27 – An American Plea for European Awakening (18 Sep 09)

see also a new Sampiemon columnn about NATO in Afghanistan

    What I hoped to read has finally been written: A plea from an American addressed to all Europeans for help with bringing the United States to its senses. It ought to be on the editorial pages of every serious newspaper in Europe. In a speech contributed to the Mut zur Ethik Conference held in Austria a couple of weeks ago, Paul Craig Roberts lays out the case for Europe to “go into active opposition to US foreign policy.” American freedom as well as “sovereign independence elsewhere in the world” require this. Both the political leaders and the people of the United States “need Europe’s help in order to avoid the degeneration of the American political entity.”
     Europeans insufficiently clued in about the gyrations of American non-mainstream media discussion might imagine such exhortation as coming from rather far-off leftist quarters. But Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under President Reagan, Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal, and has held numerous academic appointments in what in the US are categorized as ‘conservative’ institutions. I first came across his writing on a well-known ‘conservative’ website. He disappeared from that ever rightward drifting site when he became one of the first authors from a non-leftist background to pierce through the political exploitation of the September 11 attacks. And pierce he did, deeper and more to the point than many on that threadbare left side of the American political spectrum. Articulate, erudite, and informed by historical perspective, Roberts has been one of my anchors on the internet, a reassurance that it was not me who had gone mad, while what I call the insanity factor began to affect widening circles of political discourse in the United States and Europe.
     Apparently unafraid of being thought excessively ‘emotional’, which is an epithet quickly earned today with even a bit of perfectly justifiable vehemence, he has been warning his fellow Americans about what could still await them, in the way of an Iran war, further restrictions on civil liberties and, indeed, the onset of what is best described as an American form of creeping fascism. These are things that I know many other concerned Americans have ghosting about in their heads, but dare not explicitly bring out into the open.
    Until now I have heard calls to awaken Europe only through personal communication with American friends and colleagues who themselves have the means to speak to fairly large audiences at home. I tell them that by forming a choir on their side, directing its voices across the Atlantic to appeal to a European sense of self-worth and long-term self interest, and asking for a critical European position on American militarism, is perhaps the best chance to bring forth an answering European choir that systematically could get to work on its own political elites.
     The situation with those European elites is dismal. I have written about it here and here and here. As far as I can make out, we are dealing in this case with a fair amount of cowardice and simple ignorance. Europeans are, on the whole, not well-informed about developments in the United States. It takes extremes like the candidacy of Sarah Palin or the utterly callous opportunism involved in the Healthcare tumult for them to become aware of how far gone things are in the United States. But those developments remain passing incidents to the elite European mind, and are quickly forgotten, especially now when America’s first black president has created the supposition that he (using Robert’s words) “will imbue US foreign policy with a higher morality than the world experienced from Bush and Clinton”. A delusion, Roberts reminds us, since Obama represents the same ‘exceptionalist’ ideology as his recent predecessors, one that “designates the United States as The Virtuous Nation and supplies the basis for the belief that America has the right, indeed the responsibility, to impose its hegemony upon the world by bribery or by force.”
     As I cite these words, I can hear the derision from what is probably still the majority among the editorial and political elites in The Netherlands, and certainly the vast majority of those who wish to maintain their respected positions in the Dutch establishment (and boy, is there ever one! It seems more octopus-like and rigid than what I found in Japan).
     Here in The Netherlands, anyone occupying a ‘responsible’ social position would be putting that at risk, were he or she to reproduce the arguments used in Roberts’ Austrian speech. I was once told by a prominent high-level member of the Dutch political system, himself sympathetic to my writing, that my published opinion about the Atlantic alliance had placed me outside the bounds of reasonableness where he and his colleagues could be expected to take me seriously. Even before George W. Bush’s speech before the graduating class of Westpoint, and the National Security Strategy of the United States document following it in 2002, I had concluded that the erstwhile alliance had been nullified since a common goal is by definition the basis for an alliance, and that a system of political and military vassalage was as the substitute on offer from Washington, with a structure of command replacing consultation.
     There are constant signals in Dutch public life where the bounds of reasonable discourse on the United States, and also Israel, lie. Take the recent example of a former Dutch prime minister, Dries van Agt, who distinguished himself as Europe’s envoy to Tokyo and Washington after his service in The Netherlands, and who has adopted the Palestinian cause, regretting his own blindness to what was already happening in Israel when he headed the Dutch government (in 1977-82). His recent book on the subject was lambasted in what is supposed to be the ‘quality newspaper’ of The Netherlands with irrelevant references to his Catholic upbringing substituting for an attempt to reproduce its arguments. There are just simply things that cannot be discussed honestly. At the top of that list, besides Israel’s warcrimes, is the fact that the United States has undergone a metamorphosis from being a prominent architect of a relatively peaceful and stable world order in the three decades following World War II to being the biggest threat to world order today. Former American military officers, like Andrew Bacevich or venerable social scientists, like Chalmers Johnson, may decry what they without hesitation identify as militarism and imperialism, but for European Atlanticists such labels remain anathema.
