Jewish World Review June 9, 2003 / 9 Sivan, 5763
A growing rift with Europe
The handshakes in Evian were polite. The conversations were civil. Unlike the tens of thousands of European demonstrators who took to the streets to protest, none of the presidents or prime ministers at this week's Group of Eight summit in France raised his voice or shouted insults. But the rift between America and "Old Europe" was evident all the same.
Even before arriving at the summit, President Bush had some pointed words for Europeans who had so bitterly opposed the liberation of Iraq.
"The death camps still bear witness," he said after a visit to Auschwitz on Saturday. "They remind us that evil is real and must be called by name and must be opposed." The Nazi nightmare ended only "because beyond the barbed wire there were people willing to take up arms against evil" -- a not-very-subtle rebuke of those, such as Jacque Chirac, who would rather have kept a mass-murderer like Saddam Hussein in power than support a war to topple him.
For his part, Chirac made it clear that countering American power remains a top priority: "I have no doubt whatsoever," he told reporters, "that the multipolar vision of the world that I have defended for some time is certainly supported by a large majority of countries throughout the world."
The United States and Europe -- especially Western Europe -- are drifting apart. The breach is not new, but it has become more pronounced since Sept. 11. Everything the United States does, it seems, now meets with shrill European disapproval -- from supporting George Bush to imprisoning Al Qaeda gunmen in Guantanamo. The post-9/11 American resolve to defeat international terrorism has generated a European backlash far more intense than the terrorists or their atrocities ever did.
Anti-American sentiment has become pervasive on the other side of the Atlantic. Running for reelection last year, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder surged to victory by fervently denouncing US efforts in the Middle East. His justice minister, going him one better, compared Bush to Adolf Hitler. In a Pew Research poll of European elites, two-thirds of the respondents said it was "good for the United States to be vulnerable." On July 4, 2002, a headline in London's Daily Mirror proclaimed: "Mourn on the Fourth of July: The USA is now the world's leading rogue state."
We can expect more of this, not less, in the months and years ahead. The bonds of kinship linking us to the continent from which we draw so much of our democratic and cultural heritage are wearing away. "Our commonalities are fading," Karl Zinsmeister wrote in the December issue of The American Enterprise, the stimulating journal he edits, "and the feelings of solidarity that were so strong amidst World War II and the Cold War are now fading" along with them.
The reasons "our commonalities are fading" are several: economic, demographic, ideological. But the most critical reason is military: While America has become the mightiest nation in history, Europe has deliberately let itself grow weak. The consequences have been profound.
"American military spending now totals more than the next nine largest national defense budgets combined," Zinsmeister writes. "Even more significantly, the US now pays for almost 80 percent of the world's military R&D." By contrast, the European Union spends but a third of what we spend on defense, and achieves only a small fraction of our military capacity.
The blunt truth is, Europe has lost its will to fight. The bloodshed of two world wars understandably left painful emotional scars and gave rise to a conviction -- not so understandable -- that war is fundamentally illegitimate and unjust. During the long Cold War, Western Europeans convinced themselves that the path to security lay in treaties, international bodies, and the downplaying of sovereignty -- not in self-reliance and the projection of power. Safe and comfortable under America's military umbrella, they got used to the idea of having their freedom without having to defend it, or pay for its defense. Many Europeans came to see weakness and irresolution as virtues, embracing appeasement and "peace processes" as the best response to aggression -- and despising those who believe in peace through strength.
Before Sept. 11, this cynical self-righteousness was merely an irritant. It is no longer so easy to ignore.
Americans today are grimly aware that the world remains a very dangerous place. We know that we face ruthless enemies whose stated goal is nothing less than the destruction of Western freedom. And while we acknowledge the value of diplomacy and negotiation, we also know that sometimes the way to deal with a deadly menace is not to pass another UN resolution but to send in the 82d Airborne.
But that is a lesson the Europeans -- despite their experience with Nazism, fascism, and communism -- refuse to learn. Which is why the gulf between us is only going to widen.
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Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.
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