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Is it Time for the US to Wake Up to the European Dream?

by Captain Future Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 06:35:49 AM EST

promoted by Jerome. We need the outside view once in a while, to take us out of our disputes on very small issues...especially when it is flattering!

Americans as a rule know little about Europe, possibly even less than Europeans knew about America a half century ago, when Europeans seemed to think Al Capone was still running Chicago and cowboys roamed the West.   Then again, maybe they were on to something.

Today's American ignorance is less innocent. Along with the smug complacency and disbelief that we Americans could possibly learn anything from foreign lands, our ignorance of today's Europe consists of holdover imagery carefully nurtured by big business Repubs, neocons who don't want their delusions of empire spoiled by the hard-earned insights of Europe, and rabid rightists who certainly don't want Americans to see European economic successes, particularly the vibrant manufacturing coupled with strong labor unions, universal health care and other social support---and workers with greater job security, shorter work week and more vacations.

Then there's this: the nation with the world's highest labor costs is also the world champion exporter, and it's in Europe.


A few years ago in THE UNCONQUERABLE WORLD Jonathan Schell movingly described how the European Union was forging a system for permanent peace in the region that had put itself through hell for several hundred years, and the rest of the world twice in the twentieth century.

Then last year, in THE EUROPEAN DREAM Jeremy Rifkin developed a case for Europe's vision of the future replacing the American dream that has dominated globalism so far.

I just caught up to Thomas Geoghegan's July 11 piece in the Nation magazine, just after the "no" votes on the EU Constitution in France and Holland surprised U.S. media into paying Europe some attention.  Geoghegan begins by saying that the alarmist talk at the time was excessive, and that in most of Europe "things are pretty nice"---in ways that would make a lot of American envious.

(The full article is available online only to Nation subscribers, but the url is http://www.thenation.com/docprem.mhtml?i=20050711&s=geoghegan)

He notes that a 2004 Goldman Sachs study shows that a big chunk of Europe has been doing at least as well economically as the U.S., and when you take a closer look behind the numbers, the picture gets even better.

The higher unemployment rate in France, for example, masks the fact that employed French workers are much more secure, and that over time, a higher proportion of American workers are out of work for significant periods than French workers.  European standard of living is going up as fast as America's by the numbers, but if you put a cash value on the extra leisure Europeans have due to shorter work weeks and more vacations, it's likely it's going up faster.

Why do American big business elites deride Europe?  Possibly because the top execs don't make as much there, and in France the income gap between top and bottom is decreasing, not increasing at an obscene rate as it is here.  

Figuring in the anomalies of American employment figures, "It's plausible that in the past ten years most of Europe has done better than the United States---even as Europeans keep working fewer hours."  Though he doesn't mention it, Europeans also don't have to spend exorbitant amounts on health care or pensions that their companies conveniently disappear when they get in trouble, though golden parachutes remain open; they don't worry they might die without medical care, or that the retirement they thought was secure suddenly vanishes.

Geoghegan dismisses the euphoria over China's economic gains---just catch-up, he maintains, as were Japan's in the 70s.  He derides Friedman's `flat world" theory (i.e. globalized on the American model, with Chinese takeout) and drops this little tidbit that puts the lie to its rightist apologists:

"Last year, according to the WTO, German export goods had a value of more than $915 billion.  China's had a value of about $593 billion.  In a so-called flat world, it turns out that the country with the world's highest labor costs is the world's champion exporter.  Add in France, eta  al, and the EU is even further ahead...

A key to this is that while corporations in the US found it necessary to dismantle the nation's industrial infrastructure and destroy the middle class to enrich the rich and slowly impoverish the rest (Let them eat Wal-Mart!), Europe held on to its factories and its industrial jobs, which have far more protections for workers than even unionized U.S. plants once did.

In the creation of economics and governments that engender prosperity while providing good jobs, security, health care and a better quality of life; in creating a more perfect union that, despite its ups and downs, is a nearly miraculous model of peace among nations, and even in how it is confronting the difficulties of multicultural societies that the US will also have to face in the 21st century, Europe is worth our close attention over here.

