Thursday, November 18, 2004

Against a Cold Civil War

Recently, Salon published an essay by Andrew O'Hehir entitled Welcome to the New Cold War. Mr. O'Hehir claims that a cold war is evolving between Europe and America. Taking him at his word, the continents are drifting apart as they evolve towards divergent ideological polities.

O'Hehir characterizes Europe as a wholly separate political universe spinning out of orbit from the United States, evolving into something smarter and with more to be optimistic about than America, which is still mired in history:
While America has been gnawing on its own innards for the last decade or so, feuding internally over White House blow jobs, flawed elections, the threat of terrorism, the ill-fated war in Iraq and an angrily polarized public discourse, Europe has quietly been cohering into an impressive whole, the world's newest superpower. For all its layers of bureaucracy and all the challenges it faces, the EU has forged a harmonious society on a continent that spent most of history at war with itself.
"Cold war" is a state of political conflict using means that fall short of actual armed warfare. Mr. O'Hehir is saying that transatlantic politics are characterized by distrust, incredulity and misconception: the United States seeks to retain global dominance; the nations which make up the European Union provide a burgeoning and preferable alternative Western world power. As this new cold war evolves, the divide between the US and EU will deepen, with vast energies on each side directed at subverting the other. Viewing the US and the EU in the grip of an emerging cold war has dangerous implications for the West's survival. We should question the accuracy of defining the transatlantic relationship as a cold war.

Differences and division between Europe and America were also outlined by Robert Kagan in 2002 in his book Of Paradise and Power. Mr. Kagan asserted that Europeans and Americans are entering into a new adversarial relationship, marked by America's reliance on force versus Europe's preference for diplomacy---hard power versus soft power. Mr. Kagan's opening salvo describes the harsh reality that divides the Atlantic:
It is time 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.
O'Hehir and Kagan are highlighting the same phenomenon---a transatlantic political divide---from liberal and conservative viewpoints. The political differences between the continents are clearly apparent, yet is it accurately defined as a new cold war between Europe and America?

There is clearly something to be said for European diplomacy to American sword-waving in some cases. And crass consumerism provides no shining path to a future of endless bounty for Americans, who seem intent on consuming at rising rates.

But Mr. O'Hehir slants his essay in favor of a utopian European vision. He skates past Europe's demographic bomb of aging, dwindling natives and a growing population of restive Islamic inhabitants who are less than full adherents of secularism and democracy. He ignores the reality that the EU's socialist paradise is built behind the curtain of American defense. He doesn't address, even to defuse, the defensible notion that fewer of Europe's socialist panaceas would have been possible without American taxpayers' footing Europe's defense bill for sixty years.

Mr. O'Hehir also turns a blind eye to the unrest in the Netherlands. Holland is reeling from Theo Van Gogh's recent murder. Since the Dutch icon's killing by an Islamic jihadist, there is the fear of an anxious native European nationalism. If such a thing does catch fire, it will be sparked by resentment of the immigration and naturalization policies of the governing socialists---having permitted radical Islamic hatred for secular Europeans to flourish, while pressure toward assimilation and acculturation were considered culturally insensitive. More high-profile murders like Van Gogh's might bring rising internal distrust to a boil across Europe. Germany, for example, is bracing for unrest of the kind we are seeing in the Netherlands.

O'Hehir ignores the corruption of the Europeans and their proxy the UN, who make a mess of any meaningful application of hard or soft power. 'Soft power' might be a euphemism for 'corruption' if it became absolute. Objectively corrupt have become some offices of the EU and the UN: bowing at the terror master Arafat's deathbed in France; nodding to Hamas, Saddam and Iranian nuke mullahs. Soft power amounts to making deals. Anyone is a potential customer, regardless of their moral standing or plain intent. Realpolitik has its place, but total reliance on soft power may be Europe's weakness: they will deal with the devil, no matter who he is---the more devilish, the better the deal.

The resentment that many Europeans have at paying taxes to a continental bureaucracy---which is not fully accountable to any particular nation state---shouldn't be ignored. Regarding lack of representation in the EU, Graham Danton wrote:
Democracy? When MPs complain of apathy and poor electoral turn-out do they ever wonder why we should vote for a bunch of people happy to become unemployed and surrender our Parliament – dating from 1265 - to Brussels? You need not a single qualification to become an MP except a verbal ability to persuade the gullible. A while ago I was asked to visit North Devon to speak about ‘DEMOCRACY AND THE EU’ for 10 minutes. Had I been free to attend I told them one minute would have been ample time. EU Commission: unelected. EU Court of Justice: unelected. EU Court of Auditors: unelected. EU Investment Bank: unelected. EU Economic Committee: unelected. EU Committee of the Regions: unelected. European Bank: unelected. EU Council of Ministers: we have 10 votes out of 87. EU Parliament: we have just 13.9% of the votes. Democracy? My mistake - it took only 26 seconds. Out of those 1189 people we can DE-ELECT just 88 Britons - one Minister and 87 MEPs. Just how many of the other 1101 does the Leader of the Conservative Party think have the “interests and values of the British people” on their agendas?
Indeed, Europe is playing with half a deck, and so is America. Even though elected, there is a danger that prolonged one-party domination of American politics makes for weak democratic governance. The Democratic party needs to reboot and find identification with the common cause of voters who seek no-nonsense policies when it comes to their defense. Republicans do not have all the answers.

