Just Above Sunset
January 30, 2005 - A Week for Policy Wonks

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I suppose this is the week for discussion, among those with a taste for such discussion, of economic policy, foreign policy, and what’s up with Europe these days.  It’s just that events this week fell out that way, what with the week-long World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland and Condoleezza Rice being confirmed and then starting her new job as Secretary of State last Friday morning.  How will we deal with Europe?  How will we deal with the world?  Will we listen more and swagger less?  That’s unlikely.


Bush will be in Europe next month.  Will he tell them to go pound sand, literally and figuratively?  There’s plenty in Iraq.


Most of Europe does not seem to agree with us on much of anything.  Tony Blair seems to be gearing up to tell Bush he’s full of crap and global warming is a serious problem and must be addressed, and those Kyoto Accords we pissed on might really have been a good idea.  Google that for giggles.  Bush’s poodle grows balls?


This week’s Just Above Sunset column January 30, 2005 - Decline and Fall Into Irrelevance opens with the hot item this week in the world of policy wonks – Tony Judt’s explanation that no nation anywhere in the world is using the United States as a model for much of anything these days, and, in fact, Europe has become more of a model for useful domestic and foreign policy – and environmental policy, and social policy.  And no one has any clue why were running our economy into the ground.


That is here -


Europe vs. America

Tony Judt, The New York Review of Books, Volume 52, Number 2, February 10, 2005


I have a friend in Boston who said a conservative friend of his says that the counter to that hot item can be found here -


Power and Weakness

Robert Kagan, Policy Review, June 2002


Maybe so.  Just as all the liberals are linking to Judt, the neoconservatives and other Bush supporters are linking to Kagan.


Everyone has been commenting on the many variations on the theme Kagan first sang four or five years ago – that bit about Americans being from Mars and Europeans being from Venus.  The man found his theme.  Yawn.  At least Francis Fukuyama, who launched that “End of History” crap in 1989, has finally moved on.  History did not end, oddly enough.  Kagan is stuck.  And he’ll beat this to death. 


Kagan’s thesis?


It is to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world.  On the all-important question of power — the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power — American and European perspectives are diverging.  Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation.  It is entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Kant’s “Perpetual Peace.”  The United States, meanwhile, remains mired in history, exercising power in the anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable and where true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might.  That is why on major strategic and international questions today, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus: They agree on little and understand one another less and less.  And this state of affairs is not transitory — the product of one American election or one catastrophic event.  The reasons for the transatlantic divide are deep, long in development, and likely to endure.  When it comes to setting national priorities, determining threats, defining challenges, and fashioning and implementing foreign and defense policies, the United States and Europe have parted ways.


Of course he may be right.  But some of us still think things are manageable through diplomacy and economic engagement – but we are becoming fewer and fewer on this side of the pond.  War it is. 


Lately I’ve been thinking about Henry Clay (1777-1852), the Great Compromiser, and how he is no longer a model for how governance works best.  I guess he’s a villain now.  Bush – never waver (moral certitude) - is the hero now.  Ah well.


Recent conservative, or neoconservative comment?  See this on Kagan -

 … Put in its simplest form his case stated that Europe has become militarily weak and therefore pursues a strategy fit for the weak, one of endless negotiation, treaty making, etc., while America is become overwhelmingly powerful and therefore pursues policies that fit its strength, disregarding those weaker than itself, even traditional "allies" like those in Europe. His theses excited much comment on both sides of the Atlantic, but particularly in Europe, where EU Foreign Minister Javier Solana is reported to have handed copies around Brussels. Apparently for the first time the thought occurred to European leaders that the American dismissal of European concerns was not just some kind of function George W, Bush and cowboy diplomacy but of a recognition on our part that Europe is in a state of decline and doesn't much matter any more.

For my money, Mr. Kagan's analysis is a tad uneven. He is at his best when he makes the point that the Europeans have been able to develop a utopian world view, or at least one that does not require them to exercise power abroad, because America has been protecting them from the dangers of the real world for so long…


This seems quite true. However, Mr. Kagan fails to follow through on this point. For what the umbrella of American protection has done is to create an internal political climate in Europe which allows for those monies that would otherwise be used on defense to be pumped into the already bloated social welfare systems. Europe is not just weak because it has been able to be weak, but is weak because a deliberate choice has been made to divert ever greater amounts of national wealth to entitlement programs. Nor is the decline in military strength the only problem that results from this decision to emphasize the self--in addition Europe has a rapidly declining population, decreased productivity, a need for massive immigration, etc., etc., etc., all problems that further weaken it. These structural problems do present real threats to the stability and eventually the endurance of European society, and yet they refuse to address them, so it can hardly be the case that an artificial and idyllic environment of America's making has led them astray. The reality on the ground in Europe is positively Hobbesian, but they are so much in the grip of their material desires and a dependence on the State that they refuse to reckon with that reality. Meanwhile, the implication of this for the future is that it will be impossible for them to address their military weakness and to reverse their retreat from engagement with the world, because their attention and their money will be tied down trying to fix what's wrong within Europe, never mind what's wrong outside.

The other significant shortcoming of Mr. Kagan's treatment basically grows out of this neglect of Europe's current and pending internal crises. He shortchanges the discussion of the ideological, in particular the religious, differences that divide America and Europe. It is well-documented that America retains, almost alone in the West, an extraordinarily high level of religious belief, while even in Britain--the closest European nation ideologically to the U.S.--a leading cleric has described the nation as "post-Christian". This matters on issues ranging from the maintenance of churches as institutions to counter-balance the State to abortion, with its obvious effects on population growth. As regards Mr. Kagan's topic, it also matters in terms of Americans believing in universal ideas, applicable to all men.