Over there, however, the danger (according to Geoghegan) is partly fostered by over here.  "The threat to Europe right now," he concludes, "is the violence of the rhetoric against the model [of Europe in the last decade], the bizarre gloom and doom when it is actually doing well.  The nerve-wracking thing about Europe at the moment is the possibility that ordinary Europeans will lose their nerve and just cave in to their American-wannabe elites."    

Poll
Is the European Dream real?
. Yes, and the US can learn a lot from it 28%
. It's been inflated and isn't so great 0%
. There are problems but the US can learn from it anyway 72%
. It works for Europe but there's little transferrable to the US 0%

Votes: 25
Results | Other Polls
Display:
Great guns, Cap'n Future! This makes stirring reading on a European morning!

I particularly appreciate your conclusion and the quote from Geoghegan:

The threat to Europe right now ... is the violence of the rhetoric against the model...

A lot of us at EuroTrib (Europeans and Americans alike) are sensitive to this, though some still don't seem to see it. What we're accused of, fairly often, is of US-bashing (or its minor-mode equivalent, UK-bashing) -- when in fact the real communications flow is in the other direction: ("old") Europe-bashing. The existence of an independent Europe with an efficient and redistributive economy is a threat to American globalization (Friedbrain's Flat Earth), just as an independent Europe is a threat to neocon imperialist foreign policy. With convergence of powerful interests of that nature and degree -- American corporate capitalism and the reigning Washington geopolitical theory -- it's not surprising the campaign is massive and violent. And, as always, American right-wing spinmeisters apply the rule: when you're out to attack, first make out it's you who are the victim of the same kind of attack as you are about to launch, on the part of the self-same people you are going to attack.

So tell us, Captain Future: why do you hate America?

(Thanks for the diary).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 01:37:23 AM EST
I hope that I don't sound like a neocon, but one reason why Europe's social model does not get the respect it deserves is that its economic sucess is counterbalanced by its military weakness.  The US spends 4% of GDP on defense, Britain and France spend about 3%, and the rest of Europe averages less than 2%.  In the area of research and development, the US is even further ahead.  Unfortunately, a lot of Americans decided that Europeans were unable or unwilling to contribute their fair share towards the common defense.

Beyond monetary issues, the EU has not been able to develop a unified position even on regional issues.  The collapse of Yugoslavia, for example, was a crisis that could have, and should have been handled by European countries themselves.  
While Britain and Frannce have run sucessful military campaigns in recent years (in Africa and the Faukland Islands), most other countries don't have the ability to project force beyond their own borders.

It is a sad fact that we live in a violent world.  Maybe our European allies will consider spending an additional 1%, or even 1/2% of GDP on defense.  The neocons probably won't like it, but we liberal Americans would appreciate having a partner that we can rely on.

by corncam on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 05:56:36 AM EST
I don't want them to spend more - I want them to spend differently. I don't see how our 'violent world' should be improved by introducing more violence.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 06:33:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
hear, hear

waves with document called: unconquerable world.

by PeWi on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 06:44:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
but I think the most handicapping aspect is the lack of coordination of foreign policies. It just requires the decision to do it, and it works, as the Iraqi and Iran examples show in a stark contrast.

On the military side, Europe is at least working on its biggest handicaps - its unability to transport troops on its own (via the Airbus A400 military transport programme), and its planning capacity. Vith Galileo, it will be able to offer a more "neutral" instrument to various parties around the world in what is becoming a vital service - global positioning.

It has - rightly in my view - decided to focus on peacekeeping and similar tasks only (the so called Petersberg tasks), but it should use more effectively, i.e. by speaking in one voice, the big carrots it has: financial help, trade agreements, and various forms of association agreements.

Europe now has a lot of legitimacy when it manages to overcome (no easy tasks) its various national egoistical and parochial policies.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 06:46:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
 Oh no, I did sound like a neocon!  In my first comment, I should have gone on to say that while many European countries could spend more on defense, the US should be spending less.  (Maybe 3% of GDP)  And the US should put much more effort into peacekeeping and nation building.

I didn't mean to turn this into a defense forum, but my point was that a lot of the criticism that is directed towards Europe's economic policies is really motivated by other, non-economic reasons.

by corncam on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 07:08:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Let me be clear from the start: I'm in agreement with Jérôme when he says Europe needs more foreign policy coordination; I agree with you, corncam, that we should be willing to spend more on defence; I agree with DoDo and PeWi that the orientation of defence spending should be different.

