September 15, 2004 3:02 PM   Subscribe

The World's Most Dangerous Ideas: U.S. and European goals on most issues are quite similar. Both want a peaceful world free from terror, with open trade, growing freedom, and civilized codes of conduct. A Europe that charts its own course just to mark its differences from the United States threatens to fracture global efforts—whether on trade, proliferation, or the Middle East. Europe is too disunited to achieve its goals without the United States; it can only ensure that America’s plans don’t succeed. The result will be a world that muddles along, with the constant danger that unattended problems will flare up disastrously. Instead of win-win, it will be lose-lose—for Europe, for the United States, and for the world.
posted by gd779 (21 comments total)
I think this is probably one of the most insigntful and honest articles I've read on the recent surge in anti-americanism. Here's another choice tidbit:

The wave of anti-Americanism is, of course, partly a product of the current Bush administration’s policies and, as important, its style... Anti-Americanism’s ascendance also owes something to the geometry of power. The United States is more powerful than any country in history, and concentrated power usually means trouble. Other countries have a habit of ganging up to balance the reigning superpower. Throughout history, countries have united to defeat hegemonic powers—from the Hapsburgs to Napoleon to Kaiser Wilhelm and Hitler.

For over 50 years, the United States employed skillful diplomacy to fend off this apparently immutable law of history. U.S. administrations used power in generally benign ways, working through international organizations, fostering an open trading system that helped others grow economically, and providing foreign aid to countries in need. To demonstrate that it was not threatening, the United States routinely gave great respect and even deference to much weaker countries. By crudely asserting U.S. power and disregarding international institutions and alliances, the Bush administration has pulled the curtain on decades of diplomacy and revealed that the United States’ constraints are self-imposed: America can, in fact, go it alone. Not surprisingly, the rest of the world resents this imbalance and searches for ways to place obstacles in America’s way.

posted by gd779 at 3:03 PM on September 15, 2004

This is probably tangential, but it seems related, and I find it interesting, so...

I would argue that the greatest engine of democracy in the past decade has been European: specifically, desire for inclusion in the European Union has driven former Eastern Bloc countries towards open free-market democracy and away from the sort of dire kleptocracy we've seen in some of the failed states of the former Soviet Union. Interestingly, however, as these Eastern European states come into their own (and into the Union), they're embracing not the (occasional) French model of a bipolar European/American world, but a more British model with the US as big brother (no Orwell intended) to Europe. It's ironic from a certain French point of view, I think.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:14 PM on September 15, 2004

This is sort of reducing the relationship between Europe and the U.S. to game theory - sort of a variation on Mutually Assured Destruction. Indeed, sometimes both sides need to give a little bit to achieve a Win/Win situation. As long as one side (or both sides) plays to be the only winner, the odds are against either side "winning."

I mean, Nash explained all this.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:08 PM on September 15, 2004

Europe and the US most certainly do have the same interests in mind which is why all this anti-Americanism is a side show distraction from the real issues. The world operates the same as how the lower class and upper class interact. It is more accurate to segment the world not along national boundaries, but along economic boundaries. Nationalism is no longer that important, it makes no sense for Germany to invade France, the focal axis is along markets and economics. The US, Japan, Germany etc.. are all working together to ensure they maintain their market leadership. The US provides the muscle, Japan and Germany buy up US debt to ensure their market economies continue to prosper, and so on. The third world countries are pawns just like in the age of Imperialism except instead of being territorial pawns, they are market pawns. Once you realize that Nationalism is not the focus, then anti-Americanism makes no sense, or at least, is of no consequence. The only true anti-Americanism would come about if America stopped supporting the world market economy.. ie.. if it let the Middle East oil stop flowing, then another country like Russia or France or Germany would step in and take over the role America has been playing.
posted by stbalbach at 4:09 PM on September 15, 2004

stbalbach, I like your positing of the relationships ... but it seems that you miss one huge player (who I dare say wants to be missed for right now). That would be China, the 800 pound economic gorilla, to whom nationalism isn't a religion, its an economic philosophy, guiding sociological policy and military policy, and life force.
posted by Wulfgar! at 4:25 PM on September 15, 2004

From the article: The United States is more powerful than any country in history.

I hear this a lot. How is it true? Is it just yet another example of a narcissistic tendency for US exceptionalism?

Power is a process, not a potential. It is realised only through execution and results. The US can barely maintain a tenuous hold over Iraq - a rather small country with an infrastructure largely devastated after more than a decade of seige.

