Jewish World Review March 21, 2005/ 10 Adar II, 5765
The nursing home for tired nations
George W. Bush's message to our European friends is strong and consistent: You didn't like the choice America made in November, but you have to get over it. The farmer and the cowboy should be friends, but the cowboy ain't going anywhere.
The nomination of Paul Wolfowitz to be president of the World Bank, following the choice of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is more proof that George W. is determined to govern as if he were a tough-guy Democrat. He's confident that he knows what he's doing and how to do it.
Modern Republican presidents, governors and senators have usually governed with a wary eye cast backward, over their shoulders to see if anyone is applauding, and if so, who, always eager to reassure critics that "Republicans aren't really as bad as you think we are." Ronald Reagan was entitled to his caution because he presided over a fragile moment in the American resurgence, but sometimes it was difficult to tell whether Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and even George H.W. Bush really wanted to put the match to a revolution.
George W., on the other hand, understands that if history hangs him for stealing a goat, he might as well take a sheep. Backlash from Democrats, timid Republicans and frightened Europeans does not deter him from pressing on with his campaign to export democracy "egalité, fraternité and liberté," as a lot of dead Frenchmen called it.
The president describes Mr. Wolfowitz, an architect of the Iraq expedition, as "a compassionate, decent man" with wide experience in managing large corporations. Indeed, the Pentagon is one of the biggest. Not Wal-Mart, maybe, but bigger than Renault.
By tradition, the United States chooses the president of the World Bank, and the Europeans nominate the head of the International Monetary Fund. (The beauty part, for the Europeans, is that everyone gets to move to Washington and live the sweet life on bloated salaries and no taxes.) Nevertheless, the French foreign minister, right on cue, snarls. "It's a proposal," he says, dismissing the Wolfowitz nomination. "We shall examine it in the context of the personality of the person you mention and perhaps in view of other candidates." (This is how prissy French foreign ministers, unaccustomed to speaking in popular languages, actually talk.) Reuters, the British news agency that deeply opposes both George W. and the war in Iraq, reports that "[Mr.] Wolfowitz is a deeply controversial figure in Europe because of his role in designing and promoting the Iraq war." At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's top "poverty adviser" sniffs that Mr. Wolfowitz has no experience in helping poor folks, and invites other candidates to step forward.
These worthies have no real experience with poor folks, either, or any discernible interest in them, except as totems to build bureaucracies around. Paul Wolfowitz scares them for another reason. He's a symbol of George W.'s campaign to export equality, fraternity and liberty to the miserable neighborhoods where such values have been permanent hostages to privilege, brutality and oppression.
"Old Europe," as Donald Rumsfeld puts it, was the source of the American dream, and that's why we continue to romanticize our own European origins. But "Old Europe," which has traded ambition and aspiration for calcification and security, no longer thrills to the notion of governments "of the people, by the people, and for the people." Security can only be guaranteed by bureaucratic fiat; wise men in Brussels know best how Frenchmen, Germans and Italians should live their lives.
"That is why Jacques Chirac the very embodiment of corrupt European political cynicism and George Bush can never, ever find true common ground," observes Janet Daley in London's Daily Telegraph. "When the President tries to give credit where it is due to the European authorship of democratic revolution it sounds faintly sarcastic."
Neither George W. Bush nor any American president could ever say it, but we have to regard Europe now as a nursing home for exhausted nations. We must look kindly after them, visit them occasionally and remember their birthdays, but spare them scary talk of visions of a future that does not include them. America remains the land of dreams, of hard work, innovation and the cultivation of "the better angels of our nature." The world beyond the nursing home understands this, and hungers to participate. America, as always, must be eager to share the dream.
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