Conflicted Europe

To build confidence Europe needs to stand alone.

by Victor Davis Hanson

Tribune Media Services

After the 2000 elections, George W. Bush became president without a majority vote. Many Europeans snickered at the sorry spectacle of the world’s oldest continuous democracy devolving into Third-World election chaos. Few critics cared to hear about the nature of America’s two-century-old Electoral College.

But the same sort of electoral paralysis now holds Germany. Even though Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union won a close popular vote over Gerhard Schroder’s Social Democratic Party Sept. 18, no one knows who will be the new chancellor.

Most Americans admire Europe’s cultivated lifestyle, public transportation and sophisticated take on world affairs. But they are puzzled as to why Europeans — well before the election of Bush — seemed to have defined themselves as the anti-United States.

Is it because they don’t need us anymore to keep Soviets from their borders? Have they forgotten American sacrifices in two European world wars?

Or is it that the European Union is doing no better than the United States and often a lot worse? That frustration might explain why Europe’s proud, cultured citizens seem so unhappy with — or envious of — us yokels.

The European social net was supposedly proof of European compassion in contrast to our cutthroat winner-take-all culture. But in Germany and France, there is essentially no economic growth, and unemployment has hovered around 10 percent. That doesn’t seem very humane.

Before World War II, the weak coalition governments of Germany’s Weimar Republic finally collapsed when 6 million Germans were out of work. Beware: At one point this year, unemployment in Germany reached the 5 million mark. And once again Germans eerily assign blame to someone else. This time the scapegoats are often American venture capitalists, George Bush or the bogeymen neo-conservatives.

After 9/11, many refined European civil libertarians winced at our Patriot Act. The United States — true to its “hang ‘em high” heritage — was descending into Texas-style justice, or so they believed. But after the Madrid and London bombings, and the spread of Islamic radicalism in general, proposed new European legislation goes far beyond the Patriot Act. Even naturalized European citizens could soon be summarily deported under mere suspicion of pro-terrorist speaking and writing.

Then there are the results of European insistence on multilateral solutions to international conflicts. Many Americans thought their approach was either a clever way of tying up the United States or an impractical way to confront bullies.

No matter. The U.S. assented and turned over the Iranian nuclear crisis to the Europeans. But so far that nuclear program is full-speed ahead in Tehran. Russia, India and China are Iran’s new apologists. France and Germany seem humiliated, as Iranian theocrats usually ignore their empty requests even for weak United Nations auditing.

More recently, Hurricane Katrina was often offered as proof of American environmental, class and racial chaos. Yet by any fair token, we are recovering pretty well. A mammoth hurricane overwhelmed a city below sea level, on a stormy coast, positioned on a huge river delta and beneath a vast lake. Yet in an August 2003 heat wave, 15,000 French citizens — far more than were lost in New Orleans — died, while a distracted nation hit the beaches for their promised state-subsidized vacations.

Military matters especially seem to bring out our differences. In Iraq, Americans are caricatured by Europeans as Neanderthals bashing heads in the Sunni Triangle while the refined British patrol without helmets or sunglasses in the calmer Shiite south. Yet Basra is becoming lawless due to the British’s laxity. Lately, an exasperated British military resorted to crashing a tank into an Iraqi detention center to try to rescue its own kidnapped soldiers.

In Afghanistan, NATO was asked to help out in the supposedly “good war” to remove the Taliban and ensure democracy. But so far the levels of European troops there are disappointing. And most are prevented by their governments from even engaging terrorists outside of Kabul.

There are four general lessons here:

First, when Europe is occasionally forced to confront the same human and natural challenges that the United States regularly does, it fares no better and often far worse.

Second, European Big Government can be just as callous as American private enterprise and is often less efficient.

Third, Europeans’ anger at the United States reveals their own uncertainty about failing policies that have somehow produced too few jobs. More optimistic countries like India, China, Australia, Japan and many in Eastern Europe look to the future, not the past — and don’t seem to scapegoat the United States for their own self-induced problems.

Fourth, to maintain our historical friendship — and we must — it is time to politely let Europeans regain their confidence by standing on their own. Let’s start by pulling our remaining troops out. A continent larger and more populous than our own after 60 years can tend to its own defense needs or lack there of — as we Americans move on.

©2005 Tribune Media Services

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