2003 March 19 Wednesday
Christopher Caldwell on France, America Iraq Disagreement

Christopher Caldwell argues that the disagreement between the United States and France over Iraq is at its base one of substance, not style.

Both the US and France entered the Iraq crisis working on the assumption that the interests of the world and America were still so intimately interwoven that they were in effect identical. Americans assumed that the world was as panicked, infuriated and - most important - viscerally terrified by September 11 as they were. The world was not. It was sympathetic, it was interested - but the 18 months since have made plain that Europeans are nowhere close to understanding the event's impact on the American psyche. The French meanwhile assumed that, if they themselves did not feel terrified by the arrival of terrorism in New York, anyone who did was overreacting.

While a common European attitude is that the Bush Administration is acting like a bull in a china shop the disagreement between the United States on one side and the French and many other Europeans on the other side is not due to Bush Administration clumsiness or hawkishness. Its biggest cause is a difference in the perception of danger.

One reason for this difference in perception is that the United States was the country that was attacked with a loss of thousands of it citizens and residents. But this not the only reason. Another reason is that Americans and others know that America is at the top of the target list for terrorists. Other countries discount the overall threat because their own risks are lower. This is a parochial attitude and it doesn't speak well of anyone who thinks that way but there it is.

Keep in mind for all these differences between such large groups as the populations of countries the differences are measured as average beliefs held. There are certainly Americans whose beliefs are closer to those of most Europeans and Europeans whose beliefs are closer to those of most Americans.

Another cause of the difference in attitudes is the argument that Robert Kagan has made where basically Americans tend to see problems in terms that lead to drastic responses because the United States is in a position to respond with drastic measures (i.e. war) whereas European nations tend to see problems in terms of what can be done about them with the lesser tools they have available. When you have a hammer the whole world looks like a nail and when you have a wrench the whole world looks like a bolt. People define the problems they face in terms of how their own efficacies can solve them. Of course, that doesn't make the Europeans automatically wrong. Sometimes the use of less drastic measures will be more appropriate.

There is a tendency in human nature to assign causes to why others disagree with one's position which reflect most poorly on those who disagree. This tendency makes a great deal of partisan debate in politics into mean-spirited name-calling. Sometimes the reasons that people disagree really do reflect poorly on the character, education, or intellectual capacity of those who disagree. But if a great deal is at stake then one should try to explore the underlying assumptions that cause disagreements as an examination of those assumptions can be enlightening even if the exercise does not change anyone's minds or narrow the scope of the disagreement. At the very least such an examination may decrease the degree of ill-will that flows from heated disagreements.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 March 19 01:07 PM  Europe and America


Comments
Chris Sexton said at April 12, 2003 2:16 PM:

I thought your initial thesis was interesting and it is certainly the case that Europeans view the events of 11/9/01 less drastically than do Americans. How many Americans would be aware that in the early 90's the IRA twice knocked down tall buildings in London ? Not as spectacularly 'tis true.

One very important point you miss, I believe, is that France has 6 million Muslims (former Algerians), 10% of its population. Britain has only 1.8 million, much smaller. America, moreover has a vast zionist lobby. Very few countries in Europe, least of all France can see why any country in its right mind would continue to support Israel, to such detriment of its Arab relations.

There is also a much wider hegemony to consider in all this. Iraq is, whatever anyone says, a relatively minor issue. At least it was. The question of American/European relations are vastly more important to both parties. Commentators have noticed a considerable cooling in German affections for America in recent years. Almost certainly this is to do with the fact that Europe is actually beginning after centuries to feel some level of unity and cohesion. An important recent catalyst was the launch of the Euro. The present 15 member nations of the EU with a population of 379 million have an absolute GNP roughly equivalent to the USA. Europe is just beginning to stir and to develop a mind of its own.

Irrespective of what Rumsfeldt says the Franco/German alliance will remain central to the EU. He says that the centre of gravity in Europe is moving east. Does he think, do you think, that it will ever reach Beijing ?
Chris Sexton.

Randall Parker said at April 12, 2003 3:32 PM:

I'm aware of what the IRA have tried to do. I loved how Margaret Thatcher went on to deliver a speech right after an IRA bomb almost killed her. However, terrorists tried to knock down one of the WTC buildings back in the early 1990s (1993 I think) and so we've seen similar things. Plus, there was the OKC bombing that took out the Murrah Federal building that killed a lot of people.

I'm quite aware of the French Muslim presence. I've written in other posts about the effect that Muslims are having on Europe and its future as what many Muslim wags are already calling Eurabia. See Theodore Dalrymple for the effect Muslims are having on the French ghettoes.

European unity: Its not going to happen as long as people speak different languages. Also, Europe has already hit its high point vis a via the US in economic might. Even with the greater economic integration caused by the EU the European countries are still growing slower economically. Plus, many of their populations are going to shrink over the next 50 years while America continues to grow toward becoming a half billion of population.

China isn't going to join the EU. Why should it? Russia would be more than the EU can swallow. If the EU expands to include Turkey it will already have bitten off more than it can chew at this point. The effect of Turkey becoming the largest member of the EU (Turkish population growing and German population shrinking makes that inevitable) will be to cause difficult problems for the EU culturally. Cultural differences matter. The proponents of the European project are underestimating the extent to which it does.


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