… In a Europe devoid of such faith, it's little wonder that power has become so concentrated in the State, at the cost of freedom, and that folk are unwilling to venture abroad to vindicate the freedom of others. This religious/moral/ideological divide warrants much greater consideration in any examination of the divergence between Europe and America.


And this


As an American who is part of the absolute tail end of the Boomer generation I grew up with the notion that Europe was our unconditional ally in the world. Hell, these folks owed us big time, French whining notwithstanding. It was not until the Reagan presidency that I began to realize that while Western Europe may have relied on American protection from the influence of the Warsaw Pact, it was not entirely pleased with its burly protector. Policies that seemed very straightforward to me produced all sorts of hand wringing and angst amongst Europeans and their wannabe poseur friends here in the US. I was attending the University of Massachusetts at Amherst at that time, so I got to see a lot of that end of the debate.

… Kagan’s analysis has the beauty of simplicity: The divergence between America and Europe is at its core the product of America’s power and Europe’s weakness. Throughout history the weaker powers have traditionally clung to the ideal of International Law and Diplomacy as the best model and method for dealing with contentious situations, whereas nations possessed of power (in the form of the ability to project credible military forces in to areas of contention) have traditionally viewed those ideals as suspicious attempts to hem in their ability to act as they feel they must.


… Cast in those terms the EU’s attitude becomes easier to understand. Right now the situation between the EU and the Militant Islamic World is, from the EU’s point of view, manageable through diplomacy and economic engagement. What they seem to fear is that unilateral action by the US could kick the hornet’s nest hard enough that there will be no way to contain the swarm, or to tell what form the problem will take once things settle down again.

Why can’t America see this and accept the wisdom of following a longer-term policy? September 11th looms large here. We see the danger. We have identified real, credible threats not only to the US, but also the world. We have the tools and the will to act. And we have our own view of history to instruct us on the dangers of failure to act. America rejects the notion that the Post Modern age renders power not only unnecessary, but dangerous, and quite frankly resents Europe for building this massive, navel-gazing semi-socialist state while resting under the wing of American military power, then criticizing the nation that made their grand experiment a possibility in the first place.

From the American perspective it seems to me that Europe is living a vast fantasy. The security they enjoy is by no means absolute and the grand “post-modern paradise” they currently inhabit is extraordinarily fragile. Without American power to guarantee its security the EU could not exist as it does today. If America were to give up her role as protector of the peace, the social safety net of the EU would evaporate as the need to provide for its own defense consumed resources currently devoted to providing heaven on earth. Post modernism works for the EU because American power permits them to indulge in the fantasy.


General stuff here


Bob Kagan's essay "Power and Weakness," published in Policy Review is, according the U. S. News & World Report, "the most controversial big–think article of the season." Knopf will publish OF PARADISE AND POWER: America and Europe in the New World Order, based on the essay, in February.  Read on for some of the praise Kagan and his writing have garnered:


"The most controversial big-think article of the season." —U.S. News and World Report, October 21, 2002.


"Kagan says with force and truth that out there, there is still a Hobbesian world that will be dealt with by American cowboy justice or not at all. He says the European world of moral rule is an ideal formed in weakness."—A. S. Byatt, NY Times Magazine, October 13, 2002.


"An incisive and far-reaching essay that has been much discussed in Europe and elsewhere."—Victor Davis Hanson, Commentary, October 2002.


"A much-applauded article on the gulf between Europe and America."—The Economist, September 7, 2002.


"Many European policymakers think Mr Kagan has defined a real difference of approach, of which Iraq is a perfect example."—The Economist, August 10, 2002.


"Brilliant"—Francis Fukuyama, "Has History Restarted Since Sept. 11?" John Boynthon Lecture, Melbourne Australia, August 8, 2002.


"The New 'X' Article.... In 1947 George Kennan wrote a seminal article for Foreign Affairs that convincingly made the case for containment of the Soviet Union. The article...provided the conceptual framework for U.S. foreign policy throughout the Cold War. Robert Kagan's piece 'Power and Weakness'...may come to be remembered as the defining reconceptualization of U.S.-European relations, albeit in a negative rather than positive light. Surprisingly, many Europeans agree with Kagan's diagnosis and see him as a messenger saying something they need to hear."—National Journal, July 27, 2002.


"No academic piece in this realm has generated quite as much heat and interest since Samuel Huntington's 'Clash of Civilizations' article in 1993 or Francis Fukuyama's 'End of History' in 1989."—Francois Heisbourg, Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris, New York Times, July 21, 2002.


"[Kagan's article] pushes the debate to the next question."—Pascal Lamy, European Union Trade Commissioner, New York Times, July 21, 2002.


"Helping to define the European discussion."—Steven Erlanger, New York Times, July 21, 2002


So the folks from Mars have their seminal thinker.  And the folks from Venus this week got the key item they can point to.


The policy wonks can line up behind one or the other.  No one in civilian life – with a mortgage and kids and job woes - cares about such stuff.  That is as it should be, of course.  Thinking about such stuff can give you a serious series of headaches, and immediate matters need attention.  For example, I had a hard time getting to work this week as my usual route from Hollywood to Pasadena was blocked by a massive train wreck the killed eleven people and shut down the middle of Glendale.


But on extraneous-to-daily-life high-level policy issues war and peace are decided, and those kids mentioned above may be killed or killing others.  One might pay attention now and then.  They’re your kids.  Trains can be dangerous.  So can our leaders.






Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
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