An interesting piece of writing. Tells you a lot. enjoy


August 4, 2004


Europe's Choice

August 4, 2004; Page A12

"Kerry must win, you see, so we can be friends again." You hear things like this these days in Europe. George Bush's campaign staffers may tease about John Kerry's French connections, his Europhile mannerisms, and his unguarded boasts that the Continent is pulling for him, but such caricatures are closer to the truth than even the Republican operatives suspect.

Europeans casually talk of the Kerry rapprochement to come, as if in their magnanimity they have given us one last chance to return to sobriety. They exude a bold confidence, even to strangers, that the brightened prospects of the Democratic challenger are proof that America has seen the European light and therefore, of course, Mr. Kerry must win. Never has Europe been so emotionally involved in an American election -- and never to their peril have they read us so wrong.

Michael Moore is offered up as proof of grassroots American unhappiness with the president. Was he not perched in an exalted seat at the Democratic convention? Completely lost on Europeans is that Mr. Moore, for all his notoriety, is still a cult figure. An icon among the crowd, and when used gingerly a good weapon of the Democratic Party, he is still otherwise a polarizing figure disliked by the majority of America that votes. As the list of cinematic distortions in his recent film grows, "Fahrenheit 9/11" increasingly will be relegated to the genre of crass propaganda once mastered by the far more gifted Leni Riefenstahl in her similarly slanted "political documentary," "Triumph of Will."

More serious Europeans point out that the anger of our seasoned ex-diplomats and retired generals is further evidence that Americans are tired of Mr. Bush's unilateralism. Of course, out-of-work diplomats are keen to find fault with their successors. And few American administrations have proved as controversial in refashioning American foreign policy as have the blunt-speaking George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld. All are fat targets after radically altering America's prior relationships with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Libya, dividing Europe into Old and New, questioning the role of American troops in NATO and in South Korea, and parting with Yasser Arafat. Yet all these sensationalized developments were long overdue, and precisely for that reason they may well become institutionalized, so much so that even a Kerry victory can do little to overturn them.

Maria Teresa Thierstein Simoes-Ferreira Heinz Kerry is a big hit in Europe, as if a native of colonial Mozambique has unique insight into the pathologies of the American experience. But as the summer wears on, fairly or unfairly, this force-multiplier of her husband's Europeanism is beginning to grate like some character out of a Henry James novel -- reflecting our own unease with the predictable mixture of acquired fortune, haute culture and aristocratic disdain. The private luxury jet and save-the-planet environmentalism go down in Fresno about as well as "Shove it" buttresses her sermon on the need for a new "civility." Ms. Kerry's gratuitous use of "un-American," both on "60 Minutes" and again to a persistent journalist, reflects a complete ignorance of the considerable baggage that such a cheap epithet carries in the collective American memory.

Despite the lectures, Americans find Europe itself a vast sea of contradictions. The French write and talk obsessively about Anglo-American adventurism in Iraq. Yet with an easy two-day drive an American can visit more than 50,000 British and American dead soldiers, resting at places like Hamm, St. Avold, Epinal, Omaha Beach, Ranville and Bayeux. The irony seems lost that the recently much-maligned Anglo-Saxon muscularity that ended Baathist Iraq is the logical successor to the same unapologetic partnership of Churchill and Roosevelt that once interfered in continental Europe to save it from its own indigenous fascism.

In this regard, blinkered European Union utopianism is thematic in its post-1960s World War II museums. Guides, videos and brochures remonstrate, often in self-righteous indignation, about the follies of war, violence and racism. Only at American and British cemeteries, in contrast, does one receive a different view of what the SS Panzers were really up to -- and how they were stopped. Words like courage, sacrifice and duty are chiseled on the architraves of granite pavilions. Like mute stone totems, they look out over thousands of white crosses. In this context, the well-meaning, but entirely impotent European efforts at curbing genocide in the Sudan or the nuclearization of Iran make one doubt the vaunted new efficacy of "soft power" -- triangulation always predicated on the threat of real American hard force in the shadows.

Europeans talk of the Kerrys' environmentalism in tired references to the American reluctance to sign the Kyoto accords, a flawed treaty that no Democratic president could defend and few Democratic senators would ratify. In the meantime, one sees an occasional train rush alongside the Rhine spewing from its lavatories raw human waste onto the tracks. Mammoth nuclear plants dot the French countryside. Restaurants are so smoke-filled that the pâté takes on the flavor of Gauloise, and tipsy afternoon drivers emerge from upscale restaurants with three or four glasses of wine under their belts to swerve on antiquated roads. Tourists take cheap shots that they fear being cooked alive in an August Paris flat or being buried in rubble at de Gaulle airport.

McDonald's is prominent among the stylish cafés of Luxembourg. Dubbed-in "Friends" and "Jerry Springer" blare from hotel televisions. Bare navels, Ray-Bans, pierced everything, and baggy jeans suggest a studied effort to emulate the look of Venice Beach. For a bewildered American, the key in squaring the anti-American rhetoric with the Valley Girl reality is simply to understand Western Europeans as elite Americans. Their upscale leisured culture is not much different from Malibu, Austin and Dupont Circle, that likewise excuse their crass submission to popular American tastes through the de rigueur slurs about the "corporations," "Bush-Cheney," and "Halliburton." Perhaps this notion that Europe itself has become a cultural appendage of the U.S. explains why it views our upcoming election as a referendum on its own future as well.

None of these paradoxes is new. Yet the European meddling in this particular presidential election is. Less talked about is that the image of an allied Europe has been shattered here at home. And all the retired NATO brass and Council on Foreign Relations grandees are finding it hard to put the pieces back together again. The American public now wants to be told exactly why thousands in their undermanned military are stationed in a continent larger and richer than our own without conventional enemies on its borders. If Europeans think it is nonsensical to connect Iraq with our own post 9/11 security, then Americans believe it is far more absurd to envision an American-led NATO patrolling their skies and roads 15 years after a nearby hostile empire collapsed -- especially when NATO turns out to be as isolationist as America is expected to be engaged abroad.

The election of John Kerry would probably not reverse either the current policy in Iraq or the ongoing reappraisal of our foreign relations. The European fixation with the upcoming election and rabid hatred of George Bush instead may backfire here at home; indeed, even now European animus acerbates our own growing unease with what we read and see abroad. As never before the Europeans have unabashedly called for the defeat of an incumbent American president in the next election.

They better hope that George Bush loses.

Mr. Hanson, a military historian, is a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution.

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