Decline of The West
by George Szamuely

March 7, 2000

The American Conquest of Europe

"The way this case was handled tells us something about how the United States now thinks it can throw its weight around as the world’s most powerful nation…..It really is a demonstration of how the United States lacks sensitivity toward its allies, and the response has been to unite the Europeans more than ever against American bullying" – thus Michael Steiner, national security adviser to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. What is he talking about? Last year’s bombing expedition on Yugoslavia, which Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke rammed down Europe’s throat? The United States’ current sponsorship of renewed war in southern Serbia? The plan to build a pipeline from Baku to Ceyhan and thus to rob the Russians of the oil riches of the Caspian? No, Steiner was referring to the Clinton Administration’s opposition to Caio Koch-Weser, the European Union’s nominee to succeed Michel Camdessus as head of the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF plays a crucial role in the US crusade to spread "market democracy" around the world. Countries get into financial trouble and the boys from the IMF fly in and offer loans in exchange for their following certain prescribed policies. These policies – cutting government services, privatization, closing down insolvent banks and businesses, devaluing the currency, reducing imports – are prescribed by Washington. Those who do not follow US diktats – like Indonesia in 1998 – soon find themselves in even worse trouble than before. Through the offices of the IMF the United States acquires client-states all over the world. For some reason, however, the job of IMF chief has traditionally gone to a European. Chancellor Schroeder wanted a German. And the European Union went along with his choice of Koch-Weser, a Deputy Finance Minister.

Everything seemed to be going fine. Suddenly, the United States let it be known that Koch-Weser was unacceptable. What’s wrong with him? According to White House spokesman Joe Lockhart, Koch-Weser lacked the "the criteria for a strong candidate of maximum stature who is able to command broad support from around the world." This was gobbledygook – but strange gobbledygook. Koch-Weser had worked at the World Bank for 26 years and appeared to have built up a solid reputation. As expected, official government outlets – the US media, in other words – were soon parroting the Administration line. According to the New York Times, Koch-Weser was "genial" but "lacked the gravitas and financial expertise to lead the IMF….The problem for fellow Europeans, and later for Americans, was that Germany ignored some early signs of unease…and started the nation’s most aggressive diplomatic campaign in years." You can see where this argument is going. No one will believe that a man who had spent so many years at the World Bank lacks "gravitas" or "financial expertise." So out comes the old chestnut. It’s those beastly Germans with their "aggressive" diplomacy! And just in case you might have thought that the United States was throwing its weight around, the Times assures us that the Administration’s opposition came only after much agonized debate. "Sensing a confrontation with Germany might be inevitable, [National Security Adviser Samuel] Berger and [National Economic Adviser Gene] Sperling began doing their own research on Mr. Koch-Weser. If they were going to risk German ire, they wanted to be certain that Treasury’s opinion of Mr. Koch-Weser was right…Both Mr. Sperling and Mr. Berger ended up agreeing with the Treasury view." Well, that’s a relief.

Last week, a straw poll of the 24 IMF directors gave Koch-Weser 43 percent of the vote. His nearest rival, Stanley Fischer, an American, got 12 percent and Eisuke Sakakibara, Japan’s candidate got 9 percent. The United States abstained from the voting. At the IMF the United States has 19 percent of the votes; the European Union 37 percent. The vote was a stalemate. As EU Commission President Romano Prodi put it: "It’s clear that nobody can be named against the wishes of the United States any more than he or she could against that of the Europeans….We’re in a situation of reciprocal veto."

Just before the vote, Bill Clinton declared that he was "completely committed to having a European head of the IMF." Yet, a few days earlier, the Times had been putting out a very different story. "Stanley Fischer, the No. 2 official at the fund," explained the paper of record, "has demonstrated the skill to head the fund….But the Clinton Administration seems likely to withhold support from him, at least initially, fearing that Europe might cripple the fund rather than see leadership pass to an American." Those infantile Europeans! When will they stop with these tantrums? As the report went on, the Times let the cat out of the bag: "Fischer…has had a long and close relationship with Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers. Mr. Fischer once taught Mr. Summers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Some Europeans think that the United States secretly supports Mr. Fischer, a view Clinton Administration officials dismiss as a conspiracy theory with no grounding in reality."