Now I've covered my rear portion by smarming up to everyone, I'd just point out that, over the last few decades, I can't think of an example where the US (and I mean the power structure, obviously -- I think you're right about the perception American citizens have about Europe's defence contribution being weak) has encouraged Europe to become militarily stronger in a significant way.

"Coalition-building" is about PR, not about significant military muscle. And Washington has never wanted Europe to be independent (during or after the Cold War) in defence terms.

So I think I disagree with the view that the economic criticisms levelled at Europe only mask a defence imbalance. I think they really are economic.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 07:54:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can't think of an example where the US ... has encouraged Europe to become militarily stronger in a significant way.

Indeed. To be more exact, US encouragements for higher spending are implicite calls to buy more US arms.

Keeping Europe in vassaldom is pretty much the accepted policy on both sides of the aisle. Top National Security Democrat Zbigniew Brzezinski, onetime National Security Adviser for President Carter put it this way:

"To put it in a terminology that harkens back to a more brutal age of ancient empires," he writes, "the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together."


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Aug 19th, 2005 at 06:50:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry for leaving in that "he writes" - I quoted from an earlier post of mine elsewhere...

The quote is from The Grand Chessboard, about the US's past and future policies in Eurasia from a strategic view, and this blunt and quote is from page 40 of the original edition.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Aug 19th, 2005 at 07:13:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Very good quote, DoDo.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Aug 19th, 2005 at 08:41:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Europe has no military power but European powers together have a massive amount of military power that is second only to US. This is a legacy of Cold War spending.

Most of this strength is still also directed towards war against USSR because with slashed budgets there has not been enough money to buy expeditionary forces (nor strategic transportation ability they would need). Thus most European forces are essentially similar meachanized forces as they were in early 1990's but with much slower equipment change cycle.

There has been discussion and actions towards European defence concepts such as common troop pools and HQs. This scared the shit out of Americans who vehemontly resist any idea of European military force capable of doing things independently. So yes, US can whine about lack of military power in Europe but it is also against independent European military power. It wants European militaries to function through NATO (where it has loudest voice) rather than any European organ (where it has no power). This is the actual cause of the US complaints.

Best source of "official" European (EU) perspective towards military issues is here:
http://www.iss-eu.org/

This text offers best description of actual developments in the security and military field in last few years:
http://www.iss-eu.org/books/5esdpen.pdf

It is good to remeber that even if you do not see news articles about Solana beating his fist on desk and issuing ultimatums nor European air forces carrying air strikes against regime targets, it does not mean EU is somehow negleting its eventual march towards more common defence policies.

What EU would pretty much like to do (and what it will im my view eventually do) has been described quite openly here. This is not official policy but reflects very accurately things Finnish General Hägglund (who was top EU military commander) have mentioned in Finnish military trade press on where EU wants to go in military terms:
http://www.iss-eu.org/chaillot/wp2004.pdf

However, it is good to remember that nothing happens quickly in military in peace time as there is no pressing need to create force structures for campaign. Thus you can again sit back and see small things happening all the time while these issues are generally being ignored in rapidly moving news cycle in US.

by Nikita on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 08:05:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the link to ISS.

You are right that some conservatives want the EU to remain dependent on the US.  But I have always thought that the community of free nations will be stronger when we are all strong and working together.  That's what I meant when I said

The neocons probably won't like it, but we liberal Americans would appreciate having a partner that we can rely on.
by corncam on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 09:35:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
community of free nations

Sorry but you sound neocon again :-)

Again the question is, what kind of "strong" do you mean, what applications of military power do you think of? The two you have given, France in Africa and Britain in the Falklands, are neither ones I would wish more - Thatcher notably blew the opportunity of a peaceful settlement (sinking of the Belgrano); France's interventions usually have more to do with the immediate security of French expats and French businesses than ensuring democracy, and  short-term thinking usually leads to new problems only years or months later.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Aug 19th, 2005 at 06:54:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good questions DoDo.  I think we all agree that the Petersberg tasks are appropriate, but many countries lack the logistical capabilities they need.  I also think that the western countries need to be better at supporting refugees and emergency reconstruction, but I don't know whether these tasks below to the Army or some civilian agency.  

