternship have all but disappeared.

2. Islamic extremism is viewed in different ways by both sides. Europeans don’t see Islamic extremism as a threat comparible to Soviet Russia, while to the US, Islamism have replaced commumism as its mortal enemy. In fact, since Madrid, Europe has seen distancing itself from the US as a partial solution to the Islamist problem. Added to this, 3-5% of Europe is Muslim, and this figure is growing. If Turkey joins in 2015, Muslims will account for 14.5% of Europe’s population – more Muslims than Protestants. The recent murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh demonstrates that criticising Islam can be politically incorrect and life-threatening. This means that Europe is vulnerable to demographic as well as political changes.

3. Christianity is declining in Europe. Almost half of Western Europe no longer attends church. The decline of European Christianity helps explain why European conservatism has little in common with the conservatism of the American right.

Ferguson concludes:

In the absence of the Soviet Union, in the presence of increasing numbers of Muslims, and in light of their own secularization, European societies feel more detached from the United States than at any other time since the 1930s.

In a recent Gallup poll 61 percent of Europeans said they thought the EU plays a positive role with regard to “peace in the world” (while just eight percent said its role was negative). But a remarkable 50 percent took the view that the United States now plays a negative role. Compare that with American attitudes: 59 percent of Americans regard the United States as making a positive contribution to world peace, and just 15 percent think the EU plays a negative role.

In the face of this kind of asymmetry it is well nigh impossible to turn back the clock to those halcyon days when there was just one West, indivisible. John Kerry would have tried, but he would have failed. George W. Bush has lower expectations of transatlantic relations. But he should not be blamed for their deterioration. His much exaggerated “unilateralism” is not why the Atlantic seems a little wider every day. It is Europe, not America, that is drifting away.

Embraceable E.U.

Robert Kagan has this interesting article in the WP last week. He is worth quoting at length here:

But the crisis in Ukraine shows what an enormous and vital role Europe can play, and is playing, in shaping the politics and economies of nations and peoples along its ever-expanding border. This is no small matter. On the contrary, it is a task of monumental strategic importance for the United States as well as for Europeans. By accident of history and geography, the European paradise is surrounded on three sides by an unruly tangle of potentially catastrophic problems, from North Africa to Turkey and the Balkans to the increasingly contested borders of the former Soviet Union. This is an arc of crisis if ever there was one, and especially now with Putin’s play for a restoration of the old Russian empire. In confronting these dangers, Europe brings a unique kind of power, not coercive military power but the power of attraction. The European Union has become a gigantic political and economic magnet whose greatest strength is the attractive pull it exerts on its neighbors. Europe’s foreign policy today is enlargement; its most potent foreign policy tool is what the E.U.’s Robert Cooper calls “the lure of membership.”

Cooper describes the E.U. as a liberal, democratic, voluntary empire expanding continuously outward as others seek to join it. This expanding Europe absorbs problems and conflicts rather than directly confronting them in the American style. The lure of membership, he notes, has helped stabilize the Balkans and influenced the political course of Turkey. The Turkish people’s desire to join the European Union has led them to modify Turkey’s legal code and expand rights to conform to European standards. The expansive and attractive force of the European Union has also played its part in the Ukraine crisis. Had Europe not expanded to include Poland and other Eastern European countries, it would have neither the interest nor the influence in Ukraine’s domestic affairs that it does.

Cooper, unlike many Europeans, acknowledges the vital role of U.S. power in providing the strategic environment within which Europe’s soft expansionism can proceed. Employing America’s “military muscle” to “clear the way for a political solution involving a kind of imperial penumbra around the European Union,” he suggests, may be the way to deal with “the area of the greatest threat in the Middle East.” In the Balkans, Europe’s magnetic attraction would have been feeble had Slobodan Milosevic not been defeated militarily. And undoubtedly American power provides a useful backdrop in the current diplomatic confrontation over Ukraine.

Cooper is not alone in his expansive European vision. Among leading European policymakers, Germany’s Joschka Fischer seems the most dedicated to using enlargement and the E.U.’s attractive power for strategic purposes. Before Sept. 11, 2001, Fischer was suspicious of bringing Turkey into the European Union and inheriting such nightmarish neighbors as Iraq and Syria. But now he regards Turkey’s membership as a strategic necessity. “To modernize an Islamic country based on the shared values of Europe would be almost a D-Day for Europe in the war against terror,” he argues, because it “would provide real proof that Islam and modernity, Islam and the rule of law . . . [and] this great cultural tradition and human rights are after all compatible.” This “would be the greatest positive challenge for these totalitarian and terrorist ideas.”

Americans could hardly disagree. Unfortunately, Cooper’s and Fischer’s vision of an expanding E.U. empire is not shared across Europe. It finds most support in Tony Blair’s Britain, as well as in Poland and other Eastern European countries, and among the current German leadership (though not among the German population). It has least support in France, where even the recent inclusion of Poland and other nations to the east is regarded as something of a disaster for French foreign policy and where the admission of Turkey is considered anathema. Modern, secular, forward-looking France still insists that Europe must remain, in the words of Valery Giscard d’Estaing, a Christian civilization. In this and other respects, France is part of what one might call “red-state Europe,” a pre-modern bastion on a postmodern continent.

