Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Pessimism and Opposition

The Blue State-European alliance has perfected pessimism and opposition. Genuine forward looking-politics and policies take talent and time. Both seem beyond the threadbare capabilities of dysfunctional Democrats or Brussels bureaucrats. Why concentrate or consider when you can "just say no" to President Bush? But is mere negation enough?

Three new-ish books (Richard Florida's The Flight of the Creative Class; T.R. Reid's The United States of Europe; and James Bennett's The Anglosphere Challenge) compare current conditions of, and predict prospects for, economic competition between the US and EU. I've only read Bennett, which I enjoyed; its synthesis of the commercial advantages of nations founded on liberty and the rule of law are the perfect present-day companion to Gertrude Himmelfarb's The Road to Modernity. Fortunately, Cooper Union prof Fred Siegel read all three, and his review (subscription-only for now) in the Weekly Standard is telling:

Despite a superior educational system and despite a record of extraordinary scientific achievement, Europe as a whole is falling further and further behind the United States. You can see this most clearly if you examine the actual facts presented in recent books like The United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy. As the title suggests, the author--Washington Post journalist T.R. Reid--imagines that Europe is somehow going to triumph. It is a wish as much as a thought, for readily available facts run against Reid's thesis. Is Germany losing 1,200 jobs a day? Has the German unemployment rate reached record levels? Is the French economy stagnant? Are the French consumed with a sense of decline? Is Europe suffering a democratic deficit? Reid tells us not to worry. Confusing political clout with economic success, he takes heart in the fact that European regulators were able to humble Jack Welch and General Electric.

[T]he Europeans, who are the most pessimistic people in the world, are suffering from technophobia; they invest 40 percent less in research and development than the United States. But [Reid] can't bring himself to even mention the problem of integrating the continent's Muslim masses in order to maintain an unsustainable welfare state. Nor can he grasp the looming threat to European manufacturing posed by China. . .

Like many others--Richard Florida included--T.R. Reid refuses to recognize the cost to the Europeans of their over-the-top anti-Americanism. With Europe's sense of its own superiority at stake, proposals for labor-market flexibility can be denounced as "American proposals" or "Bush-style thinking." As in the Arab world, innovation and reform are easily demonized by decrying them as Anglo-American, an inverted recognition of sorts for the values Bennett's Anglosphere honors.
And NRO's Andrew Stuttaford believes the European Constitution -- now being reviewed and ratified by the 25 EU member states -- will exacerbate the economic gap:

A final version was agreed in June 2004, and what a sorry, shabby work it is, an unreadable mish-mash of political correctness, micromanagement, bureaucratic jargon, artful ambiguity, deliberate obscurity, and stunning banality that somehow limps its way through some 500 pages with highlights that include "guaranteeing" (Article II 74) a right to "vocational and continuing training," "respect" (Article II-85) for the "rights of the elderly... to participate in social and cultural life," and the information (Article III-121) that "animals are sentient beings." On the status of spiders, beetles, and lice there is, unusually, only silence. . .

The preamble to the EU constitution refers to a Europe "reunited after bitter experiences," a phrase so bogus that it would embarrass Dan Brown. Unless I missed something in my history classes "Europe" has never been one whole. There is nothing to reunite. A Swede, even Göran Persson, is a Swede long before he is a "European." Naturally, the framers of the constitution have done their best to furnish a few gimcrack symbols of their new Europe (there's (Article I-8) a flag, a motto ("United in Diversity), an anthem, and, shrewdly in a continent that likes its vacations, a public holiday ("Europe Day") and perhaps in time these will come to mean something, but for now they are poor substitutes for that emotional, almost tribal, idea of belonging that is core to an authentic sense of national identity.
Coincidently, writing about the impact of Islamic immigration on the welfare state, Weekly Standard senior editor Christopher Caldwell spotted the same problem within a single European nation (Sweden):
The economic historian Rojas [says,] "High levels of taxation require that the people taxed be a community," he says. "And this has for a long time been a tribal society. . . . A good tribe! Very peaceful and nice! But a tribe."
If Sweden itself is losing its identity, pan-European integration seems impossible.