There are still plenty of situations that require conventional military force.  For example, none of us wants to see China invade Taiwan, or North Korea attack South Korea, or Serbia attack Croatia.  NATO membership may be the only thing that protects the Baltic states from a future Russian government.  While I'm not familiar with the details of Falklands diplomacy, I think that in principle, the British were justified in using force to repel the Argentine invaders.  I also think that evacuating expats is a legitimate use of state power.

I am aware that the western countries have frequently used their militaries to set up right-wing military dictatorships around the world.  This practice has almost always backfired on us, and I hope that our leaders will eventually realize that it is futile.  (Not to mention hypocritical, un-democratic and just plain evil.)  Nevertheless, if dictatorship stays in our sphere of influence long enough, sometimes it can transform into a democracy; Taiwan and South Korea are prime examples.

I really don't know what to do about humanitarian crises like Sudan or Rwanda.  We have a moral imperative to help the weak, but I don't think we know how to do that sucessfully.  One of my friends spent 20 years in the military, and now he works for NGOs in crisis zones - he doesn't have any easy answers either.

So there are some of my thoughts on the uses of military power.  How much money should a democracy spend on these tasks?  I think 4% of GDP is too much, and 1% is too little, but every country has to decide that for themselves.

by corncam on Fri Aug 19th, 2005 at 02:00:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nikita, both of your comments here, when put together, would make a very interesting diary on the current status of the European military. I will go digging into the links you have provided, but encourage you to elaborate for all of us what is in them and what you think about it. As far as I can recall, no one has really done a story that takes an in-depth look at where the European Military is, or where it would be if it created its own military outside of NATO (which I have heard rumors of too). Thought provoking. Thanks!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 01:18:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"The Common defence"? Of who? From what?

With the demise of the Soviet threat, I'm rather intrigued at what significant threats you think Europe now faces to its security.

by IdiotSavant on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 08:11:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was referring to the Cold War era.  
by corncam on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 09:21:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Which is over. Spending more money on tanks and guns now certainly won't do anyone any good.

Idiot/Savant
No Right Turn - New Zealand's liberal blog

by IdiotSavant on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 09:59:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed.

The only field where I'd favor more military spending is humanitarian interventions. But, apart from transport planes and a unified Euroforce (which are coming), what this would need most is not more spending and more weapons, but more training (to avoid civilian casualties, and to not rish long-term negative economic, social and political consequences with short-term force protection decisions) and much deeper policy pre-planning, and of course strong checks and balances to prevent the abuse of this power for other goals (economic, geopolitical, dominance). Possibly best done under a UN umbrella, the EU delegating power.

Only, by today, I am growing increasing doubts that this is realistically possible. That is, would politicians ever agree to something like this, or would be able to do sufficient policy pre-planning.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Aug 19th, 2005 at 07:03:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I woke up and checked in on the site this morning, and thought, "ahh, I love the sound of a (another) converted American in the morning!" (Good call on front paging this, Jerome...I had similar sentiments).

I can't recall you posting here before, Captain Future, but great first article, thank you! Awhile back I posted a similar article, though just focusing on the
Geoghegan article "Europe's Secret Success Story" from the same Nation article. I don't think this subject can be talked about too much, since we do need to counter the tide of neo-con propaganda coming from the US. I also like how you have woven in
mentions of THE UNCONQUERABLE WORLD by Jonathan Schell, and THE EUROPEAN DREAM by Jeremy Rifkin (both of which I'd enjoy hearing more about your impressions on...here or in other diaries, were you willing to elaborate).

What Europe has a is a very good thing...and if more Americans truly realized what a good thing it is, they would (will be?) clamoring for it too. After all, Americans don't like to consider themselves as being second class to anyone...but in important ways, Europeans have it much better.

As for defense budgets...the US spends more than the whole rest of the world on "defense"...though a LOT of that is going into certain people's pockets. No, funding defense is not the best way to spend the citizens money, I believe.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 07:45:10 AM EST
To return the discussion from military prowess (my wee-wee is bigger than yours!) to more peaceful means the basic premise that Europe is not going to fade away holds very much true.

