The Washington Post Column

Division in Europe

It isn’t often that I think the opinions of another magazine are worth quoting at length, but I have just read something so stunning that I think it worth making an exception. For the purposes of general education, I would like the readers of Slate to have a good, close look at the editorial printed in the most recent edition of the New Statesman. The New Statesman is a left-wing but not far-left mainstream British magazine, with a reasonably large readership, some good columnists, and a certain amount of influence in the Labor Party. Perfectly normal, sensible people work for it. I was in their offices last week. Now I quote:

Americans would do well to ask themselves why, despite what should be an enormous propaganda advantage in beaming their way of life to every corner of the globe, their ideals and values have signally failed to inspire the Third World young in the way that Marxism did and Islam now does. (Indeed, it often seems that the only people truly inspired by the US are a small band of disciples in London, with Gordon Brown and Tony Blair at their centre.)

There is more:

The death of the Soviet Union also deprived the global poor of something more intangible: not exactly hope, perhaps, but the sense of an alternative, of possibility.

And this:

American bond traders, you may say, are as innocent and undeserving of terror as Vietnamese or Iraqi peasants. Well, yes and no. … If America seems a greedy and overweening power, that is partly because its people have willed it. They preferred George Bush to both Al Gore and Ralph Nader.

I’ll leave aside the fact that these statements are almost blindingly stupid. Anyone who thinks American values do not inspire the Third World has clearly never been to the Third World, and anyone who feels nostalgia for the “alternative” offered by the Soviet Union must also favor the totalitarian terror, the ignorance, and the poverty that the Soviet Union imposed on its own people and exported around the world. I won’t even lower myself to discuss the notion that Americans are to blame for last week’s tragedy because they voted for George Bush.
What is important is that such things are being written in Britain, a country where the majority of the population is genuinely sympathetic to the United States. I was in London myself last week, where parties and concerts were canceled out of respect, and American flags were flying in solidarity with the American people. Tony Blair has indeed supported America, almost to the point of caricature: He has now taken to appearing in public wearing windbreakers of the sort favored by George Bush.

This division, between the views of the British public and the views of the New Statesman editorialists, is now being echoed across the entire European continent. I expect it to grow worse. It already seems to have grown worse since I wrote about the subject in June, even since I described the same phenomenon last weekend. In the last 24 hours, the columnists of the Guardian (Charlotte Raven, George Monbiot, and Martin Woolacott), the Times (Michael Gove), and the Daily Telegraph (Robert Harris) have almost all addressed themselves to the subject. This morning, a British friend rang to describe a polite London dinner party she had attended. It ended in a vicious fight, with pro-American friends vowing never again to speak to anti-American friends, and one wife threatening to divorce her husband.

I would wager that the same sorts of divisions will soon emerge in Germany, in France, and elsewhere in Europe as well, gradually developing into a full-blown culture war. Although some of the arguing will touch, legitimately, on aspects of American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, quite a lot of it will be about the nature of the modern world. Those who approve of the global economy, of the spread of Western culture, and of the universality of democracy and capitalism will find themselves ranged against those who dislike these very same phenomena. These include European intellectuals of the sort who work for the New Statesman as well as those, further to the left, who have marched in the anti-globalization demonstrations, and those, further to the right, who deplore “foreign” influence, including American influence, whatever form it takes.

American leaders can and should contribute to this battle: George Bush himself ought to speak directly to the European public, reaching over the heads of the European media. Over the months and years it will take to wage war against terrorism, the United States will need allies of all sorts, and it must start building the support of those allies now. But the bulk of the fighting will be among Europeans themselves. And the outcome will probably determine the future of that continent: Is it to be the closed “Fortress Europe” that so many have feared, or the partner of the United States in the great project of making the world a freer, richer place? I don’t claim to know which side will triumph.