"Power & Weakness"
May 28, 2002 12:01 PM   Subscribe

"Power & Weakness" by Robert Kagan . If you have 20 minutes to spare this is the most interesting explanation for the EU/US divide I've come across.
posted by revbrian (37 comments total)
I think Kagan should write a paper on what the US response should be when the Europeans come running to us to protect them...as they sooner or later will.
posted by mikegre at 12:45 PM on May 28, 2002

I think Kagan should write a paper on what the US response should be when the Europeans come running to us to protect them...as they sooner or later will.

I think, as Americans, we should all try to be more arrogant. And more sarcastic.
posted by insomnyuk at 12:52 PM on May 28, 2002

Thank you, revbrian. This is why I read MeFi.

I'd be inclined to take issue with Kagan's impression that Europe is substantially more secure in the current international environment than the USA. First of all, it's debatable whether states themselves or non-state actors are the major threat to America today, and if it's the latter, Europe has nothing to be complacent about...

...especially when certain leaders persist in identifying themselves with the American sphere more than the European. (No names, no pack drill - Tony Blair.) Trying to make out that the UK is America's staunchest ally (even though the USA would be getting on perfectly well without them in Afghanistan as long as the 101st Mountain Division actually 'did mountains') seems all too close to calling bin Laden and suggesting some nice new targets he might not have thought about adding to his hit-list.

(Let's face it, as an island nation (copyright - any Tory politician you care to name) we're probably a lot more vulnerable to scuba divers....)
posted by CatherineB at 12:59 PM on May 28, 2002

Seems like a good common-sense summation to me - people do what's in their best interest. The image of the US as a sheriff and Europe as a saloonkeeper gave me a chuckle, although perhaps a madame might have been more fitting.

On a side note: did this guy get paid by the word or what? The article could easily have been trimmed by 75% without any loss.
posted by skyscraper at 1:12 PM on May 28, 2002

"The danger - if it is a danger - is that the United States and Europe will become positively estranged. Europeans will become more shrill in their attacks on the United States. The United States will become less inclined to listen, or perhaps even to care. The day could come, if it has not already, when Americans will no more heed the pronouncements of the eu than they do the pronouncements of asean or the Andean Pact."

If that day hasn't come, it's right on the doorstep. Europe is clearly telling us it doesn't like our efforts to involve ourselves in every little skirmish. The day will come when the U.S. says, "fine." Europe will then be shocked -- shocked! -- when the U.S. doesn't intervene to stop some perceived genocide or terrorist threat on European soil. And we'll all just be back here, shopping at our Wal-Marts, eating at our Olive Gardens, and whistlin' dixie 'til the cows come home.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:26 PM on May 28, 2002

It's a long, thorough and well-researched piece, though I do think that Kagan's been slightly selective in his quotations, definitely wrt Fischer in Germany, and especially in his reliance upon sources like Timothy Garton-Ash and Robert Cooper as the implicit representatives of the "knowing British" perspective, which apparently appreciates that Europe is handed its right to criticise on a US-funded military platter. Both Cooper and Garton-Ash speak essentially as 'trans-Atlantic Brits', with political careers formed out of the US-UK special relationship; and diplomatic turkeys, if you pardon the phrase, don't vote for Christmas. As CatherineB rightly points out, the growing emphasis on the actions of non-state bodies has very little to do with the NATO safety net. I think you can even extend that disclaimer to cover the litany of 'rogue states' that the Bush administration has been busily assembling.

So, I think the piece is guilty, in a way, of demonstrating the lack of subtlety that Kagan regards as the clich├ęd European view of US policy. It neglects a few key elements that dominate the politics of European security for this coming decade: the expansion of the EU to include central Europe; the inevitable redefinition of NATO (as today's Rome conference showed) to reflect the status and aspirations of Russia and the former Warsaw Pact; and the attempt to combine economic integration of central Europe with the expansion of the EU's common security policy. It's that kind of in-yer-face political evolution which necessitates an incrementalism from European capitals, whatever the ideological complexion, because it redraws the EU's borders in a way that forces a reassessment of two things: how to make what lies within cohere (something that was much less of an issue through the 90s) and how to address what lies beyond.
posted by riviera at 1:28 PM on May 28, 2002

