Contradictions of the Anti-American Obsession
Jean François Revel remains best know for his seminal 1970 book, Neither Marx Nor Jesus. In that book, Revel argued against the equivalence of the Soviet Union and the United States, which he saw as a new model of anti-authoritarian society the whole world would want to emulate.
In his new book, The Anti-American Obsession, to be published in English by Encounter Books in Fall 2003, Revel examines the knee-jerk, fact-resistant anti-Americanism that is Prevalent among both left and right in France today. The following excerpt was translated from the French for NPQ by Bill Weber.
Paris—Paradoxically the United States is sometimes more hated and disapproved of, even by its allies, since the end of the Cold War than it was during this period by open as well as covert partisans of communism.
Long before the US, there have been empires and powers of international scope. However, there had never been one with planetary preponderance. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Advisor, underscores this fact in his book The Grand Chessboard. In order to deserve the title of world superpower, a country must be ranked first in four fields: economy, technology, military and culture. At the present time, the US is the only country—and the first in history—that fulfills all four conditions not merely on a continental level but on a planetary one. Since the revival of 1983 and until the beginning of the recession in 2001 the American economy has clearly been ahead, with its combination of growth, full employment and the absence of inflation. In technology it enjoys a quasi-monopoly with the spectacular development that it has been able to foster in the field of state-of-the-art communication tools. Militarily, it is the only power capable of intervening at any time in any part of the globe.
Its cultural superiority, however, is more debatable. The question is whether you define the term culture in its narrow or large meaning. In terms of the former definition—the highest creative manifestations of culture in literature, painting, music or architecture—the American civilization is certainly brilliant but it is not the only one nor is it always the best. At this prestigious level its radiance cannot be compared to that of the civilizations of Ancient Greece, Rome or China. One could even say that the American artistic and literary culture has a tendency toward “provincialization.” Because of the dominating position of the English language fewer and fewer of even cultured Americans read works in foreign languages. Even when American academics or critics open up to a foreign school of thought, they do so at times out of fashionable conformism rather than based on original judgment.
Brzezinski is correct, however, when it comes to culture in its largest sense, that of mass culture. The American press and media transcend the whole world. Youth everywhere are attracted by the American lifestyle, such as clothing, pop music, food and entertainment. American movies and TV series attract millions of viewers on all continents, so much so that some countries, including France, are attempting to engage in protectionism making the case of a “cultural exception.” The English language has become the de facto language of the Internet and has been for long the main language of scientific communication. Many members of the intellectual elite in politics, technology and science in the most diverse nations are graduates from American universities.
An even more decisive factor, very much to the chagrin of past and present socialists, was the global victory of the model of freedom after the fall of communism. Equally, the American federalist democracy is being emulated elsewhere, not the least by the European Union. Its organizational principles have inspired numerous alliances, including NATO and the UN.
This is by no means an attempt to negate the faults, hypocrisies and deviations of the American system. The fact remains, though, that neither Asia nor Africa or Latin America can teach the US many lessons in democracy. Europe for its part has been the inventor of the great criminal ideologies of the last century. In fact, these were the reasons why the US had to intervene twice on our continent, during the two world wars. It is this failure of Europe that is at the origin of America’s present status as the only superpower.
The American preponderance has certainly grown out of its own qualities but also out of the mistakes made by others, in particular by Europe. Even recently France has accused the US of wanting to deprive it of its influence in Africa. France, however, bears a heavy responsibility for the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and in the ensuing collapse of Zaire. France discredited itself, thereby creating a void that was quickly filled by an increasing presence of the US. The European Union has hardly developed into a unique diplomatic and military decision making center. It can rather be characterized as a choir whose individual singers all act like soloists. How could it be a counterweight to the efficiency of American foreign policy if it must achieve unanimity among all of its 15 members before even sketching any minor action? What will happen after it has grown to include 27 members that are even more diverse than its present members?
The American superpower is only partly the result of the will and creativity of the Americans. It is also due to an accumulation of errors and mistakes by the rest of the world, such as the failure of communism, the shipwreck of Africa, the divisions within Europe and the delays in developing democracy in Latin America and Asia.