To overcome this obstacle, Stuttaford expects Europe will 'go negative':
The project of a federal EU has long been driven, at least in part, by a profound, and remarkably virulent anti-Americanism, with deep roots in Vichy-era disdain for the sinister "Anglo-Saxons" and their supposedly greedy and degenerate culture. Throw in the poisonous legacy of soixante-huitard radicalism, then add Europe's traditional suspicion of the free market, and it's easy to see how relations between Brussels and Washington were always going to be troubled. What's more, the creation of a large and powerful fortress Europe offered its politicians something else, the chance to return to the fun and games of great power politics. . .

But if the EU has had only limited success in persuading its citizens what they are, it has done considerably better in convincing them as to what they are not: Americans. Writing in 2002 about the "first stirrings" of EU patriotism, EU Commissioner Chris Patten could only come up with two examples: "You can already feel [it], perhaps, in the shared indignation at US steel protection...You can feel it at the Ryder Cup, too." It's significant that when Patten gave examples of this supposed European spirit, he could only define it by what it was against (American tariffs and American golfers) rather than by what it was for. It is even more striking that in both cases the "enemy" comes from one place — the U.S. If Patten had been writing in 2005 he would, doubtless, have added opposition to the war in Iraq to his list — and he would have been right to do so.

This is psychologically astute: The creation of a common foe (imagined or real) is a good way to unify a nation, even, possibly, a bureaucratically constructed "nation" like the EU. Choosing the U.S. as the designated rival comes with two other advantages. It fits in nicely with the existing anti-American bias of much of the EU's ruling class and it will strike a chord with those many ordinary Europeans who are genuinely skeptical about America, its ambitions and, yes, what it stands for.
But if the Constitution won't fix Europe's economy, Stuttaford predicts it will bedevil Bush's foreign policy:
The constitution paves the way for the transfer of increasing amounts of defense and diplomatic activity from Europe's national capitals to Brussels. Article 1-16 commits all member states to a "common foreign and security policy." "Member states" are required to "actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity and shall comply with the Union's actions in this area. They shall refrain from action contrary to the Union's interests or likely to impair its effectiveness." In a recent radio interview, Spanish prime minister Jose Zapatero explained how this might work: "we will undoubtedly see European embassies in the world, not ones from each country, with European diplomats and a European foreign service...we will see Europe with a single voice in security matters. We will have a single European voice within NATO."

And the more that the EU speaks with that one voice, the less will be heard from those of its member states more inclined to be sympathetic to America. And as to what this would mean, well, French Green politician Noel Mamère put it best in the course of an interview last week: "The good thing about the European constitution is that with it the United Kingdom will not be able to support the United States in a future Iraq."
Starting a dozen years ago, Europe switched to bloc voting in the UN's telecommunications body (the ITU). The result? -- sharply curtailed effectiveness when America advocates flexible, pro-competitive spectrum and standards. Like Democrats, the EU prefers stasis--non, opuesto, nie, non oggi--and now has the votes to make it stick.

The U.S. can, and sometimes does, ignore particular ITU recommendations that are contrary to U.S. policy--as is America's sovereign right. We have the same ability in foreign policy--but it's vastly more important than telecom.

George Bush had the vision and determination to overthrow Saddam against the wishes of a bribed Western Europe. Crucially, England and most of Eastern Europe backed Bush. Ratification of the EU constitution would erase that support, substituting instead a gang of 25 represented by one pessimistic Euro-crat with orders to oppose.

No need to fret yet: This President can handle non-stop negation. But what about Bush's successor? Were I not so confident, Europe's unreasoned opposition might make me a pessimist.

1 comment:

DirtCrashr said...

I enjoyed this a lot and had to link to it. I added some of my own comments.