Saturday, February 26, 2005


Respect Us, Eh . . . or We'll . . . We'll . . . ?

Canada's thoroughly Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin compounded his bold declaration not to participate in any American missile defense system by stating that, of course, the United States would need to ask Canada's permission to overfly the sovereign tundra of the great White North before defending itself against an incoming missile.

The withdrawal from the Strategic Defense Initiative surely came as a relief to Pentagon officials who dreaded the prospect of "partnering" with the Canadian military on a mission of military importance. But today's announcement is laughable.

I can hear the Joint Chiefs of Staff now. "Yeah, sure, we'll definitely being calling Ottawa as soon as we spot an incoming thermonuclear device. What's the area code up there again?"

It's getting pretty hard to hide behind soft power in a hard power world. I sympathize with my Canadian friends. Their government is cheating them and putting their lives at risk.

By trying to act tough and defend his nation's atrophied pride with Bushesque cowboy posturing, Prime Minister Martin only draws attention to the utter powerlessness of the Canadians. Does anyone doubt for a moment that any sane American national security official would delay shooting down a hostile supersonic missile until our neighbors to the north are okay with it? And what if they're not okay with it?

Believe me. If that scenario unfolds the U.S. is going to take its chances and run the grave risk of a hockey puck shortage as Canada severs relations in the ugly aftermath of a successful missile interception over Saskatoon.

The second Bush administration will go along with the charade. After all, the neutered Canadian government, like the neutered Old European governments, only want the respect that accords to nations of world standing. They don't actually want the standing or the responsibilities that go with it.

Martin addresses this embarrassment by claiming Canada has a "very large defence budget, which is designed to protect our coast, borders and Arctic sovereignty and also make sure we can play a role in the world."

Protect Canada's "Arctic sovereignty" against what and with what? As it is now, Winnipeg is entirely vulnerable to attack from a squadron of armed snowmobiles like those frequently deployed by S.P.E.C.T.R.E. against James Bond.

Canada's place in the world? The cold and dark periphery.

The Canadian Government, like many of the governments of Europe, clings to the pretense that military strength and armed conflict is passe in the 21st century and that when push comes to existential shove their good will and affirmative intentions will protect them from all the bad things in the world.

The United States enables that pretense by protecting Canada from the bad things, and preening like Martin's helps Canada bank more good will which is safely locked away in the good intentions lockbox.

Of course, Canada's bold new policy was not even covered in the U.S. media because 1) it's absurd on the face of it, 2) no one really cares, and 3) we save up all the news from Canada and present it all at once in a single News From Elsewhere program that's traditionally broadcast the morning after New Year's Eve.

Anyway, it's good to know that while we sleep peaceably in our beds, rough Canadians stand ready in the Arctic to do violence against invading penguins and seals.

Unfortunately for the Candians, their government is aligning them with a failed and reactionary approach to national security as practiced by the cynical Old World . . . reactionary in that the ministers in Ottawa, Brussels, Berlin, and Paris define their policy as anything that differentiates them from the United States.

Seems a little immature for a world leader, eh?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Bush and Verhofstadt

Bush Amongst The Euros

President Bush is in Belgium and Germany this week massaging egos and stroking the vanities of the professionally affronted bureaucrats of Europe. It’s a feel good trip. Bush comes to Europe and pretends Belgium is consequential and the Europeans get a chance to preen and have the photos taken with an actual world leader.

The results are not always pretty:

What is it about Europeans and personal hygiene? I mean, here is the Prime Minister of Belgium representing his nation’s government on the world stage and he didn’t have time to get a decent haircut? And what exactly is the state of modern orthodontia in the EU?

Before he left God’s Country for the Old World, The New York Times bid Bush a fond farewell with an editorial page of rantings from obscure Euros along the lines of “what Bush must do now to make amends with the indispensable Europeans.”

Elfriede Jelinek led the parade of pygmies:

PRESIDENT BUSH needs Europe. He knows it himself by now. He started a war in defiance of international law and didn't pay any attention to the Europeans, and with that he split the continent into a "new" (good) Europe and an "old" (bad) one.