Finding the term superpower all too weak and banal, Hubert Védrine, the French minister of foreign affairs in the “pluralistic leftist” government, replaced it in 1998 by the neologism “hyperpower.” He found it to be stronger and more commensurate with the hegemony of the US in the present world. This does not stand to reason as the Greek prefix “hyper” has exactly the same meaning as the Latin prefix “super.” However, according to Mr. Védrine, it defines the position of a country that is dominant or predominant in all categories, including “attitudes, concepts, language and lifestyle.” He comments that the American media consider the prefix “hyper” to be aggressive without being negative. Simply put, he writes that “we cannot accept a world that is politically unipolar and culturally uniform, just as we cannot accept the unilateralism of one sole hyperpower.” This is a contradictory argument. In fact, if the term hyperpower lacks a negative content, why then is the reality that it describes unacceptable? Whether it is or not is irrelevant. The fact is that it exists. What is lacking in the European thinking (as well as in many others) is the search for the reasons for its existence. Once we have successfully identified and correctly interpreted these reasons, and only then, can we hope to find the means to counterbalance the American preponderance.
Europeans in particular should explore their own responsibilities that have led to this preponderance.
If I am not mistaken the Europeans were responsible for turning the 20th century into the politically and morally darkest in human history. They provoked the two cataclysms of heretofore-unknown proportions, the two World Wars. They invented and put into practice the two most criminal regimes that were ever inflicted upon humanity. We Europeans have reached these summits of evil and imbecility in less than thirty years! When I say that these scourges cannot be compared to any other in the past I am referring, of course, to man-made catastrophes alone and not to any natural disasters or epidemics. If we add to the fall of Europe caused by the two world wars and the two totalitarianisms the quagmire caused in the Third World by the effects of colonialization, we again must look to Europe to find, at least in part, those responsible for the impasses and convulsions of underdevelopment. It was Europe or more precisely England, Belgium, Spain, France, Holland, and later and to a lesser degree Germany and Italy who conquered and wanted to appropriate the other continents. The arguments of the extermination of the native Indians and the slavery of the blacks in the US do not hold water. Who were the occupants of what was to become the US, if not the white colonizers from Europe? And from whom did these European colonizers purchase their slaves, if not from European slave traders?
The situation created by the two world wars which were, in actual fact, European suicide attempts, as well as the Europeans’ propensity to create totalitarian regimes, themselves intrinsically suicidal, has been exacerbated since 1990 by the obligation to clean up the ruins left by communism after its demise. Here again, Europe did not really have any solutions. Most of its political, media and cultural leaders never fully understood communism. Let us remember how even the political right lauded Mao during the worst moments of his destructive fanaticism. Thus, they were ill equipped to comprehend and guide the exit from communism. Before the backdrop of this additional and entirely new problem, the present American “hyperpower” is merely the direct consequence of the old and present European impotence. It fills a gap created not by the insufficiency of our forces but of our way of thinking and our will to act.
Just think of the amazement of a citizen in the state of Montana or Tennessee upon learning about the American intervention in the former Yugoslavia. He would be right to ask why the US is interested in diving into the bloody mud pits of the Balkans, a multi-secular chef d’oeuvre of unmatched European ingenuity. Europe itself has brought about this murderous chaos. Yet it is incapable of getting it in order by itself. In order to bring the massacres in the Balkans to a halt or at least to diminish them, the US takes charge of the operation, successively in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia. The Europeans, scared to death, then express their gratitude by treating them as imperialists and subsequently by labeling them as isolationists as soon as they talk about withdrawing their troops from the region.
As all societies, even the most democratic ones, the American society has many faults and deserves criticism as well. However, in order to express more than just the phobias of its detractors, these criticisms must be justified and the faults must be real ones. The almost ritual pitiful sneers whose object the US has become in the European media are mostly based on such a deep absence of information that they must appear intentional. And yet, during the period of emergence of the US as the sole superpower, American and European authors alike have published dozens of serious books and hundreds of articles. These contrast with many wannabe authors and journalism based on mere obsession. They provide the open-minded reader with accurate, balanced and nuanced information about the internal and external functioning of the American society, its successes and failures, its good deeds and bad deeds, and its lucid as well as its blind reasoning. Laziness alone cannot explain why the overwhelming majority of European opinion leaders simply ignore this relevant documentation. Most often it is intentional and can be explained only by the fixed ideas of those who confine themselves to them. Although one may not be able to draw final conclusions on many most serious points from these scrupulous inventories, at least they are not dictated by incompetence.