I think the Umayyad/Abbasid Persians managed Iraq rather better in their day. That, to me, was a projection of power, an exercise in control, with results that lasted centuries.

It's notable that for all its posturing, the US these days generally picks fights only with crappy developing nations or tiny island states with minimal defences. And its track record in producing long-term favourable changes within the local environment is rather hit and miss.

The current desperate attempts to avoid a conflict with North Korea at all costs reminds us of how leery the US war planners must be when it comes to confronting this undeafeated enemy once again.

For all this talk about "pacifist" Europe, let's not forget that Germany, which in 1930 had been reduced through economics and treaties, to a low state of military strength, managed within a decade to re-arm to such a degree that it took the combined "Power" of much of the rest of the world to defeat it utterly.

That's a small nation around only slightly larger than California fighting the rest of the world to a standstill for years. And almost winning.

Germany, or any other similar advanced, developed, wealthy European country, could once again pose such a threat, were it expedient. But as other posters have illustrated, within today's Europe the amazingly effective expansionist EU ideology is proving eerily effective at drawing more and more of the continent's resources within its purview. It stretches almost from the Atlantic to the goddam Urals these days!

This alliance of France, Germany, and Italy has proved more effective at exerting dominance over more and more of the richest, most prosperous part of the world than any recent military Empire. And they didn't even have to fire a single shot or spend a penny. Between the EU and China, the diminishing Russian Empire is being slowly carved up by a process that reminds me of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the assimilation of its vassal states by other rising world Powers of that era.

Tell me again what is meant by "Power"?
posted by meehawl at 5:24 PM on September 15, 2004

I just can't agree with this.
Firstly, Anti Americanism, although currently more prevalant than its been since the 80's is and always has been pretty strong. The initial quote "today, we are all Americans" was taken out of context.

Secondly, I can't think of anyone who thinks that American diplomacy has been "skillful" since about 1950.

Europe struggles to define itself, and will continue to struggle for a long while yet, but I don't think its main priorities are to either place an obstacle in the way of American dominance or to become American. I'm European, but I'm not quite sure what that means yet.
posted by seanyboy at 5:27 PM on September 15, 2004

meehawl: trust me, many pennies were spent. And I don't mean metaphorically.
posted by seanyboy at 5:35 PM on September 15, 2004

Wulfgar, China is the nouveaux rich.. a little awkward and out of place with some rough spots, but it is trying hard to be accepted amongst the upper classes. Space program, nuclear reactors, imperialistic policies in the western provincials.. it has all the trappings.. but as you say, is it civilized enough to play by the "rules of the game".. I think so.
posted by stbalbach at 5:43 PM on September 15, 2004

as these Eastern European states come into their own (and into the Union), they're embracing ... the US as big brother (no Orwell intended)

That's a good point. I'd argue that the Eastern European nations are continuing a relatively modern trend towards vassalage and accommodation to larger Powers within a "shared security framework". It gives them a direction they are comfortable with. Also, considering that their all of their recent few decades of experience of politics has been based on the threat of force, they are naturally going to gravitate towards the loudest kid on the block.

Once upon a time much of their elites were happy to kowtow within the Warsaw Pact, now many of them are happy to be in NATO. They get to polish their boots, burnish their buttons, and play with the big cool toys and lethal hand-me-downs from Big Brother. As an added bonus, they also get to join the EU and instead of exporting capital and labour eastward, now they get to turn the funnel around and point it at Mitteleuropa.

In a way they remind me of how frequently regional princes and nobles used to change allegiences within Europe, sometimes several times during their lifetimes, based on which continental Power was currently ascendent or impinging on their territories.

Nothing new to see here.
posted by meehawl at 5:46 PM on September 15, 2004

I think the general gist in the world of economic diplomacy these days is that if the USA makes itself too much a pain in the ass, it'll be excluded from the world market.

Asia: 3600M
Africa: 900M
Europe: 730M
Latin America: 540M
North America: 325M
MidEast: 260M

Why would a company choose to sell 325M widgets when it could sell 10x as many over in Asia? Right now, it's only because the Chinese don't have as much disposable income/demand for material consumer goods as the USA.

The USA counts in the global marketplace only so long as its citizens have lots of disposable income and its government doesn't make it too difficult to sell stuff.

What are the trends? My base-ass guess is that USAians have far less free cash than they used to, which means they aren't able to buy as much shit. The US market is, then, shrinking. Meanwhile, the Euro market is growing, India is booming, and China is becoming a big, big threat.