Now he ought to convince Europeans that he is not planning another war (for example against Syria or Iran), while at the same time professing to think highly of the opinion of European nations and to value them.

Why? Why should Bush do any of those things? He doesn’t need Europe and if he is planning another war to liberate swarthy people from theocracy or thugocracy what could Europe do about it but complain? No doubt he will profess to think highly of the Euros and that’s all they really want anyway. They’ll be happy with the gesture because they’d rather not have their irrelevance made obvious.

Next up, Gianni Riotta, managing editor of Corriere della Sera, tells President Bush what he should say in Europe:

"Dear European friends: from today on my administration will no longer address your noble and ancient countries one by one. From now on, we will address the European Union only as a whole. . . . I will deal with the Union only as a single organism. Europe wants to be a superpower? Then here I am, ready to deal with a superpower.

The curious reality here is that if Europe truly was a unified “superpower” they wouldn’t need some foreigner to tell them that. There is nothing binding Portuguese barbers and Swedish airline pilots aside from an ignorance of modern dentistry. Only transnational bureaucrats and chatterers see themselves as “Europeans.” And even then they need validation from the reckless lunatic cowboy before they can be legit superpower hombres.

Tariq Ramadan adds his calm and reasoned two centimes to the discussion:

President Bush should listen to the European street; he should prick up his ears and hear what the presidents and prime ministers cannot or will not say in public. The European people will remind him that his administration has deeply tarnished America's image: its unilateralism, warmaking and lack of respect for human rights.

Chided for violence and violating human rights by a religious fascist. Well, at least he’s authoritative.

Mr. Bush must allow the European governments to be in tune with their people's aspirations. Europe's leaders cannot afford politically to align themselves with America solely under the evocative banners of "war on terrorism" or "Western security." Their nations are experiencing deep identity crises and need to reconcile the new world with their traditional political ideals and ethical values. Mr. Bush needs to determine the kind of world he wants to build with Europe, and give up his obsession with the phantoms he considers our common foes.

What’s great about Ramadan are his world-weary winks and nods. The “European Street.” Does that mean voters or a violent mob of unassimilated immigrants?

European leaders “cannot afford to align themselves with America.” Is that because the spectre of violence from the simmering ghettos of Belleville and Rotterdam will frighten any French or Dutch officials who give voice to concerns about the very real threat of Muslim dis-integration?

“Deep identity crises” and “need to reconcile the new world.” What exactly is Ramadan saying? That the sheer weight of Muslim colonization has forced Europeans to confront a reality that requires them to abandon their “traditional political ideals” like fraternity and equality or their ethical values like religious freedom, tolerance, and civil rights for women?

Tariq Ramadan speaks fluent European, the language of nuance and ambiguity. Ramadan has made a career of deftly straddling the line between cosmopolitanism and Islamist fascism. The fact that he never takes a firm stand on one side or the other leaves one with the impression that he knows what he believes and he knows what the Europeans fear and neither is willing to allow the ugly truth to be raised and examined.

On the Continent where so much painful history, hatred, and resentment lives elbow to elbow, the price of plain speaking is far too high. They prefer the numb emptiness of platitudes to actual debate. As Pym Fortuyn and Theo Van Gogh learned, stirring the pot can get you killed.

Better to focus all that resentment at the Americans who clearly have no appreciation for the bitter history that forces Europeans to be oblique and banal.

Simply being able to talk to each other without mobilizing armies is a triumph by European standards. This triumph was achieved only by eliminating armies and neutering public discourse to the point of meaninglessness. Bush upsets this fragile equilibrium. And that upsets the Euros. They would rather pretend to be a superpower, pretend to be unified and above crass nationalism, pretend to be more cerebral about the ways of the world than actually be a superpower, or rise above their provincialism, or confront reality.

Indeed, confrontation is the worst possible outcome. Confrontation requires action and action requires making a judgement and making a judgement is sure to alienate someone and alienation leads to more confrontation . . . and somebody could get hurt. And it's always the Europeans who get hurt in the end.

In fact, it’s more like a hostage situation. Europe has a gun to its head and says over the hotline to W that everything is okay . . . no need for help . . . and get those policemen away from here!