The discussion between European and US models within US has next to nothing reason on actual merits of European system(s) (no matter what people this side of Atlantic might wish for). The praise of European model in US is actually an indirect attack on existing US model. By showing successful European model, the critics of existing US model wish to show that things might be done successfully in another country (and subsequently moved to US). Similarly the "US number 1" has nothing to do on reality (anyone with slightest bit of sanity would immediately revamp current US health care system on real merits alone) but wish to upkeep the current model.

Europe is politically and militarily considerably weaker than US but economically and scientifically it is roughly equal. It is also good to remember that despite all the talk of Pacific Century vast majority of US business interests (in terms of invested capital) is in Europe. Similarly vast majority of European business interests lie within US. This is the bottom line of actual reality.

However, US model is praised in Europe in order to get good economic growth figures (but at what social cost?) in order to win economic beauty contest. This resonates nicely with business (who'd like bigger share of the pie) and is being used to lure people (who'd like to look like fashion models and drive really big cars and have wall sized TVs and jobs jobs jobs). So again these models have next to no relevance to reality (US model has larger amount of economic activity but the social cost amongst population is equally very high). This was the reason why several Finnish governmental researchers have dismissed US model as it does not offer more good to greater part of society as whole than existing Finnish model. Researchers of private interests tout US system as a wayto ensure monetary awards are more plentiful (to smaller slice of population).

Currently the beat is on US side of these models but I do not believe it will hold. The current US system is based on foreign indebtness that is simply unsustainable. The EU's better net international indebtness proportion of GDP and higher private savings offer European model longer life expectancy in case of severe recession. Ofcourse it does not mean that recession would be easy in Europe but I also believe that social costs of such recession would be more tolerable than in US.

Thus I agree on idea that believers of US model are better off realising sizable problems within their model and accept the fact that it is more vulnerable to larger part of population than most European models.

by Nikita on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 08:38:41 AM EST
This is good fodder for an argument, that's for sure!

In my opinion, the European model has a lot of good features that the U.S. should learn from. Universal health care is probably the biggest one.

But I also think that the non-unified nature of the European viewpoint makes it easy for Europeans to avoid seeing problems in their own system, while the massive American media makes it easy to see problems in America.

For example, what is the actual situation with the Mafia today in Southern Italy and Sicily? I was in the bookstore here the other day looking at a tourist guide to southern Italy. I forget which one it was; one of the popular ones with lots of pictures. The book was simply FULL of cautions about crime and how the country is run by the Mafia and how striking it is that there is essentially no governmental presence in Sicily and the south of Italy. A recent book on the Mafia ("Cosa Nostra - a history of the Sicilian Mafia," by John Dickie, senior lecturer in Italian at the University of London) says "The best way of avoiding political contact with the mafia is by staying out of power--which is where the Left has been in Sicily for most of its history." And when I read stuff like this: http://www.centroimpastato.it/otherlang/mcdonald.php3 what am I supposed to think? Obviously there have been a bunch of scandals about Berlusconi; do they reflect the European way of doing things or should the situation be more fairly compared to, say, politics in New Jersey?

Now I have no idea whether this stuff reflects the reality of Italy. I've never been to the south of Italy and these authors may just have some sort of vendetta going against it. Perhaps it's just another example of the Anglo-Saxon press on an anti-Europe tirade. Or perhaps it simply reflects how it is on the ground in Italy. How am I supposed to judge that? What do the Irish or the Belgians think about southern Italy? How does southern Italy compare to, say, Alabama?

Basically, how do you compare Europe with America?

Another small example: France relies heavily on nuclear power generation while Germany closes nuke plants, so which better characterizes the "European" attitude towards nuclear power? Why is the French left so out of line compared to practically all other leftist parties on this subject?

There are plenty of other examples, which I've listed in the past and won't bother to list again.

The point I'm trying to make is that it is very, very hard to compare societies. Even using published statistics is hard, because of different assumptions and interpretations and expectations. Europeans come over to Florida and think they understand America. Americans go over to London and think they understand Europe. Neither has a clue about the other.

by asdf on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 09:43:01 AM EST
The fact that there is a non-unified view means that we spend our time focusing on the problems, the inconsistencies, and we have an easy way to compare one country's flaws with what works less badly or better in other countries.

