Decline of The West
by George Szamuely

November 24, 2000

Holiday Cheer – A Vacation From US Hegemony

Thanksgiving Season 2000 is turning out to be truly a time for giving thanks. The US presidency is hopelessly enfeebled as we head towards constitutional showdown. The European Union continues to separate itself from NATO. Russia intends to withdraw from a pact signed with the United States pledging not to sell conventional arms to Iran. Power is being dispersed and that should make everyone safer.

The US Supreme Court is about to intervene in Presidential Fiasco 2000. George W. Bush has appealed the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to permit three Democratic counties to consider the so-called "dimpled chads" in their manual recounts. The pundits shake their heads and assert with noisy confidence that the US Supreme Court will decline to get involved in matters pertaining Florida electoral law. This is nonsense. Yes, the Federal Courts refused to issue injunctions to stop the manual recounts. At that time, they were waiting to see how the Florida courts would rule on this issue. Now that the Democrat-appointed Florida Supreme Court has made a blatantly partisan ruling to facilitate a Gore victory, the US Supreme Court is almost certain to step in.

The Bush campaign will argue that the Florida Supreme Court changed the election rules after the election by sanctioning recounts past the deadline set by Florida law. In addition, the Court violated the separation of powers, as enshrined in the US Constitution, by usurping the elected legislature on the conduct of elections. Furthermore, by permitting the counting of "dimpled chads" in just three counties, the Court violated the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause by not giving equal weight to all of Florida’s voters.

By declining to order manual recounts throughout the state of Florida, the Supreme Court was demonstrating that it was interested not so much in accurate vote totals as in a Gore victory.

It is possible of course that the US Supreme Court will refuse to get involved. However, at some point intervention will become necessary. For example, Florida’s lawmakers could pass a law tomorrow declaring that secretary of state Katherine Harris had interpreted the legislature’s intent correctly when she refused to extend the certification deadline. Should Gore overtake Bush in the recount this weekend he would presumably challenge the Florida legislature in Federal Court. The Supreme Court may prefer to hear that case. Alternatively, the Republican-dominated Florida legislature may choose to ignore the results of the recount altogether and decide on its own Republican slate of electors. Gore’s challenge to that might also end up on the US Supreme Court docket. Or the US House of Representatives may intervene and refuse to accept the Florida electors. Florida’s votes could be called into question if at least one senator and one representative raise an objection when Congress meets to count the Electoral College. Each chamber would vote separately on any objection, which would need a majority in both houses to be sustained. Since the Republicans are likely to have a majority in both chambers, their objections will probably be sustained. The US Supreme Court may then intervene to decide whether the winner of Election 2000 is the candidate with a majority of the Electoral College – which, if Florida is discounted, would be Al Gore. Or whether the winner is to be decided by the US House of Representatives – which, given the fact that the Republicans comprise a majority the state delegations, would be George W. Bush. We will never know now who really won in Florida. The 43rd President of the United States will owe his job to a decision of the US Supreme Court. He will be a widely ridiculed figure, not just a one-term President but probably not even the nominee of his Party in the next Election.

Happily, we will enjoy a four-year vacation from all the "indispensable power" and "lone Superpower" bluster of recent times. It will be hard to make the case for US hegemony by a President who probably lost the election. Even before the Florida debacle, the US Government was being forced to scale back the arrogant assumptions of the Madeleine Albright era. The Clinton Administration had virtually given up trying to stop the European Union from creating a European military. The EU has just committed itself to establishing by 2003 a mobile force of 60,000 troops, capable of being deployed within 60 days. The EU has pledged about 100,000 servicemen, 400 combat aircraft and 100 ships to this nascent force. The commander – amazingly enough – will be a German, General Rainer Schuwirth. Second-in-command will be an Englishman, General Graham Messervy-Whiting. Significantly, European members of NATO that are not in the EU, as well as European countries seeking to join the EU, have all pledged to contribute to this pool. The idea is that if the Europeans want something done they will go first to the Americans. If Washington turns them down, they will make use of their own armed forces. It’s just a polite way of saying Europe does not need America any more.

This is the beginning of the end for NATO. Needless to say, this is being accompanied by the usual hot denials of rivalry between NATO and the European Union. "What is being done is going to make NATO stronger, not weaker," declares British Defense Minister Geoff Hoon. "We need a strong European pillar [in NATO]," burbles German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in standard opaque Eurospeak, "This is part of the European integration process." The EU force is "designed to complement NATO and not to duplicate it or undermine it, certainly not to replace it," pontificates windbag NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson, "Those who talk about some single European army with a European Union cap badge and some common European uniform are simply turning the truth on its head." "There is no will in Europe to use its collective capabilities against NATO," says French Defense Minister Alain Richard. Well, no one had ever suggested that Europe is about to go to war with the United States. "There may be circumstances for these limited missions when the Americans don’t want to be engaged. All we are saying is in these circumstances we should have the ability to act if we wish to do so," British Prime Minister Tony Blair explained. It is hard to think of a recent military project that filled Americans with trepidation and Europeans with martial ardor.

Such disclaimers have very little credibility. Why go to the trouble of creating your own armed forces if the NATO arrangement is so satisfying to all concerned? Why antagonize Washington when all you want to do is to help out the Americans? Britain’s ragtag army of embattled Thatcherites is right about this, if about nothing else. "This has nothing to do with the defense of our country and everything to do with going with the flow and creating a federal Europe," rants British Tory leader William Hague. The "neo-conservatives" are also very unhappy. New Republic dim bulbs like Lawrence F. Kaplan are beside themselves with fury. According to this in-house apologist for Empire, the European Security and Dense Identity is "a lousy idea that, if realized, could torpedo NATO…. The danger isn’t that a European force will become America’s military rival. To begin with, the Europeans couldn’t fight their way out of a pastry shop…. And, if less pliant than they were during the cold war, the Western Europeans are still, after all, our allies. The danger, rather, is that the Europeans – the French, in particular – will use their newfound military autonomy as a bargaining chip to diminish American influence on the Continent and frustrate US foreign policy more broadly." Note the peculiar – and yet so characteristically "neo-conservative" – mixture of complacency and hysteria. Following Maastricht we were regaled with endless stories explaining the impossibility of the Europeans creating a single currency. The euro is now in place. Then came the stories establishing beyond doubt that the European welfare state is about to collapse. The Europeans appear to be living pretty well – in many ways a lot better than Americans. Then we were told of Europe’s imminent demographic demise. Millions of immigrants from the Third World had to be allowed immediate entry. Now we are being told to scoff at Europeans who can’t "fight their way out of a pastry shop."

Yet if Europe is so pathetic why are New Republic writers perpetually foaming at the mouth about it? Kaplan offers an answer. "America’s global clout," he writes, "derives largely from its preponderance of military power, and, to the extent that ESDI lessens it, US influence will decrease as well. Conversely, the political heft the Europeans would derive from an independent army would give their preferences greater weight in international affairs." This is imperial solipsism gone mad. Imagine! The Europeans are pursuing policies that "would give their preferences greater weight in international affairs." What should they do? Act so as to give "American preferences greater weight in international affairs"? Why not scrap Europe’s governments altogether and have the whole place run from Washington? Now, that’s "global leadership."

Thank you, Florida, for this holiday from "global leadership."

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