THE SOCIAL CRITIQUE | The often intentional refusal to inform concerns first and foremost the social questions in the US, such as the so-called absence of protection and solidarity as well as the unemployment rate and the famous “poverty threshold.” The latter expression is used all over by people who obviously do not know its technical meaning. As if this indicator had the same quantifiable content in Canada and in Zimbabwe. According to our commentators the fact that the US unemployment rate had dropped below 5 percent since 1984 whereas our own had skyrocketed to around 12 percent, meant nothing good for the US, given that these jobs were mostly “menial jobs.” Ah! Here we have the myth of the menial jobs. How it has comforted us! During the economic slowdown of the first half of 2001 the American unemployment rate rose from 4.4 percent of the working population to 5.5 percent. On 7 May 2001 the French economic daily La Tribune immediately printed a full first page headline “Full Employment Ends in the United States.” This is but one example.
Yet, at precisely the same time the French government applauded itself frenetically for having reduced our own unemployment rate to 8.7 percent, i.e. almost twice the American rate (without taking into account the tens of thousands of actual unemployed that France artificially excludes from its statistics). By September 2001 the unemployment rate in France already exceeded 9 percent. On 15 February 2001 Le Monde published an article entitled “The End of the American Economic Dream.” In other words, a practically uninterrupted growth of 17 years (1983–2000), an unprecedented technological revolution since the 19th century, the creation of tens of millions of new jobs, an unemployment rate of only 4 percent as well as an enormous and unexpected demographic increase from 248 million to 281 million between 1990 and 2000—all this was but a “dream.” What a pity that France did not realize this dream! Granted, the author of the article readily straddles the hobbyhorse of the “menial jobs” and deplores that France Americanized itself to the point of “copying the sad example of the working poor.” As if this were the only example given by the American economy from which no lesson can be learned. Undoubtedly, France was better off remaining faithful to its own model of the not working poor.
We will come back to the regrettable catalog put together by the public accusers about the American civilization. I have limited my observations in this brief outline to pointing out the eminently contradictory character of their accusations. If, according to the picture that these people paint, this civilization were the result of a mere accumulation of economic, political, social and cultural calamities, why then is the rest of the world so clearly concerned about its wealth, its dominance in science and technology and the omnipresence of its cultural models? This poor America should be pitied rather than envied and generate less animosity than commiseration. What a riddle is this success of the American people, based entirely on its abysmal worthlessness rather than on its own merits!
Besides the social questions, it is the functioning of the American institutions that is either poorly understood or that one does not want to understand. Let me give but one example: the joyous and disdainful reactions around the world and in Europe in particular to the long uncertainty after the American presidential elections of November 2000.
ELECTORAL GLEE | Many years ago I was watching a comedy at the vaudeville theater El Salón México (immortalized by Aaron Copeland’s orchestral composition with the same title). It was a discussion between a Mexican peón (a man of the street) and an American tourist. The tourist touted the achievements of his country by saying, “At home in the US we know the name of our new president three minutes after the closure of the polls.” The peón answered, “But sir, here we know his name six months before the elections.” At that time, and for a long time after that, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) amassed all powers in Mexico and fabricated the election results. In actual fact, each president designated his successor.
How times have changed! For the first time in 2000 the candidate of a Mexican opposition party conquered the presidency thanks to honest elections whose result was not known beforehand. In the US, on the other hand, it took weeks before we knew who the new president would be. Thus, democracy has undeniably made progress in Mexico. Does this mean that it has taken a step backward in the US? This is the interpretation that many foreign commentators felt entitled to give of the long uncertainty that followed the elections of 7 November 2000.
This, however, is a gross misunderstanding. Let us remember first and foremost that a very close election result that even necessitated a recount of the votes is the sign of democracy rather than the contrary. Dictatorships, although disguised as presidencies, usually post margins of colossal proportions. Also, the system of electors, that some have qualified as anti-democratic, certainly is nothing of the sort. It is a system that converts the proportional vote to a majority one, by eliminating the small candidates and a “bonus” to the winning candidate, state by state.