The Mafia problem is well known throughout Europe; it crops up in discussions about CAP (when new frauds come out of Italy), the euro (when Italy was put in the "club Med" category by the Germans for their habit to fudge their budgets) and with the whole tangentepoli scandals of the 90s, with andreotti, Craxi and others accused of links with the Mafia.

But yes, even Europeans know not enough about other Europeans

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 12:06:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The point I'm trying to make is that it is very, very hard to compare societies. Even using published statistics is hard, because of different assumptions and interpretations and expectations. Europeans come over to Florida and think they understand America. Americans go over to London and think they understand Europe. Neither has a clue about the other.

asdf, I think your point here, is in fact the point...of why these kind of articles have, are, and will be posted...because most of what we hear about Europe is from the US media (wouldn't you agree?), which more often than not is parroting some neo-con view of "Europe" (and often not too kind). AS IF, Europe were a single entity, rather than a compley place, which is really doing pretty damn well. So, we push back with other views...and it is important to put this out there, as a contrast. Heck, the US doesn't even agree to ILO standards of what is agreed upon unemployment statistics (as someone noted in another discussion), so Americans fall off the people counted as unemployed, when they stop collecting unemployment, whereas this isn't the case in Europe...and, unemployment usually lasts longer and pays better in Europe...so the "low" unemployment rate is a myth (or, more accurately, a lying statistic).

Anyway, as I am also an American (residing in Europe), I know that though many places in America are different from each other, as a whole Americans are MUCH more homogenous than Europeans are. Its much easier to compare Americans than Europeans, actually.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 01:34:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you for this excellent diary.

Sine I began visiting this site, I have noticed that there is now very little American news about Europe.  Or about any foreign affairs in general, unless Rice or Rummy visit somewhere.  Aside from the Middle East, the only time I see our MSM prominently cover an in International story is when there is some awful tragedy, such as a famine or plane crash (and yes, there was a sorry attempt to turn the "No" vote into a tragedy too).  Which only reinforces the belief that we should just be glad we live in America.  (And I have to say, even the BBC World News, which many Americans watch, seems to be slacking off a bit these days...)

It is kinda creepy.  I remember my childhood in the American heartland being filled with news about Russia, Poland, Germany, (then) Czechoslovakia, etc..., Glastnost, Perestroika, the Berlin Wall, buzz about this whole EU thing, and gobs and gobs of Euro-Pop music.  What happened?  When did we become such an isolated, self-centered, Europe-hating country?  

I cannot help but suspect that we are following in the footsteps of so many other awful regimes, not letting our citizens know what is going on in the rest of the world, particularly in Europe, so that they don't realize how bad they have it.  Because that would put a bit of a damper on the myth that we are the Greatest Country in the World.  Sure, the enlightened class, the well-educated and moneyed people living on the coasts and in the cities are well aware of what's happening in Europe.  But the rest of America, those folks who voted for Bush, not only do not know, they don't care.  

Their interest in Europe ends where the US of A came in and saved your asses from the Nazis (this kind of history buff is common throughout America.)  Plus, these folks often do not have the money or vacation time to travel to Europe, do not have the language skills to read your newspapers because foreign language education in America is a very very low priority, do not have the intellectual curiosity to care because intellectual curiosity is scorned here, and lastly, a lot of them do not realize the Cold War is over and they continue to associate unions, universal healthcare, and any kind of social investment or redistribution of wealth as smacking of Communism.

I don't know what we as Americans can do to change this.  That is, I think it will have to get worse before people get upset enough to make some serious changes.  They need to feel like they are being short-changed.  Americans hate that.

That's where you come in.

Make this new "European Dream" a success story.  Despite everything I said above, it is a small world and nothing can stay a secret for long.  Eventually, word will get out.  And eventually middle America will start making demands.  Our sense of entitlement is obscene.  Lead the way, and I bet we will follow.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 10:33:02 AM EST
It has always annoyed me, as I wrote in another diary, to see what "international news" meant, as per CNN made in London. The Near East (Israel- Palestine) is there pretty much all the time, then whatever's the current US war (Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq to name the latest), and whatever big catastrophe or unusual climatic phenomenon can bo found around the globe. Almost nothing of substance on policies. Economics is the value of the various stock markets or whatever big M&A transaction which big numbers. Once in a while, you get the "postcard" version of some serious topic - the healthcare system of country x in 2 minutes...

