Bruce Sterling on Tue, 19 Feb 2002 19:25:01 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

[Nettime-bold] Impeccable conservative credentials

*Hey, Tough Break About the Giant, Feeble, Delusionary,
Continental Argentina *8-/,,482-212409,00.html

February 19, 2002

Bush turns away from the weaklings of Europe
irwin stelzer

Europeans and Americans are now living on different planets, a prominent
Washington pundit with impeccable conservative credentials and clear lines
into the Bush White House told me at a recent dinner party for a small group
of Administration members and their confidants.

He had just returned from an international meeting of foreign policy experts
in Munich, the Wehrkunde conference, impressed by the huge gap that now
exists between the world view of Europe's policymakers and their American
counterparts. This came as no surprise to the Administration folks at my
dinner party: they are quite simply unable to comprehend the reaction of
their supposed allies in Europe to the President's State of the Union
message, and to the direction he has laid out for America in the near and
long-term future. 

To the Bush team, the War on Terror is a defining moment in history, and
they are proud to be involved in what they see as a battle that will prove
decisive for the future of the world's democracies. The World Trade Centre
and the Pentagon were Pearl Harbor, multiplied in importance by the fact
that Hawaii is a nice place, but it isn't the heart of the US financial
industry or the nerve centre of the military.

The consensus in Washington -- both among the people who influence American
policy and those who make it -- is that Europe is irrelevant to the world
today. Because it will not spend what is necessary to matter as a military
power, its views on issues that involve the use of such power are of no
consequence to America.  Even the most casual follower of foreign affairs
rattled off the fact that the increase in America's defence spending is
almost half again as large as the total budget of Europe's biggest defence
spender, the UK. Complaints about "unilateralism" are dismissed as whingeing
by those unwilling to belly up to the bar and buy a round of drinks, to put
in polite terms the unprintable reaction of some of my guests.

Some in Washington are arguing that there is an unfortunate coincidence of
timing: the War on Terror has made clear Europe's impotence at precisely the
time that it has demonstrated America's overwhelming technological
advantages. At least, that's how an increasingly self-confident White House
team sees things. 

The military weakness of Europe is only one factor that is causing the EU to
be seen as irrelevant. Administration officials are convinced that Europe is
completely inward-looking, obsessed with tweaking the various bureaucratic
institutions that are known here as "Brussels". They contrast this with
outwardlooking America. While Europe fusses over Macedonia and the problems
of French farmers, America is developing new, innovative long-run policies
towards countries that really matter in the 21st century -- China, Russia,

The EU's idea of confronting tyranny is being mocked as continued insistence
on a failed and futile policy of "constructive engagement", and hurling
insults at the US. America's idea is different. The President, backed by his
entire team, including the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, beloved of EU
policy elites as a counter-balance to the bellicose Secretary of Defence
Donald Rumsfeld, is determined to unseat threatening regimes or force them
to change their behaviour, by force if necessary.

In short, those who matter here are convinced of two things: the important
business of the world will be done by America, which will not let any
coalition dictate its mission; and Europe is largely irrelevant to our
efforts to make America safe from further harm.

There is more. Several Administration economists are convinced that Europe
is doomed to economic weakness-- low growth and high unemployment. Its
military irrelevance will be matched by its economic irrelevance as the
century wears on. Germany, refusing to reform its labour markets, will cope
with double-digit unemployment for years to come. France's dirigisme will
require that it continues to press for protectionist measures. The
one-size-fits-all interest rate, combined with the Growth and Stability
Pact's restrictions on deficit spending, mean protracted periods of
no-growth or, worse still, recession. So think those economists who matter
in today's Washington.

Their views on monetary union are even stronger. And negative. One told us
that he doesn't understand why the European elites don't see in the collapse
of Argentina a warning. Fixed exchange rates don't work when labour can't
move freely among nations in the fixed-rate area, he argues.

All America can do, he concludes, is wait for the strains on the euro to
become intolerable, and then politely refrain from saying "I told you so".
So why should America bother arguing against the inevitable, especially when
the Europeans have made it clear that they see their emerging superstate as
an international counterweight to what they call the US hyperpower. And that
they see President Bush as being in the despised tradition of Ronald Reagan
-- an untutored and dangerous cowboy with an itchy trigger finger --
"simplistic" and "absurd", according to the French Foreign Minister, Hubert
Védrine; engaged in an effort to "legitimise old enmities", according to
Germany's Deputy Foreign Minister, Ludger Vollmer; "absolutist", according
to the European Commissioner Chris Patten; concerned only with influencing
America's November congressional elections, according to Jack Straw.

Make no mistake -- those words are widely reported in the allegedly
parochial American press. And they matter. Americans, accustomed to saying
what they mean and, in the case of this President's team, proud of meaning
what they say, take seriously the rhetoric of Europe's politicians, and
refuse to excuse them merely as talk aimed at domestic audiences.

It will come as small comfort to those Europeans interested in maintaining
cordial relations with the United States that there is some sympathy for the
European predicament. One of my colleagues summed it up by saying that he
can understand Europe's frustration, it once having been a great centre of
Western culture and power, now reduced to irrelevance. And he meant it in a
kindly way. 

The good news for Britain is that it is seen as an exception, a sort of
non-European country. Tony Blair's instant and complete support for America
after September 11 has won his country a special place in American hearts.
No matter that the tangible help he can offer is of marginal consequence. Or
that Jack Straw's sneering remarks about the President's State of the Union
speech, and his suggestion that prisoners at Camp X-Ray are being
mistreated, have produced sufficient annoyance to prompt a rebuttal from the
National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice.

American policymakers, who a short time ago wouldn't have known Jack Straw
from any other left-wing British politician with a penchant for anti-Israel
forays into Middle Eastern policy, are now sufficiently tuned into British
politics to be looking forward to the reshuffle that will see him replaced
with someone more sympathetic to the Prime Minister's broader vision of the
need for a sustained effort against terrorists and the regimes that support

Republican politicians well know that Mr Blair is being accused of
neglecting the home front in order to concentrate on foreign policy. After
all, they are obsessed with the memory that such a combination cost the
President's father the 1992 elections. Blair's American friends say that his
critics would do well to consider that the goodwill he is building in
America, and the IOUs he is accumulating from Bush and the American people,
will stand Britain in good stead some day. And that he is listened to by the
President in a way that is the envy of those European leaders who specialise
in ridiculing Bush.

 America's special relationship with Britain is often contrasted with its
ambiguous relationship with France. The story making the rounds is a
reminder of Lyndon Johnson's response to then-President Charles de Gaulle's
demand that America remove its soldiers from French soil. At Johnson's
instruction, his Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, inquired whether the demand
applied to those buried in military cemeteries in France. Michael Barone,
one of Washington's leading pundits, says that Rusk once told this story to
a young Donald Rumsfeld. No one doubts that the Defence Secretary remembers
it. Contribute to the Debate via 

Nettime-bold mailing list