There are several methods to force voters to vote in a useful way. France has the two-round method. Only the two candidates who receive the most votes in the first round are allowed to participate in the second round. The British method, consisting of a majority vote in one round only, is even more brutal if there are numerous candidates for the same seat. One candidate can win the seat with only one-quarter or one-third of the votes as long as he comes out ahead of the others.
By comparison, the American system of the Electoral College seems clearly fairer. The number of electors is proportional to the population of each state. The candidate who exceeds 50 percent of the popular vote in any given state receives the votes of all electors, just as in France where the winning candidate receives the total presidential power in the second round, even if 49.9 percent of voters voted against him. No one questions his legitimacy. Why then has the American system of electors been labeled “elitist”? By tradition, if not by the Constitution, the electors have a mandatory mandate in thirty of the 50 states. In the 19 other states as well as in the District of Columbia they could theoretically not follow the popular vote and choose the minority candidate. This, however, has never happened since the beginning of the 19th century.
It is a clear sign of ill will when some leaders or intellectuals from countries that are little or not at all democratic refer to the US as a “banana republic.” When these comments emanate from Moammar Kada? or Robert Mugabe who have successfully dug the grave of any trace of democracy in their countries, they are downright comical. Coming from the Russians where the restoration of universal suffrage was certainly encouraging if not exempt from some dark sides, they are hypocritical. How can one resist a smile when reading novelist Salman Rushdie write, “India is better than the US thanks to its electoral system based on direct universal suffrage”? Rushdie seems to be the only person to ignore that India breaks all records of electoral fraud. We turn a blind eye to this situation because we are all too happy that India remains a democracy after all.
What our European press has condescendingly called the American “feuilleton” was, in actual fact, a process that was entirely in conformity with the Constitution. The American Constitution has foreseen the case of a dead heat, in which case the House of Representatives elects the future president, if necessary.
Moreover, in Europe and elsewhere people have commented with disdain on the recourse to the court system to determine the right of candidates to ask for a recount of votes in Florida. Some felt that this chicanery was quite deplorable when it comes to filling the most visible office in the world.
My main objection would be that arbitration by judges is in any event preferable to that from the street. However, during this whole critical period, and in spite of the intensity of the polemics and a degree of confusion that could have pushed many other countries into a coup d’etat, civil war or even some massacres, the US witnessed no violence and not even the shadow of a fight.
Also, the ironic remarks about the American judges indicate a misunderstanding of the position of the judiciary in the US as well as of its action on the political power. As early as 1835 Tocqueville wrote (De la démocratie en Amérique, Part one, Chapter VI): “What is most difficult for foreigners to understand in the United States is the organization of the judiciary. There is hardly any political event in which a judge’s authority is not called upon.”
Because political questions are thus transformed into judicial matters, foreigners even today arrive at the misconception that judges usurp political power. Tocqueville clearly demonstrated why this is incorrect. In actual fact, the judiciary in the US always remains within the classical limits of its intrinsic function, and this for three reasons: It always and exclusively serves as an arbitrator. It emits judgments only on specific cases and not on general principles. It shall only act when called upon and never out of its own initiative.
It is therefore erroneous to speak of a “government of judges.” Judges can replace neither the executive nor the legislative power. Granted, in the spirit of American institutions the law supersedes the state. However, the judiciary shall only have a political impact through its interpretation of the law, and only when this interpretation is solicited.
Lastly, the complexity of the voting cards has been criticized not without merit. Some voters found them difficult to decipher and their reading by electronic machines was (supposedly) not foolproof. Also, American citizens vote the same day not only for their president but also elect representatives, senators, state governors, mayors, sheriffs, as well as judges. These procedures can certainly be made simpler and safer. But these are purely technical matters and not a threat to democracy.
EUROPE’S DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT | Democracy in the European Union operates in fact less well than in the “Union of States of America.” The respective weight of each European country in the European Parliament and the EU Commission is only remotely commensurate with real demographic power. In the Europe of 15, the 10 least populated countries together have a population that is equivalent to that of Germany. In the Council of Ministers, however, they have 39 votes versus only 10 for Germany. In the European Parliament Germany is entitled to one member for each 1,200,000 inhabitants whereas Luxembourg gets one for each 67,000 inhabitants. The Nice Summit in December, 2000, only touched the surface of a true correction of this imbalance. The Europeans have thus found a less fair compromise than the Americans when it comes to giving representation and minimal powers to the smallest states while respecting a certain proportionality of representation between demographics and the political power of the largest states.