And there isn't much more on the Pacific Rim countries, so it's not even like it's just a focus on a different region.

The USA have both the best informed people on the planet and the least informed, just like they have the richest and some of the poorest (for the West anyway). Europe is no less contrasted, but it is certainly less unequal.


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 11:40:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
All countries have some disparity between the rich and poor, the educated and uneducated.

But America really is becoming more and more like 2 different countries.  I get more culture shock when I go back home to my rural midwestern hometown than I do when I go to ... well, Europe.  Probably because I expect it when I go abroad and don't when I go home... which makes it all the more shocking.

And uhm, we generally don't get any news about your healthcare systems...  Hardly surprising.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 02:21:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What happened?  When did we become such an isolated, self-centered, Europe-hating country?

It was when the Cold War ended, and the European Union was no longer of any use to American foreign policy -- and was even an obstacle.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 01:22:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it is more complicated than that.  It may have begun then.  And it was certainly solidified with the lack of European support for the war in Iraq.

But something significant happened in those interim 10+ years.  I don't remember any political animosity toward Europe under Clinton.  Nothing on the radar.  In fact, that was the era of the birth of globalisation and the Internet.  If there was any prevailing sentiment during the 90's it seemed to be one of the world getting smaller and more progressive.

Politically, yes, Europe stood in the way of Bush's policies.  

But there was a cultural change in America that exacerbated any policy differences. I think it was a combination of the "greed is good" mentality of the 90's, the Christian Right's victory during the Clinton Impeachment (he was voted out of office), and the attacks of 9-11, which radically altered the mindset of Americans, made them afraid, disoreinted and extremely defensive.  We became financially corrupt, socially regressive and militarily reactionary while Europe was creating an economic model of cooperation, becoming more socially progressive and enjoying (outside the Balkans) an era of general peace.

You could say we grew apart.  Iraq simply illustrated this.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 02:07:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The startegic rift between Europe and US opened up in 1990's because common enemy -USSR- was gone. There was no longer any overwhelming strategic imperative for Europe to follow (no matter how grudgingly) US policies.

It is good to remember that US and European policies in number of international issues were allready different during Clinton regime. For example US and european policies in human rights (vis a vis death penalty), international court system, international environmental policies were all very different. Similarly policies towards Israel's actions were also quite different.

The real reason why US-European relations appeared successful were that Clinton's skilled use of both internationalist and unilateral approaches to foreign policy. US did had its head most of the time but did not antagonize nor demonize its European allies. The rift became open because Bush has been rejecting this kind of diplomacy and replaced it with more unilateral policies (that were evident from his early days as president).

Socially US has also been moving different from Europe. There has been discussion of "New England's European Culture" being replaced with "Cowboy Culture of South" in US. Meanwhile the older generation whose memories are ruled by WW2 are being replaced with never generation looking more national (and nationalistic) cultures in Europe. While this is perhaps somewhat exaggeration the generational change of guard happening in 1990's to now is reality.

US historical perspective is shorter and more triumphant so belief one's perfection (and subsequently rightneousness) is stronger. Memories of failures were certainly fading (I noticed this reading US Army manuals where Vietnam was not mentioned as war US Army had been gaining experience at all!!). Triumphalism and national chauvinism were certainly rising allready in Clinton era but it was accepted in Europe as US behaved then acceptably (see above to methods used in Clinton regime's foreign policy).

Finally, there has been studies of early Bush II foreign policies and I personally found out that US was officially changing its strategic priorities from European centric strategy towards Pacific centered strategy (Rumsfield authorised series of reviews and parts of them were leaked to press). The goal then was to make China new opponent (as new USSR) but this was moved under carpet soon after spyplane incident. Then 9/11 happened and US policies were totally moved towards new Middle-East policies. Afganistan invasion was carried out practically unilaterally (despite offers from NATO countries to participate) and the breakup was total with Iraq where combination of bad foreign policies and mistakes led to breakup between France and US (there has been rumours that spite was due diplomatic errors but I quess I have to wait decade or two to learn the actual truth).

by Nikita on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 02:52:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
right. I was simply noting a decisive moment, a point where things tilted in the geopolitical sphere. All the same, that has its importance, because the MSM are in the hands of power, and the MSM feed popular perceptions. So certain reactionary tendencies have been, let's say, allowed to flourish over the last fifteen years.