     It is staring Europeans in the face, Mr. Roberts, as much as it is in yours. But let me put a few things forward that could be considered mitigating circumstances. While traditional religion in its Calvinist or Catholic forms used to play a role as a guide for determining moral truth, guidance about such a thing in the much more secularized Europe of the past half century has required an alternative source of basic beliefs. While the Cold War alliance could of course not be called a substitute religion, the amalgam of notions about fundamental freedom, political decency, human rights, rationality and progress, with which the alliance was identified, in contrast to a defeated Nazi tyranny and the Cold War communist threat, was a sturdy alternative. Far more than a security guarantee, the relationship with the United States was the most important conceptual pillar supporting global order in the elite European mind. You still see this reflected in the ubiquitous phrase “it does not work without America!” on Dutch editorial pages. Asking staunch Atlanticists to accept the fact that with the loss of shared political purposes the Atlantic alliance has ended could be compared to asking pious believers to abandon their faith in God.
     All right, cynicism and opportunism are not alien to European elites, and among especially their younger members ‘belief’ in the United States is more habit than faith. But bad habits are cured by first having them placed in perspective. Roberts reminds us of the deplorable role played by the American media, very much including the New York Times, in making all that has gone wrong appear acceptable. But Europeans, by and large, are dependent on those same media for their information and perspective. What constitutes world news, and how to interpret it, is largely determined in American editorial offices. There is no European ‘public sphere’. The only non-business newspaper read throughout the continent is edited by the New York Times. Even developments in fellow member states two borders away inside the European Union are filtered through that channel. And European publishers hardly ever buy and translate each other’s ‘current affairs’ or serious political non-fiction books. The trade on the book fairs in Frankfurt and London is from English to everything else, and then only if the work has achieved American bestseller status. It is uncanny how on Dutch TV programs that purport to explain what is happening, the questions addressed and the answers most likely to dominate, are entirely predictable for anyone who follows mainstream American commentary closely.
     Paul Craig Roberts is fully aware how difficult it is for Europe to escape from its subservient relationship with the United States. “The US is accustomed to calling the shots and reacts harshly when it meets opposition.” Washington “uses financial sanctions and threatened leaks of sensitive personal information gathered by its worldwide spy networks to discipline any independent-minded European leader. Europe is essentially captive and forced to put US interests ahead of its own.” NATO provides the perfect illustration of this. It is interesting how public assessments that see NATO as not at all serving European interests, but as a liability, must come from Americans. William Pfaff, an American columnist based in Paris, has been presenting watertight arguments to that effect for years. One of the saddest post-Cold-War turns of events has been that those who could have made a difference in the decision making centers of the European Union were mesmerized by American triumphalism and neoliberal priorities for the expansion of the Union, and wasted the opportunity to make a huge move in the direction of collective security by asking Russia to join a reconstructed NATO.
     The American military-industrial complex and war making machine lead lives of their own, not under control of the American public, its congressional representatives, or the president. The United States needs war for domestic political reasons. This is where American goals diverge most widely from those of Europe. Roberts lists some of the most recent developments in this context: Obama has “started a new war in Pakistan; tolerated or supported a military coup that overthrew the elected president of Honduras; is constructing 7 new US military bases in Colombia, South America; is going forward with various military projects designed to secure US global military hegemony, such as the Prompt Global Strike initiative that intends to provide the US with the capability to strike anywhere on earth within 60 minutes; is working to destabilize the government in Iran, with military attack still on the table as an option; supports America’s new military African Command; intends to encircle Russia with US bases in former constituent parts of the Soviet Union”. And he reminds us that the NATO serves as a pool of “mercenaries in US wars of aggression”. On this subject see also Jan Sampiemon’s new column on the NATO Zombies in their Afghan vicious circle.
     This will come come across as overly harsh for the majority of the European elites Roberts wishes to reach, because their denial is nurtured by continuous propaganda about Russia, Iran, Venezuela, or for that matter China; propaganda that has been mistaken for analysis. They have not bothered to look in the kitchens of American think tanks where much of it is produced. What will also come acrosss as exaggerated is Roberts’ alert against the grand sounding concepts of “self-determination and the sovereignty of the people” used by the Obama administration as “useful platitudes with which to mask the hegemonic interests of the US government. US money and propaganda foment “velvet” or “color” revolutions that turn more countries into American puppet states”. And at home they “disguise the overthrow of US civil liberties, such as habeas corpus, due process, and prohibitions against torture and pre-emptive arrest”.
     What can one say to European doubters? Stop for a moment, and think again. Do some homework. Go back and trace what actually happened when Georgia thought it could take on Russia. Re-evaluate the possible motives of Moscow and Teheran, and, for that matter, Beijing, after peeling away the layer of common interpretation to the extent this can be identified as propagandistic deposit. Are these governments by nature expansionist? Are they evil? If a campaign against terrorism is what must continue to tie the United States and Europe together strategically, ask: how are terrorists made?
     The speech by Paul Craig Roberts (which you can read here) is a genuine appeal by an American patriot. “Americans need criticism from Europe … Americans need outside help in order to reach an understanding of the immorality of their government’s policies … [w]ithout Europe’s help, Americans cannot regain the spirit of liberty and tolerance bequeathed to them by their Founding Fathers.” And he ends: “Europe, whose culture was wrecked by 20th century wars, Europe, which has experienced tyranny from the left-wing and from the right-wing, has a right to its own voice.”
     To which I would add: Especially if you continue to be grateful for the American help in rescuing Europe in the last century, you owe the American people a debt that you can try to pay by helping their out-of-control political system see where it is heading.