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Enough already!

It's fairly difficult, sitting here in rural New England, to have any real sense of what people in Europe are thinking. But what sense I do have sure is disheartening.

It was one thing, for instance, to read in the New York Times yesterday that George Bush and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar are New, if Unlikely, Allies, as the headline put it — but yet another to listen to a member of the Spanish opposition tell the BBC last night that in all his years in government he's never seen such outrage from so many people. (Obviously, both pieces should be served heavily salted, but still.) And the Washington Post's survey of anti-Americanism (which I also put in the sidebar yesterday) offers a hearty dose of further discouragement as well.

Anti-Americanism on the street seems to have translated into petulance at the top, at least in France and, to some extent, Germany. Whatever you think about going to war in Iraq, France's behavior has done nothing to help the situation; if what it really cared about were the Iraqi people, it wouldn't have repeatedly blind-sided the United States with unanticipated, highly public announcements of its opposition and alternative proposals, all of which politicize the entire process and dramatically reduce the chances they will actually change anything. If the Iraq were what France really cared about, Chirac et al. would have done everything in their power to work within the U.N. Security Council, to bring the other members around, instead of trying to make them look bad.

But while what France says is ostensibly about Iraq, how it actually says it is all about France and America. France hasn't made a stand against war any more than a child who refuses to eat his vegetables has made a stand against veganism. What France has made a stand against is America. But that, unfortunately, is where the childishness analogy falls apart — unfortunately not just for George Bush, but for the rest of us right along with him — because France and Germany command considerably greater resources and influence than a typical 5-year-old.

I don't know how important this, or the popularity of anti-Americanism in general, is. The only thing more popular in Europe than expressing disgust for American culture is watching American movies, I hear; maybe this is all so much hot air. But these sorts of things are impossible to actually measure; there's no way to know to what extent they affect commerce, tourism, trade and general cooperation on non-military issues — the things that actually keep the world running when it's not in a crisis. European support will also be critical in any post-war scenario, as all the experts point out, and this is especially true under George Bush, I think: The man who won't even tell his tax-payers how much of their money he wants to use to blow Iraq apart isn't likely to get caught spending much more of it to help put it back together again.

And then there's the whole terrorism thing. Bush may have retracted that word crusade once people told him what it actually meant, but he's stuck to its principle in his war on terrorism. He really does seem to see the world the way he portrays it, with all his religious references and in black and white. His crusade — against terrorism instead of Muslims, to be sure, but a crusade all the same — has managed to do the one thing the world could least afford: He's made terrorism, what should only be seen as a common, international threat, into his own, personal concern.

You can see this in everything the United States has done, but most clearly in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush waived off NATO's offer of support in Afghanistan, because it didn't serve his purposes. He essentially said, This doesn't concern you, I will handle it. But he's asking for it now, to aid Turkey in its anticipated defense against Iraq, because of course now it does serve his purposes. And with Iraq, he has allowed his own agenda to override the considerations of the international community at practically every step. It was wise of him to give the U.N. Security Council the opportunity to get behind him, and demand Iraq's compliance with inspections and support appropriate next steps if Iraq failed to comply, but Bush made it all too clear that that's all he was doing; if ever the U.N.'s interests and the United States' interests diverged in his view, there was never any doubt which way he was going to go.

In other words, Bush told the rest of the world that he sees al Qaeda and Saddam as his problems, not theirs. He is willing to accept — and sometimes even demand, as in the case with requesting NATO to help defend Turkey against a situation he is creating — their help when it suits him, but just as willing to ignore their protests when they fall out of step. While France's stand against war isn't actually against war, Bush's stand for security isn't actually a stand for security, either; it's a stand for his own, holy vision of America, and against his own, chosen enemies.

France is right to oppose this. We all should oppose this. As strong as America is, the world is a very big place. And terrorism is not a local problem, either; a successful attack anywhere in the world does damage everywhere. Al Qaeda is not Bush's personal enemy, or solely America's problem. Saddam Hussein is not just America's problem — and to the extent that he is, the U.N. shouldn't support a military resoluton of it, nor is war necessarily justified in principle. The Bush administration is right that, where the rest of the world fails to, America must step up and defend its legitimate interests and its security — but they are entirely wrong that it is in America's interests to tell the rest of the world that their interests are no longer their own to worry about.

France is acting like a child, yes. But they are acting like a child because the United States has been treating them, along with the rest of the world, like children. It doesn't matter which is more misguided; they're both wrong, and the costs — to the Iraqi people (both before and after a war), to future victims of terrorist attacks, and to free people everywhere — are impossible to calculate.

Someone had better start growing up.

February 12, 2003 2:18 PM

Comments (and TrackBacks)

Hi there,
I'm pleased to see sensible comments from America.
From Europe, a lot of people begins to see America
as an empire with vassals (the "allies").
The only law an empire accepts is the emperor's will. France's disagreement is seen as a vassal being unfaithful to the emperor. Nobody wants to be a vassal. People fought in the past against empires. Europe wants to be a partner not a vassal.

I'm sad to see all this anti-french/anti-german campaign led by republican senators, governors and newspapers. It's not acceptable from people who are supposed to be smarter than the rest of the crowd. France and Europe in general owe their freedom to America and we are all grateful for that. But does that mean that we should lick America's boots forever ?

It's clear Irak has to be disarmed and that we must get rid of Saddam's regime. But the way Bush's administration treats its "allies" is not right. That war is a threat to the world economy, it's a threat for the stability of whole middle east and southern Asia peace process. It's a threat for the whole world stability and you are absolutely right to say that this is not only America's matter but a World's one and people won't accept George Bush behaving as a Napoléon of the XXI century. (By the way, Napoléon used to claim he was freeing countries he invaded.)

Max from Scotland

PS: Have a look there :

Posted by Max on February 19, 2003 9:43 AM

hello my name is devin and i have something to say

If we bombed iraq the civs would be knelling at our soldiers feet. then we keep bombing and bombing and bombing and bombing...then we have ourselves a war...and beleive me we'd win with our soldiers hands tied behind there backs and the tanks without tracks. were going to war which is not really a good thing but thats what we need to get this over with because nothing else seems to work for us. people also bring up the issue of wellkill inicent people, well its war what are we supposed to do poke eachother i mean sorry to all you hippies but USA will not puss out now ...its war so put on your kevlar load your riffles and hope to hell you dont get drafted but be ready...and dont seal your windows with tape...youll run out of oxygen sooner or later and suuficate

Posted by Devin on February 27, 2003 11:15 AM

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