Lastly, the falsified descriptions of the social relations and the standard of living in the US have the purpose, besides satisfying the anti-American passion, of denigrating the free economy. Furthermore, the misconception or the caricature of the American institutions spread the idea that the US is not really a democracy, and, by extrapolation, that free democracies are democratic in name only.
American Monster? | It is in the field of international relations that the “hyperpower” is badmouthed with a vitriol that is reserved for true monsters. Let me state once again that American foreign policy certainly deserves criticism in many respects. The American press itself certainly does not hold back its criticism. Such criticism, even though it may not be entirely convincing, is legitimate and useful, provided that it is based on a minimum of rational argumentation. However, when Vladimir Putin affirms with an admirable assurance that the “crimes” of NATO—in his mind those committed by the US in Kosovo in 1999—as well as the trial of Slobodan Milosevic before the International Criminal Court in 2001 have led to the “destabilization” of Yugoslavia (which “destabilized” itself since 1991), we are faced not with a rational criticism but with a deliberate lie and a hallucination with an inherent contradiction. Is this not a reversal of cause and effect? Its only purpose is psychological: to flatter whatever Slavic amour-propre. Its political usefulness both for the Russians and the Serbs is nil. If Putin hopes to restore Russia to its status of a “Great Power” by using fables of this scope, he will ?nd out rather quickly that one cannot act efficiently on the basis of erroneous analyses. If Russia is not a superpower at the beginning of the 21st century, it is because it embarked upon the path of the absurd experiment of communism in 1917. It transformed Russian society into one that is much farther behind than it was before this experience. Once Russia adapts to this reality it will be able to overcome this retardation, but not by always criticizing the US.
The European Union and by extension the whole “international community” rushed fervently to this mixture of self-comforting auto-disinformation and narcissistic inconsequence when it came to greet President George W. Bush’s first foreign policy initiatives during his first weeks in office. One example may suffice: the international reactions to Bush’s refusal to confirm his predecessor’s largely platonic commitments with respect to the environment.
GREEN Marxists | It is well known that in 1997 under the auspices of the United Nations, delegates from 168 countries, assembled in Kyoto, signed a protocol to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases. Shortly after taking office in January, 2001, Bush withdrew the US adherence to the Kyoto protocol. Immediately indignation and even insults abounded, especially from Europe. Bush, it was said, cynically sacrificed our planet’s future to capitalist profit and in particular to the oil companies whose notorious puppet he is, as we were told. Unfortunately, the authors of this in-depth analysis neglected some facts that they could have easily researched. First and foremost, in 1997 under Clinton’s presidency, the American Senate had already voted against the Kyoto protocol by 95 votes to 0. Rightly or wrongly, this is another problem. The fact remains, however, that Bush was not responsible. Later, just before turning over his powers to his successor, Bill Clinton had signed an executive order re-establishing the American support for the famous protocol.
Good manners in a democracy dictate that executive orders issued by an outgoing president at the end of his mandate never deal with questions of high importance for the political future of the country. In this instance Clinton’s obvious intention was to pull a fast one on Bush and to leave him with a crown of thorns. Had he accepted the commitment, the new president would have had to confront the enormous difficulty of reducing gas emissions by 5.2 percent without painful and precipitous cuts in industrial production and energy consumption of individuals, which would have been an impossible challenge. A rejection, on the other hand, would unleash vociferous personal criticism from the whole world. This was what occurred. These criticisms were all the more hypocritical as their most vociferous authors who pilloried the US in front of all humanity in the name of ecological morals were most careful not to apply the same moral standards to themselves. In fact, by the middle of 2001, four years after the Kyoto conference, not a single one of the 167 other signatories and most prominently none of the European countries had ratified the protocol.
I have temporarily left aside the question whether the Kyoto protocol is realistic. Suffice it to say that some highly polluting countries, such as Brazil, China and India, demand that the US apply restrictions that they themselves do not feel obliged to respect. In a report published on 29 May 2001 the European Environment Agency observed a worsening of pollution in Europe, due mainly to a “constant increase of transportation, especially those forms of transportation that are the least respectful of the environment (road and air traffic).” The agency also noted an increase in pollution due to home heating and of water pollution due to nitrates. Those who preach are definitely not showing a good example.