Kagan and O'Hehir have identified the differences between the United States and Europe, yet each only has half the key to the West's survival. Neither side will endure the oncoming storm of terror-fascism on its own. Soft power is only possible with military might to back it up; a strong, overwhelming military is a prerequisite to freedom, but it needs a broader vision than can be provided by a single political party. Europeans with nothing but carrots and Americans with nothing but sticks is dysfunctional in the face of militant extremists bent on destroying them both---sticks, carrots and all.

The US and Europe have had a symbiotic relationship for a long time. It has been a complimentary relationship---not without differences or misunderstandings, but effective at preserving the peace and stability nonetheless. The biggest danger is the inability to identify threats from behind the peculiar refractions that each ideological lens creates. An America on a search-and-destroy anti-terror obsession might suffer from a myopia that might overlook, for example, the internal threats to freedom that an open-ended war against terror will produce. A Europe that is self-obsessed and blind to the particular rot in its own trumped-up post-modern utopian culture might overlook that there is a huge part of the world that seeks their destruction. Fear of cultural imperialism can be taken to extremes; Europeans must recognize that some cutures are uncompromising even if they aren't. If a rogue WMD event takes place anywhere in the West---Europe or America---then the West will be in the same boat. The 'New Cold War' would be over as Europe and America scramble together to ferret out further attacks.

It could be that Kagan and O'Hehir are describing what might be more accurately called a cold civil war, arising within every western nation that feels the stresses of national identity pushing against a progressive order, striving for peace with the world. Perhaps this phenomenon is more than transatlantic, but endemic to all nations that comprise the West.

Many of the world's more recent civil wars have been about religion or ethnicity. In more than a few lamentable cases, they have led to ethnic cleansing---genocide, not to put too fine a point on it. The mythos of the combatants in the American Civil War is that of 'brother against brother'; the pretexts for that war are taken to be one or both of (1) preservation of the Union versus secession and the sovereignty of the several states; or (2) Abolitionism versus slavery.

In any centrally-concentrated government, it is natural that a bloc that has the upper hand will be more opposed to federalism than their counterparts who are out of power---and as a corollary, it tends to be those who feel disenfranchised who blow the most smoke about secession.

Not too long ago, the media stereotype of an American secessionist was that of a camo-clad, right-wing militia goon in Idaho who had married his cousin--or perhaps his pig. Since the election, there is a sentiment that, inexplicably, those backwoods goons are now at the controls, swigging moonshine---and it's time for the civilized, progressive, non-troglodyte, higher-IQ 'Blue-staters' to eject from the system, and leave the irredeemable 'Red-staters' to their sorry fate as simpleton warmongers.

Raving screeds like Fuck the South and The Urban Archipelago point to the neo-secessionist tendencies of today's disenfranchised left. In The Urban Archipelago, the editors of The Stranger wrote:
To red-state voters, to the rural voters, residents of small, dying towns, and soulless sprawling exburbs, we say this: Fuck off. Your issues are no longer our issues. We're going to battle our bleeding-heart instincts and ignore pangs of misplaced empathy. We will no longer concern ourselves with a health care crisis that disproportionately impacts rural areas. Instead we will work toward winning health care one blue state at a time.
In the current emotional climate, here's little doubt that eight years of Kerry would produce nearly identical declamations from the right, directed at the cities. The Gingrich House illustrates how either side can wield the torch if it feels it has a mandate. Such is the climate of our time. Bridge burning and scorched earth is apparently perfected by both sides with equal vigor. Passion rules with a heavy hand.

A cold civil war might evolve out of the militant political divide growing within the West, one that is found not only between continents, but within nations, states, cities, families and friends. Europe is not excused from this reality, which can be seen in the Netherlands or French cités where nascent nationalist and Islamic passions simmer. Rather than seeing the divide as a transatlantic 'cold war', it threatens to be intranational---a divide within the soul of each nation that comprises the mantel of western civilization. Such a cold civil war is not inevitable, and is certainly not desirable. But today's emotional climate promotes such thinking, if only as rumination.

If we accept the notion of an urban archipelago or a new cold war, and accept the bitter segregation the left and right brain of the free world, then we accept our untimely demise; we accept fracture and implosion. The prognostications of the punditry are not a road map, or a crystal ball; they are warnings to act.

We must avoid loose talk of civil war, by whatever label it is given. So much of what passes for analysis, discourse and news is ruled by passion in this era. Discipline of inquiry goes lacking.

We share so much. Identifying different ground is useful only if it secures common ground for us to thrive upon, respect and defend.