Stuck on Calypso’s Island

Dialoguing with the Europeans.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

What follows is a fair summation of about 20 or so dialogues I had recently with a series of Europeans — a good cross-section really of Scandinavians, British, Germans, Greeks, and Dutch. Questions and answers are taken almost verbatim from our exchanges.

Europeans: What we object to most is the unilateralism and the language of the Bush administration, more so than any particular policy decision. Can’t they tone it down?

Dumb American: Maybe this cowboyism is akin to a similarly southern-accented president’s previous failure to consult both our Congress and the U.N. when we bombed Milosevic? Or are you guys ticked off at the litany of needlessly provocative and uncouth asides — like “German way,” “sh*tty little country,” “Nazi manner,” “problems with Miami and New York,” etc.? Or perhaps Mr. Bush — in the manner of President Putin — threatened castration to a French journalist?

Europeans: Moving on — you need to study our past to learn why we will no longer accept war as a method of adjudicating disputes.

Dumb American: We long ago did that — and in 1941 figured war was the only way to restore what you nearly destroyed.

Europeans: Well, war is simply not an option any longer for us, like it or not. You started this mess in Iraq and now want us to bail you out; so, yes, there is a sort of “I told you so” self-righteousness over here — and why not?

Dumb Americans: And do Osama bin Laden, General Mladic, Saddam Hussein, and Kim Jong Il — all suitably impressed with your elegant forbearance — agree about the futility of war? As far as Iraq goes, forget about the war, look at the peace. We are not asking you to help us fight, but to send some aid to a consensual government emerging in Iraq. Are we to assume that you would extend $100 billion in military and trade credits to a mass-murdering fascist, but almost nothing to his victims, who got very little from your lucrative trade deals?

Europeans: Perhaps our growing divide arises out of a sort of American simplicity about Israel and Sharon — now that the neocons have taken over Washington and have ignored the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians. The United States simply is not as sensitive as we in Europe are to the problem of refugees and the abuse of power that is seen as so threatening to the Muslim world.

Dumb American: Do you mean the 50-something dead in Jenin last spring or the 80,000-something Muslim dead in Grozny over more than a decade — or is the rub the 250,000 Muslim dead in Kosovo and Bosnia? Is it the “hyper” reaction of IDF or of the Russian and Serbian armies that grates on you?

Europeans: True, there are legitimate differences in both points of view. But we worry that the Americans are not really aware of the depth of the European venom toward the United States. The anger is really cascading.

Dumb American: Do you think such populist fury will result in the wholesale expulsion of our soldiers from Germany, Suda Bay, or Spain? Or maybe even the ejection of the United States from NATO?

Europeans: Don’t laugh — an all-EU force is months away.

Dumb American: Centered around the Charles de Gaul or the Luxembourg Air Force?

Europeans: Come on. You know that the animus is directed at Bush, not the American people.

Dumb American: No; I think the divide is even worse than that, I’m afraid. You see, the reaction over here is just the opposite — we have nearly given up not so much on European governments but Europeans themselves, which we see as essentially the same.

Europeans: In some ways you’re right. After all, over half our population now believes that you — not the North Koreans or the Iranians — are the real threat to world peace.

Dumb American: I suppose a similar poll 65 years ago would have revealed the same thing about your fear of a unilateral Churchill and your ease with a multilateral Hitler, who seemed to get a nod from the Russians, Italians, Spanish, Eastern Europeans, and Japanese when he went into Poland. But in any case, we wish you luck with the Iranian mullahs. And as far as Tehran goes, for your sake — as long as we are not yet in missile range — we hope that your Nobel Prizes, trade credits, lectures, and so-called “soft power” provide better deterrence than an ABM.

Europeans: Our disagreement is not so simplistic as that. But part of the problem is that Americans simply do not know much outside their shores and listen to silly Fox News and Rush Limbaugh for their information.

Dumb American: Do you prefer instead the erudition and scholarship of Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, or Thierry Meyssan, who, if the best-seller lists are any indication, have taught Europe much about America since 9/11?

