2003 July 04 Friday
Timothy Garton Ash On The Growing Divide Between America And Europe

Timothy Garton Ash surveys reasons for the divisions between many EU countries and the United States.

When and where did European and American sentiment start diverging again? In early 2002, with the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East. The Middle East is both a source and a catalyst of what threatens to become a downward spiral of burgeoning European anti-Americanism and nascent American anti-Europeanism, each reinforcing the other. Anti-Semitism in Europe, and its alleged connection to European criticism of the Sharon government, has been the subject of the most acid anti-European commentaries from conservative American columnists and politicians. Some of these critics are themselves not just strongly pro-Israel but also “natural Likudites,” one liberal Jewish commentator explained to me. In a recent article Stanley Hoffmann writes that they seem to believe in an “identity of interests between the Jewish state and the United States.” Pro-Palestinian Europeans, infuriated by the way criticism of Sharon is labeled anti-Semitism, talk about the power of a “Jewish lobby” in the United States, which then confirms American Likudites’ worst suspicions of European anti-Semitism, and so it goes on, and on.

There are two parts of the disagreement over the Middle East. One has to do with the Israelis versus the Palestinians and their supporters in the larger Muslim polity. That conflict is about to take a new turn in the next several months when a new fence is completed that will separate most of the West Bank from Israel (also see this article for more details and also this article for a partial map).

Will the wall intensify or lessen differences between the US and Europe on Israel? Perhaps the best way to approach that question is to ask whether the wall will have beneficial or harmful effects upon how the Arabs view Israel. Will the wall improve the chances that Israel and the Arabs can reach an agreement over the Palestinians that would be generally acceptable to all concerned? That seems unlikely at this point. Islamic Jihad and Hamas treat ceasefires as periods during which to restock and reload. The Israelis are including enough of the West Bank behind their side of the wall and doing enough to keep the West Bank divided into cantons that the Palestinian sense of grievance is being further stoked. At the same time, the demographic trends of the coming decades look set to strengthen Palestinian beliefs that they deserve more of the territory that lies to the west of the Jordan river. Plus, Islamist sentiment is rising among Palestinians while the larger Arab polity is a long way away from making peace in their own minds with a non-Muslim state in their midst.

Then there is the disagreement over what to do about the Arab countries. The threat of terrorism is seen by the Europeans as something that has to be managed chiefly thru intelligence and police work. Whereas the Bush Administration sees the terrorism problem as unsolvable as long as Arab and other Muslim societies do not modernize, remain fairly closed, and have governments that are corrupt and oppressive. It will likely take many years before the effects of American interventions change either European or American perceptions.

Israel and the set of issues relating to the Muslim Arab lands are hardly the only divisive issues in the split. Ash sees a more general divide due to an ideological split between the political Left and political Right. The Left is firmly ascendant in Europe while the Right is in power in the US at least part of the time. This ideological divide might eventually close if the Europeans come to realize that they need more market elements in their economies and less social welfare spending. But the rising average age of Europeans and consequent demands on spending for the elderly may well produce a solidification of the welfare state in Europe as the elderly and near elderly of the European populace decide they need expanded government programs in order to survive.

Differences on the proper role of the United Nations and other international institutions are also important in the split between America and Europe. The US would likely increase its support of international institutions if a Democrat is elected President in 2008. However, even while Clinton was President there was not enough support to ratify the Kyoto Accord on climate change and Clinton did not try to get the Senate to accept the International Criminal Court treaty. While Bush is criticised by leftists in America and Europe on Kyoto and the ICC the fact is that had Gore been elected the only difference would have been that the he would not have as openly voiced US opposition to these agreements.

Another important factor going forward will be the extent to which the EU becomes more integrated with more political power concentrated at the top. If more power shifts to Brussels then the sharpness of trans-Atlantic agreements will likely increase as all of Europe can be made to take a single common position on a foreign policy issue.

The big wild cards in the future of US-European relations are future events. If a huge terrorist attack happens in the US or Europe that will cause a big shift in attitudes. Developments in Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and other states of interest either due to terrorism or WMD threats will also influence perceptions on both sides of the Atlantic. My own expectation is that trans-Atlantic relations will not get either much worse or much better in the next 5 years barring some dramatic event that shakes people lose from existing mindsets.

Update: Ken Jowitt makes some good points on why the US and Europe should stay allied. (my bold emphasis added)

Why does America need Western allies? To begin with, the West is simultaneously the global military power and the global cultural minority. The West is the only culture in the world with a history based on individual liberty, democratic republicanism, and market capitalism. It would be absurd to cut ourselves off from our natural West European allies.


Third, any attempt to identify, intimidate, or eliminate all wildcat violence with a potentially global reach is beyond the intelligence-gathering, logistical, material, and emotional resources of even the United States. The United States will have to align itself with less-powerful allies in various regions and become as adept at military diplomacy as it has always been with military technology.