'did this guy get paid by the word or what? The article could easily have been trimmed by 75% without any loss'

The Washington Post ran a shorter version of Kagan's article on Friday.
posted by Owen Boswarva at 2:01 PM on May 28, 2002

That was very interesting. Thanks, revbrian.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:24 PM on May 28, 2002

All would change substantially if the Americans were to withdraw ALL its troops, planes, etc from Europe and left them to protect themselves from...I am not sure what. We have had troops there since 1945 (end of WWII) and elsewhere and only fairly recently have some nations begun to pick up a part of the cost. This has left them to develop economies and fix up their nations while not having to worry about putting a part of their money into defense. Image if the Roman Empire decided to call it a day and go home. ?
posted by Postroad at 2:26 PM on May 28, 2002

> Europe has been militarily weak for a long time, but until
> fairly recently its weakness had been obscured. World
> War II all but destroyed European nations as global
> powers, and their postwar inability to project sufficient
> force overseas to maintain colonial empires in Asia,
> Africa, and the Middle East forced them to retreat on a
> massive scale after more than five centuries of imperial
> dominance - perhaps the most significant retrenchment
> of global influence in human history.

Read this and you've read the sum total of the meat in the article. The rest of it is the-editor-says-he-has-to-have-12000-words.
posted by jfuller at 2:30 PM on May 28, 2002

> Imagine if the Roman Empire decided to call it a day and
> go home. ?

The Roman Empire did exactly that in Britain and Europe. We call the result the Dark Ages.
posted by jfuller at 2:32 PM on May 28, 2002

The Roman Empire did exactly that in Britain and Europe. We call the result the Dark Ages.

No Dark Ages, no Rennaissance. There is a difference between forcing people to advance and allowing them to acclimate to change on their own. I prefer the latter. I don't know what you're trying to prove with that point, please elaborate.
posted by insomnyuk at 2:37 PM on May 28, 2002

A good article. Europeans can only pander and appease terrorists and dictators for so long before the strategy backfires. I hope no one is in the building or Metro or on the observation deck when it does.
posted by ParisParamus at 2:43 PM on May 28, 2002

"Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation. It is entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Kant's "Perpetual Peace."

Good Grief. Over 10,000 words - and I've gotta agree with rivera here ... he manages to assemble virtually every cliche and caricature from both sides of the pond, and play them against one another as though that could create a solid thesis with a coherent argument.

He captures a bit of truth, but only a very narrow slice of it. Seems to greatly overemphasize differences, and underemphasizes (where he doesn't downright ignore) similarities. But my biggest objection is that he seems to think that the rarified world of foreign policy wonks and hyper-specialized intellectuals is all of reality. It is in that world where there is some huge divide (or at least there is currently a big discussion raging about the topic). At the personal level, Americans and Europeans are still have far, far more areas of agreement than of dispute. One can always focus on details, and depending upon how one looks, can allege, and demonstrate, a huge "divide". In fact, I could use 10,000 words and demonstrate that a massive, nearly uncrossable divide exists between Texas and New York. It would be correct in terms of information and anecdote, but at it's root would be wrong because it would fail to correctly contextualize.

The US and Europe were born in the same house. Moved across the street from one another. continuously visit freely, borrow one another's lawn implements, and even have formed "Neighborhood Associations" by which they jointly watch the streets at night, agree on standards for the neighborhood, and etc. If, in such a situation, there is an argument over hiring an armed or unarmed cop to guard the neighborhood, or over whether the community instead of each house should decide about the colors of the mailboxes ... it doesn't mean some big divide has opened - in fact (and here's what the author seems to miss) it is only because we are so in accord on the fundamentals that these differences in the details can even arise.
posted by MidasMulligan at 3:07 PM on May 28, 2002

By the way Yankees, it pisses you off because it's true.

Thanks revbrian, from a Canadipean.

That's why we kicked your ass at hockey this year too, cause we play a hybrid European/NA style.
posted by kremb at 3:13 PM on May 28, 2002

MM: Thank you. I was wondering how best to respond to PP's 'just you wait Europe' post & you've come in with some good old fashioned common sense & reason. Spot on. I'll sleep a happier man ;-)

And what riviera said.
posted by i_cola at 3:19 PM on May 28, 2002

Europeans can only pander and appease terrorists and dictators for so long before the strategy backfires. I hope no one is in the building or Metro or on the observation deck when it does.