But that's not the whole story, since those reactionary tendencies are unfortunately in evidence elsewhere in the world, in Europe too. People feel threatened and insecure and batten back on to identity politics -- mostly national and religious chauvinism. What distinguishes the US, imho, is that you have a pretty huge stock of unregenerate heartland reactionaries who were just waiting for a little encouragement to come out and take front centre stage...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Aug 19th, 2005 at 03:00:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
well said poemless!!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 01:35:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well this article certainly seems appropriate:

Stark reality of the American dream

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 12:12:44 PM EST
"What do they ever hope for in Europe? Here they have a law that you can dream to be happy."

This is actually a pretty good summary of it all...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 05:31:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the link, poemless.

What this article makes me think of is the ad I sometimes see on the internets, which tells me I can have a go at the US Green Card lottery.

The whole damn American Dream thing is a lottery. The chances any poor person has of winning the big prize are derisory. Yet people love to believe in their chances, and wilfully ignore how tiny those chances are. (I'm not looking down on anyone, I'm the same).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Aug 19th, 2005 at 03:05:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Two essential books that I think make very important and sophisticated arguments in favor of the EU "model" (a model as defined in broad strokes) and why most people - critics esp., but many advocates also - just don't "get" the EU. These critics (and advocates) are trying to force into a traditional conception of great power politics when it offers a means of moving beyond this mode of viewing the world. I would argue that the Gaullist as well as the American rightist critique of the EU both make this mistake. Anyway, I urge people to run out and buy Robert Collins's The Breaking of Nations and Mark Leonard's Why Europe Will Run The 21st Century Not only are these books very compelling in and of themselves, but I find them especially important in that both authors are basically arguing in favor of the EU model as the future of international relations from a Blairite, Atlanticist perspective.
by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 05:48:09 PM EST
Thanks for all the compliments, the thoughtful posts and further reading.  I'll try to do a diary on the books I mentioned.

A couple of thoughts inspired by posts: on the history of foreign policy splits, Robert MacNamara makes the point that the US had little or no real support in Europe for the Vietnam war.  In "The Fog of War" film, he uses this example to buttress one of his "lessons": that if the US can't persuade its allies to support a policy, it should rethink the policy.

On shifting attention to Asia and the Middle East: partly catch-up, since the US was terribly ignorant of those areas, and remains ignorant especially of history and historical impact on the present.  They totally misunderstood Vietnam (again, as MacNamara admits),and this time around completely ignored the history of Iraq and the region in general.  But of course the major reason for a shift of interest is economic self-interest, particularly of corporate sponsors, regarding resources (MIddle East) and trade and markets in Asia, etc. Europe became a competitor for those markets and resources.

On the information gap from Europe: in addition to what's been mentioned, we have the changes in US news media: more money put into advertising, marketing and supposedly viewer or reader-friendly glitz (and into profits), and less in offshore bureaus and reporters.  Certainly the end of the Cold War with USSR dropped the priority of reporting on Europe, but something else: the major figures in broadcast journalism as it grew, and the major foreign policy columnists in newspapers and news magazines, mostly began their careers reporting from Europe during WWII and shortly thereafter.  Now even younger reporters like Peter Jennings, who spent years reporting from outside the US, are gone or going.

But with all that contributing, I do believe that the major reason for American ignorance of today's Europe and the EU model is political and economic self interest of Rabid Right Republicans and their corporate sponsors.  

I'll certainly be checking out what's going on here at this site.  Maybe I can even pick up some pointers on how an ignorant American can make a living in Europe these days.            

"The end of all intelligent analysis is to clear the way for synthesis." H.G. Wells "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there." Bob Dylan

by Captain Future (captainfuture is at sbcglobal dot net) on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 07:43:14 PM EST


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