One could be tempted to take an additional step and to think that there is an anti-American psychopathology attempting to transform the US into the scapegoat for all sins committed by the rest of the world. The ecologists would refute that and observe that the US, with its approximately 5 percent of the world’s population, produces 25 percent of the planet’s industrial pollution. This may be true, though it should be added that it also produces 25 percent of the goods and services of this same planet. It must also be said that up to the middle of 2001 the 167 other signatories of the Kyoto Protocol had done absolutely nothing, collectively and individually, to begin to reduce their 75 percent of the pollution. We are in the middle of total incoherence. It was more important to excommunicate than to un-pollute.
Whatever criticism the American environmental policy deserves or does not deserve, one must realize that the core of the debate needs to be found elsewhere. The objective of the Western ecologists is to make the US, that is to say capitalism, the supreme and even the sole culprit of the planet’s pollution. Our ecologists are anything but ecologists. They are leftists. They are interested in the environment that they pretend to defend only as a means to attack free society. During the ’70s and ’80s they never denounced the pollution in the communist countries that was a thousand times more atrocious than in the West. It was not a capitalist pollution. They were silent when Chernobyl happened and they are silent now about the decrepit nuclear power plants that still exist all over the former Communist territories. They also remain silent about the hundreds of ex-Soviet submarines, armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, that the Russians sank as they were in the Barents Sea. To demand that humanity be freed of this mortal peril that will endanger it for thousands of years would be useless from their socialist point of view. Indeed, this tiring enterprise would not in any way strengthen their crusade against the scourge of globalization that they consider to be a much more formidable danger. In the past, especially in the ’70s and especially in the US, there was a sincere environmentalism. But it has long been since recovered and transformed by an environmentalism full of lies that has become the mask of old Marxist theories under a shade of green. This ideological environmentalism sees nature threatened only in those nations that practice economic freedom and above all in the richest of them all.
EMISSION OMISSION | If the Green parties honestly aimed at practical results, they would begin efforts in their own countries to adopt the draconian 5.2 percent reduction in energy consumption that was agreed in Kyoto. They, and especially those who are part of the ruling governments, have the task to push through a 50 percent reduction of the speed limit on freeways, a reduction of home heating by one-third, without forgetting the inevitable increases in the electricity bills once consumption exceeds certain thresholds. To clearly recommend such a drastic program, let alone to apply it in the short term, would expose the Greens to blatant electoral losses. This is why they condemn the US to the flames of hell instead of acting on those programs.
France had Green ministers during the five years of Jospin’s government from 1997 and 2002. Yet, during this long period it adopted no environmental protection measures that would have required courage such as the prohibition of nitrate which would have allowed a return to purer water but would have created a farmers’ revolt, or the ecological tax that would have led to an exodus of the votes of many taxpayers who are already burglarized by the government. The French authorities do not even attempt to enforce the speed limits, although these are not very severe in their present definitions. How could they even try to reduce them further? Has the US prevented the French government from beginning to apply the Kyoto process that stipulates a reduction in energy consumption by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012? Granted, the 15 members of the European Union finally ratified the Kyoto protocol of 1997 on 31 May 2002. We will have to wait and see whether this ratification will be followed by implementation within the deadlines.
WRONG BUT RICH | Thus the US is always wrong, while its financial and military intervention is universally sought. The African leaders, for example, at the meeting of the Organization for African Unity in Lusaka/Zambia in June 2001, called for a “Marshall Plan for Africa.” Marshall Plan obviously recalls a historic precedent of American origin, an initiative that pulled Europe from the ruins of World War II. Yet, almost all of these African leaders who “govern” (if that term can be used in this instance) Africa usually profess a frenetic anti-Americanism. They accuse the US of being the culprits of Africa’s poverty as well as of the AIDS epidemic. In this instance, anti-Americanism becomes a means for eluding responsibility. In fact, the international aid given to Africa since independence amounts to the equivalent of four to five Marshall Plans. However, these funds have been wasted or sunk into incessant wars and annihilated by stupid agrarian reforms that were copied on the Soviet or Chinese models of collectivist oppression. It is comforting, however, to shoulder the US with the responsibility for one’s own mistakes, while simultaneously asking for help.