But the question remains. Does George Bush “need” Europe? It’s hard to see what Europe has to offer.

Military power? Nope. The U.S. can probably muddle through without the help of the Walloon Special Forces or the Austrian Navy.

Money? There’s already plenty of overvalued euro-denominated dough rolling in from the stagnant economies of Europe.

Worldly insight? The Euros have proven themselves dead wrong on Afghanistan, Iraqi democracy, the nature of Islamofascism, global warming, appeasement, rock & roll, periodontal care, and anything having to do with coolness. (see Hallyday, Johnny)

George Bush says he’s in Europe to “listen” and the Euros swoon. All they really want is for someone to listen to them and take them seriously. So Bush is taking a week out from his busy schedule to listen. Then he’ll go home and do exactly what he was going to do anyway.

But at least the Euros will feel important and that’s really all that matters to them.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

park slope1

Tempest in a Coffee Shop

Having spent some time on the lunatic fringe of the Left and the Right I can confidently report that neither has a total monopoly on idiocy.

But as you step away from the fringe it certainly feels as though the grip of extremism loosens sooner as you move toward the center via the conservative route than from the "progressive" side. Abortion, for example, is a matter of lively discussion on the right. On the left such wavering is considered profane.

I think this has to do with the difference between ascendant viewpoints and declining ones. The declining Left is more concerned with spotting heretics than with recruiting new members which the acendant Right particularly good at.

This alone would be unremarkable except that it is the Left that defines itself as the more tolerant, open-minded, and eclectic political persuasion even though experience and observation would indicate just the opposite.

A good example of this is a story buried deep in The New York Times by a reporter who is essentially covering her own neighborhood . . . the immaculately liberal Park Slope in Brooklyn.

It seems a coffee shop, The Postmark, has opened in Park Slope that features a book club for parents and their children where neighbors and families can gather, meet each other and share ideas and experiences over coffee. Perfect, right?

Perfect except for one fatal flaw. The coffee house is run by a church. And not just any church but Church!, a newage evangelical outpost of Red State hegemony.

The church sponsors story hours, jazz concerts and knitting lessons, according to Joy Canning, the organizer, "to let people know we are here and are accessible."

This is totally unacceptable to some neighbors.

"I think this is sneaky and deceptive, Stephanie LaTour, an atheist who is the mother of twins. "If Postmark wants to convert people to Christianity, they should be upfront about it and not lure families with seemingly neutral activities, and then spring the Christianity on them by surprise."
Yes, instead of simply springing that unconditional love for fellow-man stuff on unsuspecting fellow-men, these Christians deviously cloak it in unconditional love which can be a nasty surprise in New York City.

But, of course, there is much more:

Others worried about a hidden political agenda. "Ms. (Joanna Oltman) Smith (who has never taken her toddler to story hour) said she assumed the church was fundamentalist and that its beliefs might "pose a threat to our basic civil liberties and freedoms, and all the things we need to protect."
The sort of things this self-defined bigot wants to protect presumably are some deeply held but tenuously understood beliefs about freedom and the nature of voluntary association.

There is rich irony here but the question remains, why are people who regard themselves as progressive so often intolerant of "the other?"

I have my theories. One of which is that liberalism makes impossible demands on its acolytes. For example: one cannot be truly open-minded and tolerant without at some point embracing insularity and intolerance as well as everything else. Add affluence to the mix and most liberals will buckle under the strain of hypocrisy, inauthenticity, and class shame.

Conflict like this can either be expressed rationally or emotionally. When channeled into intellectual expression it results in some very engaging and energetic progressive thinking. But the emotional expression of the conflict is ugly.

One person The Postmark has managed to convert is Nilaja Troy who says:

"My personal experience with some (neighbors) is once you cross the line where you have a $1 million home, $800 stroller and a nanny, then deep down inside you are a Republican, and because you fear that, you lash out at anybody who seems to fit that persona . . . They have to hate Christians and Republicans because deep down they feel 'I'm afraid I could be one.'"
So the intolerant neighbors huddled together in Park Slope for protection from impure thoughts are actually tormented by lure of practicing their bigotry and intolerance openly as Republicans.

Strong and perceptive words for a mindless religious zealot.