Tuesday, April 11, 2000

It may have been inevitable that as the Cold War wound down in the early 1990s the European countries who had been in the orbit of the superpowers for 45 years looked to find their own way. Those with a taste for moral equivalence may even find a certain parallelism in the rebellion of Eastern Europe against Soviet dominance, and the drive in Western Europe to consolidate a power bloc as counterbalance against the United States.

Moral equivalence, however, always obscured the truth of the superpower relationship. That countries whose aspirations for freedom were once crushed by Warsaw Pact tanks should flee the embraces of the Soviet Union and its successor state Russia is nothing to wonder about. Applications for NATO membership flowed fast from the east, though the first three new members were only admitted last year, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The rest are still urgently knocking the door to be let in, hoping for signs that a second round of enlargement is still alive. With a potentially revanchist Russia under a new leadership, the second round must remain an open option. These countries want the protection of the United States and all it stands for.

Now, look at Western Europe. Having benefited by the alliance with the United State in no less than three world wars counting the Cold War these countries are now behaving as though they are the ones who have a grievance. This is particularly true of the French, who remain deeply resentful that they are not the world’s sole remaining superpower. The French regrettably are not alone, though, and the consequence is poison sowed in the transatlantic relationship. On Sunday, for instance, the New York Times reported that a member of the French parliament, Noel Mamere, has captured the prevailing mood in a new book, “No Thanks, Uncle Sam,” which paints a particularly unflattering picture of this country (plenty of guns, little prenatal care). The title is only one of a slew with names such as “Who is Killing France? The American Strategy,” and “American Totalitarianism.”

While one might had hoped that these sad signs of flagging self-esteem were particularly French, opinion polls reveal anti-Americanism among other West Europeans, which according to the Times, “has a virulence and an element of fear never seen before.” This is downright bizarre. The research institute CSA Opinion found that 68 percent of French respondents worry about America’s role as sole superpower. Italians seemed the most pro-American and yet only 57-60 percent of them looked favorably on the United States. Stephane Rozes, head of CSA Opinion, told the Times that “what they see is an America that has the ability to impose its values and they are not the values that the Europeans believe in.”

You have to wonder what part of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” Western Europeans find so objectionable. Perhaps they should ask their cousins previously trapped behind the Iron Curtain what it feels like to be deprived of all three. They might also take a moment to contemplate that their childish resentments are driving wedges in the NATO alliance that would be a detriment to all, none more so than the Europeans themselves.

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