I never figured you for a "blowback" type, Paris, but aren't you saying that Europe should learn from the US? Are you of the position that the 'chickens came home to roost' on September 11th, or do you think there is a difference between American and European pandering for Dictators and terrorists?
posted by cell divide at 3:25 PM on May 28, 2002

Um...Americans don't pander to Islam-fueled terrorists and dictators with international agendas?

Even assuming pandering parody (and I don't), the difference between the US and Europe is that the later has neither the military strength nor nerve to reign-in the wackos once they've got out of hand.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:28 PM on May 28, 2002

Agreed, MM. It's because the piece finesses the hugely different immediate circumstances on each side that it resolves itself so easily into polarisation. From this side, to quote Fischer's Humboldt speech on 'the future of Europe' without acknowledging the context - what happens when the EU's border expands to the east - shows that Kagen's analysis is all back-to-front, trying to work backwards to draw conclusions from a piece of forward-thinking.

The Roman Empire did exactly that in Britain and Europe. We call the result the Dark Ages.

'We'? Funnily enough, my Tube reading has been this book, which talks about a very different definition of that period.
posted by riviera at 3:33 PM on May 28, 2002

Americans don't pander to Islam-fueled terrorists and dictators with international agendas

So are you drawing the line between pandering (whatever that is defined as) and financial support (the Mujahadin, Saddam Hussein, Shah of Iran Saudi Arabia), and saying that 'pandering' is a greater sin?

I think the best course of action is to not let any 'wackos' get out of hand in the first place, regardless of your military will and/or power. However I don't think Sept. 11th was a case of 'our wackos' getting 'out of hand' and don't think there are any contemporary European policies that would mirror that (in my opinion, false) assumption.
posted by cell divide at 3:46 PM on May 28, 2002

I think "alll" it will take is airplanes smashing in to the Eiffell Tower, Buckingham Palace and a couple other notable European landmarks and Europe will more than "get it". Its sad to say, but I think a terrible kick in the pants like that is why we have our current "war on terror" disconnect.
posted by owillis at 4:41 PM on May 28, 2002

Its sad to say, but I think a terrible kick in the pants like that is why we have our current "war on terror" disconnect.

I'm sure the families of those on the UK mainland blown up by the IRA in shopping centres and office buildings ('this terrorist attack is sponsored by your friends in the USA') are oh so disconnected with the notion of a 'war on terror'. Or, more politely, shut the fuck right up.
posted by riviera at 4:45 PM on May 28, 2002

And I could add the obvious disconnect with terror of those in the Basque country to that comment as well.
posted by riviera at 4:46 PM on May 28, 2002

I meant parity. Well, in terms of Saudi Arabia, the US does pander, so I withdraw my suggestion that the US panders less. But the rest of the equation remains.

And on a more serious note (fancy that!), Europe and the US have a largely symbiotic, synergistic relationship. Its just that I would be happier if it didn't seem that most of the pacifist leftists were over there, and not that far away from seizing power. Perhaps this is just another media-distortion?
posted by ParisParamus at 4:51 PM on May 28, 2002

Paris, my observation is that the pacifist-left makes a lot of noise, but the sensible center is in control and will be for a lo-ong time in virtually every corner of Europe. They feel they have the right to criticize our policies, and they do, but don't mistake criticism from the center for the agony of either extreme.

All of America's closest and most-important allies are in Europe. I think you are right when you say the media has a large role to play-- the European papers sell more with brash criticism, and the US papers like to play up Euro-dissent as a way to present ideas they don't have to take responsibility for. The reality is that all of Europe's center supports "The War on Terrorism" but only to a point where it starts to impede their own national interests. Don't let genuine criticism based in support be obscured by those more marginalized characters who don't want the US to do anything, anywhere.
posted by cell divide at 4:58 PM on May 28, 2002

Forget about US-EU divide. With the recent upsurge of chauvinism demonstrated by various individual European national elections, let's see how long EU will hold together.

insomnyuk:No Dark Ages, no Rennaissance.??????? Please elaborate.
posted by semmi at 5:26 PM on May 28, 2002

riviera: Read. I'm talking a major-league terror attack. Not your garden variety bombing, of course the fact that bombing nowadays is garden variety is scary in and of itself. I also give the Brits respect for being the most aware in Europe about what has to be done. Can't say the same for France.

