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Jewish World Review June 14, 2001 / 24 Sivan, 5761

Michael Kelly

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The Divided States of Europe -- THE story line for George W. Bush's first trip to Europe was set some time ago and was shallow and silly from its inception. By now it is so established that it is reducible to jokes that depend entirely on the conventionality of conventional wisdom.

The editorial cartoonist Jeff Danziger got off a typical snorter in the Boston Globe yesterday with a cartoon headlined "Dubya Does Europe." George Bush, looking like a stereotype of a hayseed, stands before a panel of protesters looking like stereotypes of Europeans, complete with helpful little country flags on their shirts. Tied to Bush's cowboy boots are four tin cans labeled "Trade," "Death Penalty," "Kyoto Treaty" and "Star Wars." (Get it? The cans represent Bush's hick positions on certain issues that enlightened Europe holds to be wrong.) The Europeans are holding a big sign that reads "Bush Is Wrong!" (Get it? Europe thinks Bush is wrong.) One of the Europeans is saying to another: "On the other hand, he's done wonders for European unity." (Get it? Europe is united in thinking Bush is wrong.) Har!

Generally, in a running story, the more the media accept a story line, the more wrong that story line is. The rule holds here. First of all, as Wall Street Journal columnist George Melloan has noted, "Europe" does not oppose Bush's views because " 'Europe' doesn't exist as a true political entity." "Europe" is convenient shorthand to describe neighboring nations that, historically, have been more at odds (and frequently at war) with each other than otherwise.

In recent years, 15 of these nations have come together as the European Union for reasons of increased leverage and economic gain in trade. This arrangement does entail cross-border agreements and some surrender of sovereignty among member states to the central arbitrators. But "Europe" is still not a real political -- or cultural -- entity. The member nations of the EU clearly retain their own political and cultural identities. This is why the EU is popular: Europeans have learned that their trade union can bring great improvements in the standard of living while still allowing member nations their own strong national characters. (Ireland is the most obvious example here.)

A second reason why speaking of what "Europe" thinks is embarrassingly simplistic is that European public opinion -- as represented in the European press -- is mostly limited to elite opinion. And there is no news here: For decades, this elite class has generally cherished a sneering and jingoistic contempt for America and for American values. This attitude fulfills an obvious psychological need; as the former global ruling class of Europe saw America emerge overwhelmingly superior in economic, political, military and cultural terms, a natural response is to insist on Europe's moral and intellectual superiority. A helpful explicator of the European view, one Etienne Schweisguth of the Institute for Political Studies in Paris, explained this in the New York Times' inadvertently parodic account of continental reaction to the execution of Timothy McVeigh (headline: "Almost as One, Europe Condemns McVeigh Execution"): "There is definitely a sense here, certainly among the elite, that we are ahead of the U.S. on this issue morally and intellectually. . . . It allows Europeans to feel that the United States is not in a position to give anyone morality lessons."

Third, as the great Foucaultian boulevardier Tip O'Neill once said, "Toute la politique est locale." The view of "Europe" on American behavior is shaped by the political needs and worries of European politicians. Sometimes this leads those leaders, just as it does in America, to -- sad to say -- mere hypocritical posturing.

Nowhere is this more risibly obvious than in the outrage expressed by European politicians over Bush's position on the Kyoto protocol on global warming. Bush did not kill Kyoto. He buried its moldering corpse. Kyoto called for the United States to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by an insane 30 percent, which would have devastated not only the American but also the global economy. Further, developing nations, including two of the biggest polluters, India and China, were exempt from the accord. In 1997, the Senate declared by a vote of 95 to 0 that it would ratify no treaty that did not include everyone, effectively killing Kyoto. President Clinton and his administration did nothing for three years to resurrect it. And as for morally superior Europe, not a single EU nation has yet ratified the accord.

America is not Europe. America was created as an escape from, and antidote to, Europe. American "unilateralism," as its critics call it, has not produced anything like perfect leadership. But there are worse "isms" than unilateralism, and three are imperialism, fascism and communism. A century of American resolve, often in the face of European disdain, created a continent where not one of these lives as a serious force. Not bad.

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Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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