The relationship between Western Europe and the colonies that became the United States was complicated from the beginning, when the North American settlements were mere appendages of the European powers, and were drawn into their conflicts – King William III’s and Queen Anne’s wars, the French and Indian war involving the Iroquois, and then the American colonial revolt against England. Three decades later, the reprise of the war with England afforded the new United States an opportunity to rebuild its burned national capitol and the city of Washington.
Today’s relationship with Europe is again complicated, more complicated than many think because there is a slow but clear erosion, and growing distrust on both sides, produced by the American unwillingness to give up its assumption that the states of the European Union remain the respectful satellites they have been during most of the period since World War II. The situation of the colonial period is to a degree reversed, with America’s European allies in reaction against America’s imperial wars.
Washington sees in this a disintegration of the European community that was fostered by the U.S. The Europeans are behaving in un-European ways, an American academic observer, Charles Kupchan, wrote recently in the Washington Post. He spoke of the European project’s death agony, caused by “the renationalization” of its political landscape, each country reclaiming a sovereignty it formerly was willing to yield to the European community as a whole. There is evidence of this in the rise of rightist, nationalist political groups in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and the Balkans, as well as in the drama over France’s “Roma” population in recent weeks. The implications are not as grave as Americans may like to think because of the common European knowledge that Europe lives in an era from which there is no turning back. America remains in a different era.
The important change today is in Europe’s external relations, rather than its internal problems, which arise mainly from expansion of the EU into the Balkans. In Western Europe, which dominates the EU, relations with the U.S. are weakening. Obama-mania has largely passed, and the Nobel Peace Prize jury has retreated into the fantasyland from which it emerged. America is seen for what it is, rather than as an older European generation saw it in the past.
Since World War II, under the influence of the dual victories of that war and the Cold War, European politicians, especially in Britain, have regularly pronounced on the long-lived bond uniting Europe and the U.S. But even Nicolas Sarkozy now is disabused of this rhetoric. Tony Blair recently gave a speech declaring that in Britain’s darkest hour, in 1941, spirits were buoyed by the knowledge that America was there.
The U.S. was not “there” – in the European war against Nazi Germany – until Hitler unaccountably declared war on the U.S. on Dec. 11, 1941, 18 months after the war had begun. The British know this, and it is one reason the public pressure mounts for the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan. Most Americans still seem to think that in both world wars the U.S. “was there” saving democracy from the very start.
America was actually supplying war goods, on credit, for which Britain handed over imperial bases and certain colonial possessions, as well as its currency reserves. Its Lend-Lease debt to the United States – which some had foolishly thought might be written off after the Allied victory in 1945 – was not finally paid off to the U.S. Treasury until 2006. Whether a receipt was asked, or given, I do not know.
No discount was offered to recognize Tony Blair’s loan of his army to George W. Bush to invade Iraq in 2003 and to fight in Afghanistan until the present day. In fact, during the past week, the U.S. government and press have been rather tight-lipped about the British withdrawal of a Royal Marines force from the Sangin district of Helmand province, where they had taken more than 100 fatal casualties since 2001. U.S. troops have taken their place. Britain still has 9,500 soldiers in the Afghanistan NATO force. The Dutch have left, and the other European allies are disillusioned as to the utility of this war – other than to the Taliban, who profit from the nationalism and anti-Westernism it generates.
America’s war against radical Muslims is what divides the alliance, such as it remains. This seems not to be widely understood. Even Charles Kupchan asks what good is this alliance with Europe when the Europeans are no longer willing to sacrifice for “a collective ideal.”
What good, he asks, is a scattered band of European states with small military forces and without the least geopolitical influence? This deprives the U.S. “of a partner willing or able to shoulder global burdens.”
This is keenly felt, he says, at the present time, when the U.S. wants reinforcements for its army and judges its allies according to what they can and will do. Kupchan and other Americans misunderstand. America’s “international missions” are self-elected – its alone – and its policy is one of war, in which the Europeans no longer believe.
(c) 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
Read more by William Pfaff
- NATO Summit Unlikely to Answer the Most Important Questions – November 16th, 2010
- Asia Trip: Obama Sticks to Failed Foreign Policy – November 10th, 2010
- Nuclear Armament Still Our Central Issue – October 5th, 2010
- Are Obama’s Hands Tied? – September 28th, 2010
- A New Season in Military Fashions – September 14th, 2010