- The Washington Times - Friday, September 30, 2005

After the 2000 elections, George W. Bush became president without a majority vote. Many Europeans snickered at the sorry spectacle of the world’s oldest continuous democracy devolving into Third-World election chaos. Few critics cared to hear about our two-century-old Electoral College.

But the same sort of electoral paralysis now has seized Germany. Though Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats won a close popular vote over Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democrats Sept. 18, no one knows who will become the new chancellor.

Most Americans admire Europe’s cultivated lifestyle, public transportation and sophisticated take on world affairs. But they are puzzled why Europeans — well before Mr. Bush’s election — apparently defined themselves as the anti-United States.

Is it because they now don’t need us to keep Soviets from their borders? Have they forgotten American sacrifices in two European world wars? Or is it that the European Union is doing no better than the United States and often much worse? That frustration might explain why Europe’s proud, cultured citizens seem so unhappy with — or envious of — us yokels.

Europe’s social net supposedly proved compassion versus our cutthroat winner-take-all culture. But Germany and France essentially have no economic growth, and unemployment is about 10 percent. That doesn’t seem very humane.

Before the Second World War, the weak coalition governments of Germany’s Weimar Republic finally collapsed when 6 million Germans were out of work. Beware: At one point this year, unemployment in Germany reached the 5 million mark. And again Germans eerily assign blame to someone else. This time the scapegoats are often American venture capitalists, George Bush or the bogeymen neoconservatives.

After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States many refined European civil libertarians winced at our Patriot Act. The United States — true to its “hang ‘em high” heritage — was descending into Texas-style justice, or so they believed. But after the Madrid and London bombings, and the spread of Islamic radicalism in general, proposed new European legislation goes far beyond the Patriot Act. Even naturalized European citizens could soon be summarily deported under mere suspicion of pro-terrorist speaking and writing.

Then there are the results of Europeans’ insisting on multilateral solutions to international conflicts. Many Americans thought their approach either a clever way of tying up the United States or an impractical way to confront bullies.

No matter. The U.S. assented and turned over the Iranian nuclear crisis to the Europeans. But so far that nuclear program is full-speed ahead in Tehran. Russia, India and China are Iran’s new apologists. France and Germany seem humiliated, as Iranian theocrats usually ignore their empty requests even for weak United Nations auditing.

More recently, Hurricane Katrina was often offered as proof of American environmental, class and racial chaos. Yet by any fair token, we are recovering pretty well. A mammoth hurricane overwhelmed a city below sea level, on a stormy coast, positioned on a huge river delta and beneath a vast lake. Yet in an August 2003 heat wave, 15,000 French citizens — far more than were lost in New Orleans — died, while a distracted nation hit the beaches for their promised state-subsidized vacations.

Military matters especially seem to bring out our differences. In Iraq, Americans are caricatured by Europeans as Neanderthals bashing heads in the Sunni Triangle while the refined British patrol without helmets or sunglasses in the calmer Shi’ite south. Yet Basra is becoming lawless due to British laxity. An exasperated British military recently crashed a tank into an Iraqi detention center to try to rescue its own kidnapped soldiers.

In Afghanistan, NATO was asked to help out in the supposedly “good war” to remove the Taliban and ensure democracy. But so far European troop levels there are disappointing. And most are prevented by their governments from even engaging terrorists outside Kabul.

There are four general lessons here:

(1) When Europe is occasionally forced to confront the same human and natural challenges that the United States regularly faces, it fares no better and often far worse.

(2) European Big Government can be just as callous as American private enterprise and often less efficient.

(3) Europeans’ anger at the U.S. reveals their own uncertainty about failing policies that somehow produce too few jobs. More optimistic India, China, Australia, Japan and many East European countries look to the future, not the past, and don’t seem to scapegoat the U.S. for their self-induced problems.

(4) To maintain our historical friendship — and we must — it is time to politely let Europeans regain their confidence by standing on their own. Let’s start by pulling out our remaining troops. A continent larger and more populous than our own after 60 years can defend itself — as we Americans move on.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University and is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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