Americans are generally skeptical of or indifferent to the European Union. They shouldn’t be. The United States has an important interest in the direction the E.U. takes in coming years. It may actually matter, for instance, whether Britain votes to support the E.U. constitution, as Blair wants. A Britain with real influence inside the E.U. is more likely to steer it in the liberal imperial direction that the E.U.’s Cooper, a former Blair adviser, proposes. That could prove a far more important strategic boon to the United States than a few thousand European troops in Iraq.

U.S.-European discord over Iran is deepening

Word has it that the Europeans and Americans are falling out again, this time over Iran.

Despite a renewed American effort to repair relations with Europe, a disagreement between the Bush administration and European leaders over how best to persuade Iran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program has deepened in recent weeks, diplomats on both sides say.

The diplomats said the disagreement focused on what Europeans maintained was the crucial next step in their drive to persuade Iran to move beyond its recently agreed upon voluntary suspension of uranium enrichment activities to the point of abandoning them outright.

The US are taking a hardline:

“The Europeans are barking up the wrong tree if they think the U.S. can bring the Iranians to the table to get an agreement on this,” said Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy and an Iran specialist.

“What is needed,” he said, “is for the entire international community – the Europeans, the Chinese, the Russians and the United States – to tell the Iranians to make a deal on this or face the consequences. Right now, what the Iranians say they want from the United States goes far beyond what the administration would be willing to offer.”

While Europeans:

European diplomats, responding to these criticisms, said that while their deal with Iran was flawed, it represented the best hope for reaching an accord that would be accepted by the rest of the world, particularly Russia and China, two players with economic ties to Iran.

To get American involvement in the next phase of negotiations, European envoys said they told Iran that if it failed to comply with its agreement, they would join with the United States in referring the Iranian issue to the UN Security Council for possible further actions, including economic sanctions.


Iran air strikes in 2005
anyone?

Nato is a threat to Europe and must be disbanded

Jonathan Steele argues for the disbandment of NATO:

We must go all the way, up to the termination of Nato. An alliance which should have wound up when the Soviet Union collapsed now serves almost entirely as a device for giving the US an unfair and unreciprocated droit de regard over European foreign policy.

As long as we are officially embedded as America’s allies, the default option is that we have to support America and respect its “leadership”. This makes it harder for European governments to break ranks, for fear of being attacked as disloyal. The default option should be that we, like they, have our interests. Sometimes they will coincide. Sometimes they will differ. But that is normal.

But is this kind of disengagement from the US a positive thing? Will not European and US interests collide, leading to further fragmentation of relations?

What is this 'European Union'?

Anne-Marie Slaughter in the IHT, with a piece on the EU. She cites the number of times both George Bush and John Kerry have referred to the European Union – and it’s not often. This bit is good:

Suppose the citizens of Ohio or Oregon or Alabama understood that the EU has a larger population and gross domestic product than the United States. That English is widely and increasingly spoken as a second language. That most of the students who are either no longer applying to American schools or unable to enter the United States for a lack of a visa are choosing European universities instead. And that EU representatives are thick on the ground in many developing countries, both trolling for business and doling out aid and advice.

Suppose further that at a time when one of the most important issues in the U.S. election is which candidate is better placed to “win the peace” in Iraq and Afghanistan, American voters knew something about the EU model of building democracy – through assistance, admonition and accession negotiations. Americans would not likely believe that the prospect of EU membership, even if such a thing were possible, would have convinced the Taliban or Saddam Hussein to lay down their arms. But they might think that after the first flush of military victory the EU could teach America quite a lot about the exercise of civilian rather than military power.

EU citizens may be dubious about the EU’s effectiveness, particularly in political and military affairs. They may be unhappy about the democracy deficit. And they may be skeptical about their new constitution. But they know that the EU is an entity distinct from “Europe,” a rising entity of their own creation that is not simply an imitation of the United States. As a result, American voters are genuinely living in a different world from their European counterparts.

This trans-Atlantic divide results not from policies but from the most basic perceptions of relevant political actors in the international system. It should worry us all, well beyond the election.

Letter to Europe: Philip Gordon

Philip Gordon has an article in this months edition of Prospect that is well worth reading. Say thank you Gavin for finding the free version (PDF) on the Brookings Institution website.

Gordon is senior fellow in foreign policy studies and director of the Centre on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution.

A response to this letter is written by Timothy Garton Ash, and follows the Gordon piece.

Curiously Gordon makes some remarks regarding the future of US-EU relations such as:

We could be in the process of creating a new world order in which the very concept of the “west” will no longer exist. I am not saying that Europe and America will end up in a military stand-off like that between east and west during the cold war. But if current trends are not reversed, you can be sure we will see growing domestic pressure on both sides for confrontation rather than co-operation. This will lead to the effective end of Nato, and political rivalry in the middle east, Africa and Asia.

I tend to agree, thought Gordon later argues that this scenario is unlikely to unfold. I think it is much more likely than he makes out. Which reminds me that I must buy The End of the American Era: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-first Century by Charles A. Kupchan