Europe itself is not exempt from this intellectual fiction. At the time when it benefited from the Marshall Plan, the leftist parties were hostile to it as they felt that it would be a means for the US to place Western Europe under its influence. It was considered a neo-colonialist and imperialistic maneuver. This was a simple application of the Marxist dogma. The socialist parties and the Christian Democrats on the center right, which were in power in most European countries that were allies of the US, defended their sentiment of gratitude but felt that the US, through its generosity, was also acting in its own interests. As if the US, besides everything else, had to go against its own interests! Furthermore, in conformity with the usual contradictions within the anti-American reasoning, we accused and still accuse the US of being against a strong Europe. In other words, the Americans make Europe stronger to make it weaker! The European way of thinking with respect to the US is decidedly a model of incoherence.
Unilateralism | The whole world must realize that the US is, for the time being at least, the only power capable of saving Mexico from economic and financial bankruptcy (in 1995), to dissuade Communist China from attacking Taiwan militarily, to attempt a mediation between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, to put efficient pressure on the Serbian government to send Slobodan Milosevic to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and to attempt with any chance of success the reunification of the two Koreas under one democratic government. The European Union tried to meddle with this last problem by sending a delegation led by the Swedish prime minister to Pyongyang in May of 2001. However, this delegation found nothing better to do than to prostrate itself at the feet of Kim Jong Il, the criminal leader of one of the last totalitarian prisons on this planet. The “European solution,” if it were clearly understood, would be to align South Korea with the North Korean regime, instead of the reverse. If the Europeans think that they can put an end to the American “unilateralism” by ideas of this kind, the diplomatic dominance of the US will last for a long time to come.
This unilateralism is in actual fact the mechanical result of the failure of the other powers. More often than not, this failure is more intellectual than material. It is based more on errors of analysis (as in the case of Korea) than on insufficient economic, political or strategic means. Nothing forced the Europeans, for instance, to let the US alone help the Afghani resistance forces in their fight against Soviet invaders in the ’80s. It was certainly not for lack of resources that Europe abstained from helping the Afghanis. It was because of obsequiousness vis-à-vis the Soviet Union and following a regrettably erroneous analysis, paired with the illusion or the excuse of “maintaining détente,” which was dead anyway, if it ever existed anywhere outside Western optimism.
We find the same confusion with respect to the economic realities. On the one hand, foreigners accuse the Americans of wanting “to impose their economic and social model on others.” On the other hand, other countries suffer more or less swiftly each time there is an economic slowdown in the US. All then wait eagerly for the American “revival,” hoping that their own will follow soon. What leaves us perplexed is how such a bad economy whose recipes nobody supposedly wants to copy is powerful enough to act as a locomotive or brake for so many other countries.
Under these conditions and given these many illogical theses, it is not incomprehensible that the US considers itself as carrying a universal mission of sorts. This conviction frequently prompts its spokespersons to make irritating declarations that border on megalomania, the odious or the comical. These unfortunate declarations lead me to three observations.
First, these declarations, although outrageous at times, have indisputable factual bases that can be experimentally verified.
Second, one can just as easily find thousands of equally grotesque declarations emanating from the French, celebrating over the centuries the “universal radiation” of France, the “motherland of human rights,” with the mission to spread liberté, égalité, fraternité to the whole world. The Soviet Union also thought that it had the mission to transform the universe through revolution. Muslims want even non-Muslims to respect the sharia.
Thirdly, the principle of the raison d’etat, which is indifferent to morals and the interests of others, has gone bankrupt in international politics since the war of 1914–1918. It has been replaced by the principle of collective security that was brought to Europe by Woodrow Wilson in 1919 and strongly reinforced by Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman in 1945. The international policy inspired by this principle is American and has operated under American leadership since 1945. One can hardly imagine another principle that could lead us to a less unacceptable world. For this international policy based on collective security (including, obviously, the fight against terrorism) not to give rise to an American “hyperpower,” many other countries must be intelligent enough to associate themselves with its elaboration and implementation, rather than to simply denigrate its promoters.