Welcome Back, Europe

Reentering history’s arena.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

The scheduled partial U.S. troop withdrawals from Europe were long overdue; some of us had become shrill and hoarse in calling for them over the past few years. It was not just that there was no longer any conventional enemy on Old Europe’s borders, or that the new hot points are further to the east, or even that in terms of a cost-benefit analysis it made no sense stationing traditional army divisions roughly where Patton and Hodges ended up 60 years ago.

The real significance, inasmuch as many airbases and depots will stay, is symbolic and psycho-sociological. Unwittingly, we had created an unhealthy passive-aggressiveness in Europe that clinicians might identify as a classic symptom of dependency. Europe — now larger and more populous than the United States — has reduced defense investment to subsidize a variety of social expenditures found nowhere in the world. So insular had its utopians become under the aegis of NATO’s subsidized protection that it was increasingly convinced that the ubiquitous United States was the world’s rogue nation, the last impediment to a 35-hour work week, cradle-to-grave subsidies, and wind power the world over.

A once-muscular and hallowed NATO has become a Potemkin alliance. The more jetting grandees praised the “historic role of the Trans-Atlantic partnership,” the more its logic dictated that it would deploy only where there were no enemies of the West — parading and maneuvering where there were never dangers, bickering and recriminating about going where there always were.

Europe, as the perpetual adolescent, took potshots at its doting parent, always with the assumption that Dad would still hand over the keys, ignore the cheap sass, and “be there for me” if the car ended up in the ditch.

Expect more partisan hysteria here at home in response to President Bush’s courageous announcement, which in fact had been under consideration for years, precisely because there is no legitimate criticism to be offered. The careful strategy of slow withdrawal fits in well with Mr. Kerry’s notion of a new, restructured military. The notion of bringing troops home from anywhere is what the new Michael Moore Democrats always wish for when they label America as hegemonic, imperialistic, and meddlesome. Politicos appreciate that only Republicans would have enough foreign policy fides — in the manner that Nixon went to China, but Carter looked deranged when talking about pulling out all Americans from Korea — to pull off long-needed reform.

Thus because the move was both measured and sound, and yet could not be claimed by the neo-Democratic establishment, it will be seen as especially grating. Wesley Clark — who once had no problem with appearing on stage with Michael Moore for a cheap endorsement, even as the latter called Clark’s commander-in-chief a “traitor” and is on record as praising the fascist killers of Americans as “Minutemen” — was wheeled out to utter a few banalities about “politics.” But after a few deer-in-the-headlights appearances, he wisely withdrew, his heart really not in the script presented.

Thus in the manner we have seen about Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, the isolation of Yasser Arafat, and Iraq, expect Kerry and company to triangulate, ankle-bite about “unilateral decision-making,” “needlessly provocative measures” and “insensitivity to historical allies” — and, of course, in the end not dare to demand we put divisions back into Germany. Such is the new foreign policy of grumbling: “Cowboy Bush wrongly did it, but it’s done, and in my infinite sobriety I’ll let it be.”

The real significance of Bush’s decision will be felt inside Europe itself. Our gradual departure will bring slow reckoning to the nations of Europe, not just in places like Poland, worried about 10 percent of old Germany inside its borders, but also and especially in the west among nations like Denmark and Holland. Their no-nonsense leaders have ignored the mob’s cheap antics and treasured the idea that real Americans in uniform were always nearby, whose sanctity meant their own security, and whose imperilment guaranteed that a $600 billion military would immediately rush to stand side-by-side on their ramparts. So their concerns — as bilateral partners — must be addressed.

Anyone old enough to have known the Wehrmacht in the past and the intra-European hounding that goes on in the present does not believe that we are at the end of history — at least not until the nature of man changes and national character is revealed as a mere construct. Germany is united again, but an economic colossus stalled, as its politicians silently gnash about “unfairness” in the EU, and as German Euros go east and south to subsidize “others.” Germany, in fact, is in flux, a period of shake-out not seen since the late 1920s, in which the reaction to a failed socialist-pacifist agenda will one day either bring pro-American reform or unpredictable fury, in any direction.

In lieu of the Maginot Line and troops in the Ardennes, postmodern France will boast in multilateral tones more and more about its vauntedforce de frappe — that is, how lucky the EU is to have the Gallic atomic deterrent at its disposal. Such is the braggadocio that will reveal secret apprehensions that next time America really will not come in for round three, that nuclear deterrence without conventional power has its practical and tactical limitations, and that in times of real crisis any EU country could match France’s arsenal in weeks. For most Europeans the idea that the French nuclear deterrent will soon be all that stands between them and a rogue Iran is a frightening thought indeed.

To the south, in the Mediterranean, history’s shoals are everywhere, submerged and unseen as long as American warships dutifully sailed to and fro and ignored the cheap slurs. Turkey and Greece will soon enough “discuss” everything from Cyprus to overflights in the Aegean without U.S. generals on both sides calling for calm, but perhaps lightly remonstrating southern Europe about “inordinate fear” of the old Ottoman Islam. Spanish socialists can work out, on their own, Gibraltar, ties with their Islamic friends across the water, and the angst when a few of their Mediterranean rocks are gratuitously occupied. And so on.

So Europe is gradually going to reenter history’s arena. Yet this time, what is different from 1914 and 1939 is that the United States is not weak, isolationist, naive, and inexperienced in European affairs. No, it is enormously powerful, fully engaged elsewhere, and knows the European one-eyed Jack only too well. For better or for worse, don’t count on American jets to take out another Milosevic in the near future.

Yet if there soon arises what the Germans call schadenfreude as we watch them implement continental utopia without retrograde American troops, there is a sense of sadness about it all as well. The Danish, the Dutch, the Italians, and the Eastern Europeans, each according to their station, are engaged in Iraq. They are good and reliable friends, and haven’t forgotten the white crosses that dot the European continental landscape. And as smaller nations they sense incipient bullying within the EU, both over their loyal relationships with America and heavy-handed trade politics with France and Germany. Smaller nations may see themselves first as independent Europeans, but privately they realize that it is only so the last two centuries because of the Anglo-Americans in the shadows who, from Wellington to Patton, at the eleventh hour always proved to be about the only ones who fought well for someone else’s freedom.

So it is also with some trepidation that we are seeing the inevitable end of the old, and the beginning of a new, transatlantic world, as troops on the ground at last reflect the reality of the past 20 years. And as we begin to leave Europe, as NATO mutters and shuffles in its embarrassing dotage, as cracks in an authoritarian and unworkable EU begin to widen, ever so slowly we here in the United States shall start to witness all over Europe both a new sensibleness — and a new furor.

Gut-check time is approaching. In places like Brussels, Berlin, and Oslo, in the next half-century citizens will slowly decide who wishes and does not wish to be an ally of the United States of America. Some will prefer opportunistic neutrality and thus go the Swedish and Swiss route. Others in their folly may ape French and Spanish bellicosity, and think isolating the U.S., selling weapons to the Middle East, or going on maneuvers with the Chinese might work. Still more may prefer to remain staunch friends like the Poles and Italians, realizing that, for all the leftist slurs about unilateralism, never in the history of civilization has such a powerful country as the United States sought advice and cooperation from weaker friends about the wisdom, efficacy, and consequences of using its vast military.

But this is no parlor game any more. Islamic fascism, scary former Soviet republics, rogue Middle Eastern nuclear states, an ever more proud and muscular China thirsty for oil — these and more specters are all out there and waiting, waiting, waiting…

Welcome back to the world, Europe.

©2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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