But when can you ever?
posted by owillis at 6:45 PM on May 28, 2002

The French have the advantage of having police with the comparatively little 2nd Amendment-type restrictions. The police can stop you in the street, basically on whim. Then again, perhaps this is true in most places?
posted by ParisParamus at 7:20 PM on May 28, 2002

owillis: What the fuck do you know about the IRA's campaign in mainland Britain? I'm with riviera on this one. America's had far less terrorism to deal with than virtually any other country in the world. You expect the rest of the world to react with horror when you get caught up in it like the rest of us.
posted by salmacis at 1:37 AM on May 29, 2002

Ditto to Salmacis and Riviera. I've lived within 5 miles of 3 bomb incidents (Arndale Centre in Manchester, 2 in Ealing), and had a friend blown from one side of his office to the other at Canary Wharf. Despite however much of a "kick in the arse" this represents, like many others in this country I'm more concerned about the safety of my family and friends than bombing Eire back to the stone age.

I'm certain no-one has a definitive answer to ending terrorism, but we've got first-hand experience of what doesn't work: to which Northern Ireland and Catalonia will testify. Conversely, there are indications that engagement can potentially be successful - at least in alienating extreme terrorist groups from popular support. Thank fuck people like this exist.
posted by bifter at 2:50 AM on May 29, 2002

Oh, and as for Britain being "being the most aware in Europe as to what has to be done", thanks for pat on the head, but in my experience bullshit. Like every other country in Europe there is nothing remotely approaching a conversational consensus in this country, and last time I checked no focus groups quizzing barrow-boys about their take on advanced 21st century geopolitics. I probably would have laughed at the utter ridiculousness of the idea if I wasn't feeling so thoroughly fucking patronised.
posted by bifter at 2:55 AM on May 29, 2002

owillis: Think. Just how low can you go? Maybe you'd like to hijack a plane & do the job yourself just to make sure? [NB: Don't go for the Eiffel Tower or Buckingham Palace as they aren't that chock full of people. Try Canada Tower in London (the IRA had a go but failed), or maybe the EU complex in Brussels.] That'll learn us, eh?

I'm sitting here in Brighton, UK just 10 mins walk from The Grand Hotel. 18 years ago in IRA bomb went off & nearly wiped out the top layer of the UK govt. Bifter's link tells of how the effects are still being felt.

I lived in London for 10 years & for over half that time daily life was punctuated by the bomb scares which ground the city to a halt. Occasionally there were actual bombs which went off. I narrowly missed one myself (Victoria) & had friends caught up in the horror of another (Sussex Arms, Covent Garden).

A college friend of mine lost a member of his family to one of the many bombs in N. Ireland & there are countless others who have lost loved ones in bombings in Manchester, Warrington, Brimingham, Guildford etc. etc.

Then we have the bombing of the Pan-Am airliner that dropped on Lockerbie in Scotland.

Move onto the continent and actions by ETA, the Red Brigade, Bader-Meinhof, November 17, Black September etc. etc....feel free to look for more. Even the most cursory of glances at Europe's history last century should give a clue as to why a lot of people over here are slightly more cautious when it comes to getting involved in yet more fighting. We've learned a lesson on that one...I hope.

[If you need to check on just how many terrorist incidents have happened globally, start here.]

This gives a decent overview of some of the sticking points between the US & Europe in the war on terror. A lot of it boils down to the Bush administration acting more unilaterally than a lot of European heads of state feel comfortable with. If there is to be a coalition against terror then some attempt at unity & coming together seems reasonable.

And maybe getting a little closer - which Bush & co. seem to be trying to do - is going to be more fruitful than stirring up a whole load of US vs Europe 'you gonna get yours' antagonistic bullshit? But then that wouldn't make for such 'good' copy in blogs & newspapers on either side of the pond would it? Get those readers in, we've gotta make some cash.

