the Subgrand Tour
W. Bush was once again a beneficiary of what he has called, in another
context, the "soft bigotry of low expectations" during
his not-so-grand tour of Europe. To the surprise of nobody except
the credulous and those who get their information from late-night
comics, he uttered only a few Bushisms and managed to avoid egregious
mistakes or misstatements. His mock-earnest speaking style, attempting
to convey the obviousness of sweet reasonableness, is still mildly
irritating, but he didn’t act like a hick or a loon. Nor was he
swept away or upstaged by the supposed brilliance of his European
might almost think that the media producing the obligatory introductory
pieces had conspired in making him look good by forecasting disaster
and severe tongue-lashings from the European fans of Kyoto and foes
of missile defense.
Dubya, after being mooned
en masse by anti-American protesters in Sweden surprised most
observers by having a remarkably warm meeting with Russian president
Vladimir Putin in Slovenia. "I looked the man in the eye,"
the inexperienced American president said. "I found him to
be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue.
I was able to get a sense of his soul."
surprisingly congenial atmospherics surrounding the Bush European
tour come in the midst of a number of important shifts in both European
and Russian strategic thinking. President Bush might think a charm
offensive that proves he isn’t quite the bumbling, clueless hick
of caricature will be sufficient to make nice with the various powers
that could influence the perception of his presidency. But he will
have to be aware that there are deeper currents and different ambitions
American foreign policy makers are shrewd and imaginative many of
these currents and countercurrents need have little negative impact
on the United States. But based on what we have seen so far it seems
unlikely that this country will do much more than bumble and stumble
within the confines of conventional wisdom. We might get lucky many
if not most of the larger ambitions of various would-be world-bestriders
are likely to come to naught through their own miscalculations but
we’re unlikely to be notably shrewd or strategic.
European expressions of discontent with Bush’s positions on specific
issues like the Kyoto global warming treaty and missile defense
is the fact that many leaders in Europe see the continent becoming
increasingly united politically, economically and militarily
and increasingly independent of the United States. This shift
was captured nicely in an
article by Robin Wright of the L.A. Times, who noted
that "Europe is emerging as an increasingly united community
that often speaks with a louder single voice and stakes a claim
to a wider role in world affairs than ever before."
are said to be eager to move beyond the image still cherished by
Americans that Europe is a ragtag batch of countries that was saved
from fascism by the Americans, revived economically by American
generosity and protected from the communist menace by American troops.
To this end efforts are underway not just to further the essentially
economic integration of the European Union, but to develop a European
defense force complementary to but separate from NATO.
progress made toward a European defense is irreversible," French
president Jacques Chirac said during the NATO meeting with Bush
in Brussels, "since it is part of a deep-seated and more general
trend toward European integration. The emergence of a European Union
fully taking its place on the international scene is now a historical
fact of life."
maybe. But leaders seldom make such confident statements about inevitable
trends unless they are a little insecure about whether such trends
are really inevitable or not. The trend toward European unity is
entrenched rather nicely at the level of most political leaders,
but it is somewhat weaker and even meets some resistance at the
level of the people.
just elected Berlusconi, who doesn’t seem to be much of a Greater
Europe team player. Irish voters just gave the concept a kick in
the pants. The concerns about unaccountable rule from a strong central
government that made Haider a prominent figure in Austria for a
while are still there. And despite Tony Blair’s enthusiasm for European
unity significant sectors in the UK have their doubts, which could
become more politically effective.
has still not become the United States of Europe, and it might never
happen. Interestingly, this is in part because the central authorities
in Brussels and Strasbourg have established a species of control
that is more bureaucratic than political.
distinction is important. Centralized political institutions are
seldom effectively responsive to the people or to public opinion,
but they do create the illusion of some semblance of accountability.
Bureaucratic rule through the issuance of regulations and guidelines
by faceless functionaries doesn’t involve even a pretense of accountability
to those who are ruled, and can often engender resentment rather
idea of a separate European military force independent of NATO has
never seemed especially alarming to me as an American. Indeed, if
it were to lead to the demise of NATO as an effective institution
it might not be a bad development. If it reduced the lust to feel
responsible for problems in places like the Balkans it might be
number of observers, including William Safire and Stratfor.com
have suggested that Putin was shrewd to the point of snookering
Dubya in the outwardly pleasant and friendly meeting between the
two. Safire notes that Putin traveled to Shanghai and set up a quasi-alliance
with China before meeting with Bush, signaling awareness of the
importance of Asia to the United States and deftly threatening a
superpower-like alliance that could threaten U.S. world dominance
unless the US props up the sclerotic Russian economy without any
nonsense about human rights for Chechens or NATO expansion.
made much of Putin’s unearthing a 1954 document in which the Soviet
Union offered to join NATO but was rebuffed. The point was to suggest
that Russia might consider joining NATO now, which would change
the character of the organization fundamentally and possibly unalterably.
Supposedly, Putin’s hope is that the idea of Russia in NATO will
be vetoed by Bush rather than the Europeans, which would give Putin
a chance to split off some Europeans from the United States in light
of US intransigence and indifference to offers of peaceful cooperation.
means to stabilize his country’s power," Stratfor says. "The
Russian president has shown he wants to do business with the United
States and is giving this every chance to work knowing that if it
doesn’t succeed, he will always be welcome in Beijing. Thus, despite
his country’s ongoing economic woes and American hegemony, Putin
left Slovenia having defined the terms of bargaining between the
world’s solitary superpower and the great power in Russia that the
United States cannot afford to ignore."
of these geopolitical machinations would be of great concern to
the United States if this country had decided, in the wake of the
end of the cold war, to look after its own freedom and prosperity
and not to try to fix every problem or abuse it happened upon in
the rest of the world. If we were moving, as seemed possible during
the first few weeks of the Bush administration, toward less intensive
political and military involvement in the rest of the world the
halting political unification of Europe and the ambitions of Russia
to restore the respect it thinks it deserves as a traditional great
power would be interesting but not alarming. The United States could
be a fascinated observer, occasionally offering some general advice
about the importance of respect for private property and the rule
of law, but declining to try to fix everybody else’s problems for
Mr. Bush seems to have been seduced by or have fallen into the standard
vision of ever-larger political institutions as desirable and doable.
In Warsaw, just before he visited with Putin, he spoke of the new
Europe as "a great alliance of liberty" to be fortified
by an expanded and updated NATO. The new united and integrated Europe
is to be "the House of Freedom whose doors are open to all
of Europe’s peoples, and whose windows look out to global challenges
the speech was said to have drawn applause, it is more than passing
strange that an American president should view himself as the proper
person to articulate Europe’s dreams. It doesn’t seem to have taken
Bush long to view himself as not simply the President of the United
States but as the de facto Emperor of the World, assuming responsibility
for handling problems worldwide.
is odd to view this vision as friendly to freedom. Freedom thrives
most robustly in decentralized structures where accountability to
the people who are the supposed beneficiaries of wise rule is fairly
direct and immediate. Large, centralized structures are almost always
less accountable and less concerned about such ephemera as personal
freedom than structures close to the people and capable of being
thrown out of power fairly readily.
politics has always been more about power than about freedom, of
course. But it was possible to hope during the first few weeks of
the Bush administration that some pulling back from international
meddling was on the agenda. That seems no longer to be a likelihood.
if American presidents were prohibited from making foreign trips
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