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|