Gonna be an interesting ride, these next few decades.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:51 PM on September 15, 2004

trust me, many pennies were spent.

I lived in Dublin's Temple Bar and so witnessed first-hand what German "Regional Development Funds" could do.

It seems like a lot of money... until you look at how much a single aircraft carrier costs to build and/or operate. Then you consider having fleets of them.

When you consider the amount of money the US spends on its military, then factor in the monies sent abroad as military aid to its proxies and vassal states, then the total EU spend so far on expansionist and integrationist projects is tiny. My point is that I think the Germans, Brits, French, and Italians have got far more value out of their budgets.
posted by meehawl at 5:53 PM on September 15, 2004

There is a suggestion to re-order the United Nations Security Council in a different way. The veto powers being only those nations that can project major military and economic power around the world: the US, Russia, China, and India.

The *permanent* non-voting members would not be countries, but blocs: the EU, ASEAN/Oceania (non-China), Central Asia, Africa, South America, and non-aligned. Any of these blocs could become veto members if, and only if, they ascended to the responsibility of force projection, both militarily and economically. If you want to play, you have to pay.

Then a *separate* Nuclear Security Council would be created, with voting members those nations that acknowledge their nuclear weapons and permit full IAEA inspections. Its non-voting members would be those nations that are technologically capable, but either will not acknowledge having nuclear weapons, have renounced having them, or refuse to allow IAEA inspections.

Its function would be all nuclear materials and weapons issues, to include international protocols, non-proliferation and black markets, safety measures, waste disposal, verification issues and disaster prevention and cleanup.

This would streamline the Security Council for prompt action, with non-players (like France), unable to prevent what the great powers may agree to unanimously.
posted by kablam at 6:01 PM on September 15, 2004

U.S. and European goals on most issues are quite similar. Both want a peaceful world free from terror, with open trade, growing freedom, and civilized codes of conduct. A Europe that charts its own course just to mark its differences from the United States threatens to fracture global efforts

So what's the message here? Get on board with the yanks or you'll screw it all up?
posted by kaemaril at 6:16 PM on September 15, 2004

freedom fries with pretty words. yawn.
posted by mr.marx at 6:30 PM on September 15, 2004

The US market is, then, shrinking.

From who's ass did you draw this conjecture out of? Almost every economic indicator is saying that the US economy is growing. The major complain we hear right now is that it is not growing fast enough, or not as fast as expected. Nonetheless it is still growing doing a lot better than Europe. Shrinking? Which universe do you live in?
posted by VeGiTo at 10:11 PM on September 15, 2004

Two things.
  1. America cannot, "in fact, go it alone." The fact that it is reliant on imported oil and other goods throws that idea out the window.
  2. When is the author going to write his essay about growing anti-Europeanism in the U.S., and how that effects the equation?
posted by moonbiter at 4:10 AM on September 16, 2004

A third thing.

3. with non-players (like France)
Since when did France become a non-player?
Did they quit NATO?
Did they destroy their nuclear weapons?
Disband their military?
I don't think so.
France hs played a significant role in peace keeping via the UN and NATO so let's address the issue honestly.
What mr.marx said. Fancy freedom fries words.
posted by nofundy at 7:30 AM on September 16, 2004

Kablam, that concept is patently ridiculous -- ranking Russia with real countries has been a joke since about '94. The countries with economic power are the United States, China, Japan, India, and Germany. Russia is behind Italy, for fuck's sake. None except the US have anything beyond great power status militarily (Russia can't even maintain its own territorial integrity!), and because of their physical proximity to other great powers, the Asian nations are barely able to project power to their direct neighbors, much less across oceans.

And I'm sure your security council will get a lot done with Japan, China, and India wielding vetos.
posted by Ptrin at 8:54 AM on September 16, 2004

Criticism != Hate

It's so convenient for those supporting the current neo-con policies to equate criticism with hate. I guess that's a trick learned from Israel, and one used to exhaustion. There's just a tiny problem with this line of reasoning: it means nearly half of americans are america-haters.
posted by gambuzino at 10:54 AM on September 16, 2004

I read somewhere that the only army in the world other than America's that could project any real power overseas is the British army. They have the second most advanced army in the world, and it is the only army that can augment the American troops and together actually produce better results.

All the other armies are more of a hinderance than help when they fight along side the American troops, mostly because their protocols and technologies are so far behind. Getting any of them on board on any mission doesn't serve any purpose other than a symbolic or diplomatic one.
posted by VeGiTo at 3:54 PM on September 16, 2004

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