The chances are that another major attack will happen - not your *ahem* garden variety - & it could happen in the US (4th July, Sept 11th 2002?), Japan or Korea (World Cup in June?), the UK (Queen's Jubilee (*yawn*) this coming weekend?), Brussels, Paris, Berlin or anywhere else in the free world you care to name.

The only people who will be applauding are going to be the perpetrators & those sick enough to think that terrorism is a great thing to use against those of us who believe in various flavours of freedom, democracy & the rights of the individual.
posted by i_cola at 4:59 AM on May 29, 2002

If European nations can't really contribute anything militarily, and have, for whatever reason, a lack of interest in acting militarily, can it really be said that the US is acting unilaterally? Is there really another, viable "lateral" with which to not act unilaterally?
posted by ParisParamus at 5:29 AM on May 29, 2002

Also, revbrian: thanks for a intelligent, in-depth post.
posted by ParisParamus at 5:30 AM on May 29, 2002

The Brits have said it for me, i_cola especially: I did a quick check of my memory on the way home from work, to think of how that pissy European garden-variety terrorism worked itself out in my adult lifetime. IRA bombings in NI and the mainland; Basque terrorism; a large plane blown out of the sky over Scotland; a string of Algerian terrorist bombings in Paris in 1995 (so the anti-French cadre can stick that one up their patronising arses); airports blown up across Europe by Palestinian militants in the 80s. The Baader-Meinhof attacks; the Red Brigade gangs in Italy. And that's just off the top of my head without doing any research.

Really, the arrogance of Americans who now argue that, having escaped terrorism for decades, this one (terrible) example is the only thing that counts as 'real' terrorism, just staggers me. And yes, sickens me.

But anyway, thanks for shitting over a discussion that was going well until you arrived. Really appreciate it.
posted by riviera at 8:11 AM on May 29, 2002

riviera,I believe you mistook owillis. (Who then mistook your response in turn.)

The reaction of Europeans to Islamic terror directed (largely) against the US has been markedly different from their reaction to the examples you describe. I believe Britblogger Steven Chapman made the point best thus: What so many commentators are overlooking when discussing US-EU differences is that the European Union's enemies (the communists of Eastern Europe) are no more, whereas America's enemies are still out there, plotting and scheming. As I said previously: a notional Europragmatist could argue that it would be unwise for Europe to place itself in a position where it would take flak from what are, essentially, America's enemies. Hence you see the divergence of interests laid bare. {emphasis mine}

Maybe Europeans are fully right to say you don't have a dog in this fight. Oliver's point is that you are probably wrong. I tend to think so, as well, though I also suspect that the point where the fight reaches Europe is some ways off for a variety of reasons.

In any event, regardless of how many individual terror attacks have been perpetrated on European soil, September 11 dwarfed them all; indeed, even the 1998 embassy bombings, foreign nationals included, dwarf most other terrorist bombings.
posted by dhartung at 11:22 AM on May 29, 2002


In any event, regardless of how many individual terror attacks have been perpetrated on European soil, September 11 dwarfed them all

The reason this discussion has been so frustrating for me, and I suspect the other Europeans involved is the inability to recognise just how totally worthless the observation you make is. September 11th dwarfed everyone else's terrorist experiences... in terms of what? Misery inflicted on one single nation? - unquantifiable. Effect on the largest % of population - untrue, as anyone that lives or works in London, Birmingham or Manchester will tell you. Column inches? Okay - I'll grant you that one. What does this type of statement achieve other than to send an arrogant, whiny, patronising, "you think you know pain? pah! you know nothing" message to the people that have had to live their lives in the shadow of real terrorist attacks (or false alarms - to all intents and purposes the same thing) for the better part of a century. Europe doesn't have a monopoly on misery - newsflash: neither does America.

Like so many other responses I have seen on this and related issues, your post (either deliberately or blindly) assumes that response to this threat can only be registered on a scale running from 0 (sit on your hands) to 10 (nuke the middle-east). The painful lack of imagination in this line of thinking seems self-evident to me. I strongly suggest that the more Europeans are told that mother knows best, and that we should support, participate in or condone without question reactions that we know from our own painful experience are not effective, the greater this divide will become.

I'll leave someone else to take issue with the staggering assertion that Islamic terrorists are America's enemies, and communist eastern Europe was not....
posted by bifter at 2:09 AM on May 30, 2002

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