We should try to prevent our differences with the European countries from something deeper and wider than they need to be (and we should act with restraint in spite of the French). Yes, we are not always going to agree. Yes, we are sometimes going to act in the face of some European opposition. But we have more in common with them than we do with the vast bulk of the rest of the world.

Europe's population is aging and it is going to shrink. They are faced with rising demands for increased entitlements spending for large elderly populations and they already have fairly high levels of taxation. At the same time they face growing Muslim subpopulations of uncertain loyalty whose influence will tend to pull European politics in directions that bring Europe into greater conflict with the US.

While immigration is preventing the US from aging as much as Europe the US also faces increasing demands for old age entitlements spending that will place severe limits on the US ability to fund a large military. The US population is expanding but only because of immigration from non-Western countries. The US no longer has institutions that teach immigrants to assimiliate to American values and culture, US higher education institutions produces teachers who are ideologically less friendly to classical Western ideas (to the extent that they even understand them) and operate academic departments that teach less successful minorities that they are victims. The US, from a Western cultural standpoint, is probably going to weaken as a result of all this and become less Western in character. The US will become beset by divisions caused by a politics of envy driven by increases in subpopulations of ethnic groups that have lower average educational and economic achievements. In spite of the triumphalism about America voiced by many neoconservative hawks the US position is not as unassailable as the neocons seem to believe. We should not unnecessarily burn any diplomatic bridges with Europe.

Update II: James W. Ceaser has written an excellent essay on the history of anti-Americanism in Europe for the public policy journal The Public Interest entitled A genealogy of anti-Americanism.

Although anti-Americanism is a construct of European thought, it would be an error to suppose that it has remained confined to its birthplace. On the contrary, over the last century anti-Americanism has spread out over much of the globe, helping, for example, to shape opinion in pre-World War II Japan, where many in the elite had studied German philosophy, and to influence thinking in Latin American and African countries today, where French philosophy carries so much weight. Its influence has been considerable within the Arab world as well. Recent accounts of the intellectual origins of contemporary radical Islamic movements have demonstrated that their views of the West and America by no means derive exclusively from indigenous sources, but have been largely drawn from various currents of Western philosophy. Western thought is at least in part responsible for the innumerable fatwahs and the countless jihads that have been pronounced against the West. What has been attributed to a "clash of civilizations" has sometimes been no more than a facet of internecine intellectual warfare, conducted with the assistance of mercenary forces recruited from other cultures. It is vitally important that we understand the complex intellectual lineage behind anti-Americanism. Our aim should be to undo the damage it has wrought, while not using it as an excuse to shield this country from all criticism.

Let me restate my point a different way: Anti-Americanism as an intellectual movement began in Europe centuries ago, has gone thru many stages, and has even found footing with many intellectuals in America. In spite of centuries of European anti-American thought the US and various European countries have pursued many efforts to mutual benefit. While European anti-Americanism is a destructive ideology that is harmful to the rational interests of the US and Europe alike the embrace of knee-jerk anti-Europeanism is not an adaptive response. The West as a whole would be ill-served if it split and became heavily divided against itself. The biggest winners from such a split would be non-Western rivals. A more adaptive response is to intellectually engage the Europeans and to point out the unfounded and ideological nature of the bulk of anti-Americanism.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 July 04 07:37 PM  Europe and America

cw said at July 5, 2003 2:49 PM:

I think that the concern that "[t]he US no longer has institutions that teach immigrants to assimiliate to American values and culture" can be overstated. Yes, I understand that the Chicano Studies departments of our nation's universities are staffed by ethnic nationalists, and that groups like Mecha and La Raza are actively trying to promote the secession of the American southwest. However, I question how impactive these cultural influences really are. Firstly, people rarely cling to the extremist views they learn in college -- after graduating, they see how reality clashes with the propaganda they were taught, and come to develop views that are much more moderate. Secondly, an increasing number of immigrants, as well as native-born Americans, are choosing trade schools over liberal arts colleges and public universities. Many of these colleges actually have humanities departments, but considering that the schools are profit-oriented and serve the interests of businesses, they have little incentive to promote ethnic separatism. Working on tasks at school or at work with people outside your immediate group promotes assimiliation, as it can lead one to identify with the values of broader America.

I am in favor of restricting immigration, but I think we should be a little bit less alarmist about what La Raza is going to accomplish, considering the poor track record that university activist organizations have in marketing themselves as relevant to regular people.

M. said at July 6, 2003 3:41 AM:

A point on the aging populations,America's most productive groups are aging,the younger immigrants are far less skilled and educated.A skilled blue-collar woker adds more to the economy than the unskilled,who produce less wealth but consume more taxes(unless,like LA libertarians,you're happy with a sweatshop economy subsidized,breifly,by others).The net effect is a poorer country overall.

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