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June 10, 2005

Europe Votes, Neocons Gloat — but Why?

by Leon Hadar

I happened to be in Paris on the same day that the French people rejected the proposed European Union Constitution – a vote that was described by analysts in the French capital as a defeat for U.S.-led globalization and American-style capitalism.

After arriving a few days later in Washington, and reading neoconservative op-ed commentaries and watching the pundits on Fox News television, I had no choice but to conclude that the anti-EU Constitution votes in France and Holland were nothing less than a great victory for the United States.

Of course, many of the American foreign policy "experts" who were spinning the French and Dutch votes as reruns of the collapse of the Berlin Wall were also the same guys who had predicted that Americans would find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, uncover the links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, and be welcomed as "liberators" by the Iraqis. So in a way, I shouldn't have been too surprised that Washington's faith-based community would once again impose their wishful thinking on the reality in Europe and elsewhere.

Hence the new scene in the neocon-produced theater of the absurd. Recall that only recently, we were asked to believe that the coming-to-power in Baghdad of a radical Shi'ite political-religious bloc with links to Iran marked the triumph of Western-style liberal democracy. Now we are expected to buy into the notion that it's a great day for the US of A when a coalition of radical left-wing anti-globalization activists, veteran communists, anti-immigration groups, and ultra nationalists in France and Holland – anti-Americanism is the only idea that unites them – succeed in winning the support of the majority of voters.

Ironically, when similar coalitions of neo-communists and right-wing nationalists win votes in Russia, American officials and pundits tend to bash them as an alliance of Reds (communists) and Browns (fascists).

It's not very difficult to discover the source of the European fantasies concocted by the neocons. After all, French President Jacques Chirac, the major political loser in the French vote, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had opposed the U.S. decision to invade Iraq after insisting that Washington should deal with the alleged WMD threat from Saddam by continuing to pursue weapons inspections through the United Nations.

Right-wing U.S. lawmakers and commentators have continued to maintain the position of the French and German governments reflected supposedly deep-rooted anti-Americanism, pro-Arab appeasement, anti-Semitism, etc. The way the neocons see it, Messrs. Chirac and Schroeder were the symbols of the Axis of Weasel, and they have become the targets for never-ending bashing, ridicule, threats, and boycotts. But by opposing Bush's unilateral move to oust Saddam, Chirac and Schroeder only acted in accordance with the views of the majority of their citizens and to protect their perceived national interests; in fact, their position on the Iraq war was backed by the majority of the public in Old and New Europe, not to mention most publics and governments around the world – and many Americans.

And according to recent polls, most Americans share the view that the war against Saddam wasn't worth the costs involved. In short, they seem to agree that the French – Oh, mon Dieu! Quelle horreur! – had it right when it came to Iraq.

Moreover, the notion that Messrs. Chirac and Schroeder are "anti-American" is preposterous. In the context of European politics, both represent strong pro-Atlanticist and pro-globalization positions, certainly when you compare their views to those of the political groups and figures who have been leading the anti-Constitution opposition in Europe. One of the reasons that Chirac lost the vote was his backing for Turkish membership in the EU, a long-standing U.S. position, while Schroeder's popularity dropped after trying to push forward a few economic liberalizing measures.

Hence, if the chances of mending the transatlantic split and Euro-American cooperation on such issues like the Middle East and the global economy seemed quite uncertain before the recent political crises, one can only expect them to get worse now that large segments of the European public seem to have expressed (1) their displeasure with what they consider the American or Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism and (2) their opposition to bringing pro-U.S. allies like Turkey and Ukraine into the EU. And against the backdrop of a global reality in which the Western alliance is gradually fading away and the U.S. and Europe are becoming geo-strategic and geo-economic rivals, the gloating in Washington over the political problems across the Atlantic doesn't make a lot of sense. But common sense is hard to find in the U.S. capital these days.

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  • Leon Hadar is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan). He is the former United Nations bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post and is currently the Washington correspondent for the Business Times of Singapore. Visit his blog.

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