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.

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