Europeans: I’m talking about snap judgment and simple solutions to complex problems.

Dumb American: Like Bonapartism, Prussian militarism, Nazism, Italian fascism, Francoism, Marxism, and Communism?

Europeans: Well, it is precisely our experience with those nightmares that guides us today, and explains why we would never allow a South Central or Harlem. And certainly we wouldn’t unleash someone like this Ashcroft — or wage a preemptive war in Iraq.

Dumb American: Marseilles is a socialist paradise? But tell me: Are Jews safer in Paris than Arabs are in Detroit? And is it a more moral thing for us to jail and try terrorist killers or, like you, turn them loose, as we saw all the time during the last two decades?

Europeans: But don’t simply scoff; for us the idea that you would spend $87 billion on fighting in Iraq while your own people don’t have health care is preposterous.

Dumb American: But was the death rate this August higher in the Sunni Triangle or Paris? We believe that a nanny state is not only inefficient, but, when the temperature rises, downright lethal.

Europeans: You can see what we need is more communication — what concrete steps need to be taken to resolve the issue?

Dumb American: For starters? Perhaps forgive Iraq’s multibillion-dollar debt to France and Germany that Saddam ran up for imported weapons that killed thousands of his own people and some of us as well. Build a couple of aircraft carriers and learn how to use them to promote freedom and democracy. Impose a trade embargo on Syria and Iran. Don’t give any more money to those who funnel it to suicide bombers on the West Bank. If you are in NATO, send 50,000 troops to Afghanistan to finish off those who attacked your ally; otherwise get out or dissolve NATO.

And so it typically goes. Most of these European interlocutors are impressively educated. They are naturally inquisitive and well versed in the nuances of culture. But there is also a great fear among them — almost as if the United States is a painful reminder that the world might not be so calm beyond their shores. If we would just not stir things up, leave it alone, not worry about it — the “problem” of terror might go away — as if the Soviet Union once collapsed due not to billions invested in American deterrence, but to a change of heart by well-meaning Marxists in Moscow.

Europeans fixate on American and Israeli foibles — and not the far greater transgressions of Russians, Chinese, Iranians, or Arabs. Why? Because we alone listen to them, and with us they are not overwhelmed by the magnitude of a Grozny, Tibet, mass hangings in Tehran, the obliteration of an entire town in Hama, or the gassing of Kurds. And of course Mr. Bush does not threaten to cut off any European journalist’s testicles, or brag about not clicking his heels to Germans.

I’m sure that the Europeans are light-years ahead of us in the use of public transportation. They probably are wiser in their per-capita energy utilization, and their primary and secondary education may be superior. But there is also something of Calypso’s island about them. For all their professed enjoyment of food, shelter, and lovemaking, the Europeans are bored silly with their listless routine and are increasingly timid — this from a great people who should not, but really do, live in terror of their own past. Like Odysseus in his comfy subservience to Calypso, these mesmerized and complacent sensualists sometimes contemplate leaving the comfort of their fairyland atoll and in boredom weep nightly, gazing out at the seashore. But as yet they lack the hero’s courage to finally build a raft and sail rough seas to confront suitors who are trying to crash their civilization.

This war would be over far sooner if 350 million Europeans insisted on a modicum of behavior from Middle Eastern rogue regimes, rounded up and tried terrorists in their midst, deported islamofascists, cut off funding to killers on the West Bank, ignored Yasser Arafat — and warned the next SOB who blew up Europeans in Turkey, North Africa, or Iraq that there was a deadly reckoning to come from the continent that invented the Western military tradition. Indeed, European sophistication and experience, combined with real power, could be a great aid to the West in its effort to promote liberal and consensual governments outside its shores. But if they do not even believe in the unique legacy of their civilization, then why should we — much less their enemies?

So for now we should not lament that the Europeans are no longer real allies, but rather be thankful that they are still for a while longer neutrals rather than enemies — these strange and brilliant people who somehow lost their way, and no longer can distinguish between a noisy Knesset and Arafat’s hangmen, much less between those racing to topple a tyrant in Baghdad and others lounging at Sebrenica.

©2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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