European conspiracy theories are very much grounded in reality. There is no question the United States is anxious to get its man in at the IMF. Even if in the end a European is appointed, the Americans will have made their point. The next head of the IMF has to follow Washington’s orders, not those of Brussels or Berlin. The Europeans are amazingly slow on the uptake. They still do not seem to understand that the United States gets to decide most things in today’s world. The United States was not going to delegate to the Germans the task of finding a chief for the IMF. The Europeans have only themselves to blame. Having failed to seize the opportunity to dissolve NATO at the end of the Cold War, they now find themselves at the mercy of America’s bullying.

The Europeans did not want to bomb Yugoslavia. But they went along with it. They did not want to expand NATO right up to Russia’s doorstep. But they went along with it. The Europeans lost their independence when they became intoxicated by the moralistic imperialism brewed in Washington. Things could have been different. In these days of USA uber alles hubris, it is hard to recall how despondent America’s elite was back in 1989. The United States had just won the Cold War. Yet it had emerged empty-handed. Americans had subsidized Western Europe’s "welfare state" and now those wimpy "freeloaders" were creating a protectionist European Community that would keep America’s goods out. Eastern Europe and Russia would probably join the Community. And the United States would be left with Latin America. And who wants that?

History had come to an end. The United States no longer had any role to play in the world. And then a miracle happened. War broke out in Yugoslavia. Americans seized on it with joy. With utter cynicism, they exploited and exacerbated the conflict so as to demonstrate that Europe could not get by without America. They ceaselessly harangued Europeans about their alleged failure to stop "genocide." Bombing was needed and only NATO could do it. The Europeans argued that force would simply make things worse. Eventually, they were worn down by American relentlessness In 1995 the United States got what it wanted: the chance to bomb Bosnia’s Serbs. The Dayton Agreement followed. Such a deal could have been achieved years earlier. Yet somehow the United States managed to persuade everyone that, thanks to the bombing, it had pulled off a spectacular coup

From that moment on, the United States never looked back. It was itching to bomb again. Last year there was Kosovo. This year it will be something else. The United States had found a role. It would lead a new NATO, one that was ready to intervene everywhere. The Europeans may protest feebly. But, having agreed to the principle of using NATO out of area, they were not in a good position to raise objections. At a press conference in Brussels in December 1998, the hideous harridan used typical dishonesty in ridiculing European fears about the "new" NATO: "We are not trying to get NATO to go global. That is not our interest." So what are we doing? "What we want is for NATO to be able to act in the area that it now acts in and also to be able to have missions out of area that affect the interests of NATO members." That’s clear enough. NATO will not be global, except when it’s global. Albright was her usual charming self when she addressed the North Atlantic Council, the same month: "I know that there are those who try to suggest that by assuming…new missions, or by talking about common Euro-Atlantic interests beyond collective defense, we are somehow tinkering with the original intent of the North Atlantic Treaty. I’ve said it before; I will repeat it again today: this is hogwash."

With the Kosovo bombing just two weeks away the odious Strobe Talbott mused on the "inescapable reality that in this increasingly interdependent world of ours, we face a more diverse and far-flung array of menaces to our safety than we did 50 years ago." He hastened to reassure his audience who might have been afraid of vast new and dangerous commitments: "NATO’s missions and tasks must be consistent with the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act." Well, we know what happened to that noble intention.

Yet the United States continues to be haunted by a nightmare. What if 1989 returns? What if the Europeans realize that they really do not need NATO, that they can get along very well without constant US bullying and intervention? Every day, American policymakers glance anxiously across the Atlantic to check if the Europeans are not secretly plotting to dissolve NATO. A little while ago, the Europeans started talking of something called the European Security and Defense Identity (ESDI). At the moment it does not amount to much. But to America’s leaders it looks like the Europeans are thinking about life without the United States. The Clinton Administration's reaction to this initiative has bordered on hysteria. "If ESDI is misconceived, misunderstood or mishandled," spluttered Talbott in one of his calmer moments, "it could create the impression – which could eventually lead to the reality – that a new, European-only alliance is being born out of the old, trans-Atlantic one."

One day, perhaps. In the meantime, the Europeans seem perfectly happy to accept whatever indignity Washington metes out. Any bets on whether the next IMF chief will be an American?

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