Friday, December 29, 2017

America vs. Europe on Iraq

Did you know I had a blog before there were such things as blogs? Neither did I, yet before I became a reluctant blogger I tried two brief stints as an enthusiastic one. My first attempt was at the end of the last century (I’ve waited all my life to say that phrase) and was merely a column on my personal Web site (remember when people had personal Web pages in the days before Facebook and MySpace?). It was entitled “rAnts and Raves” because it had these cool JavaScript ants crawling across the Web page. I know, but it was 90s and the Internet was new.

I ran across several of these posts locked in stasis in a time capsule and I thought I would share them with you over the next few weeks. Think of it as summer reruns in the fall. My first thought as I reread these words I penned so long-ago was, Wow, the more things change the more they stay the same. My second thought was, Cool, I don’t have to write a blog this week.

America vs. Europe on Iraq

An old college friend living overseas contacted me for the first time since our college days, and we began a series of correspondence on our different cultures and societies, as well as world events. As a result of my friend’s attempts to encourage me to return to my journalistic roots, I am going to try to write more frequent columns for this site, and while I doubt there will be a wide audience, at least in this medium I know my words will not end up as fishwrap. What follows are excerpts from some of those letters.

March 18, 2003

I believe the war will begin sometime this week, perhaps as early as Tuesday but no later than Saturday. I am shocked at the actions of France. I have always known France is anti-Semitic, anti-American, and deeply involved financially with Iraq, but I never believed it would go so far as to destroy the transatlantic alliance. There is a great deal of anti-French sentiment here now, and even “French Fries” are being renamed “Freedom Fries.” People have gone so far as to suggest that we return the Statue of Liberty to France! Of course that won’t happen, and eventually, probably, France and the U.S. will mend fences, but it will not happen as long as Jacques Chirac is in power.

As for your questions on Bush and the variance with Europe… I did not vote for Bush and like many, I feel he was not properly elected as president of the United States. In fact, Al Gore received more votes than Bush did, but Bush won more votes in the Electoral College, and then only because he “won” Florida’s electoral votes. The ballot was confusing and as many as 10,000 votes were not counted. Bush had a victory of 424 votes, so who knows what the outcome would have been had those 10,000 votes been counted. He basically became president because of a decision by a Republican-backed Supreme Court. As such, with no moral or legal mandate, Bush was set to be the weakest American president since the last unelected American president, Gerald Ford. The country was more deeply divided than at any time since the Civil War 150 years ago, and quite frankly I think we were headed toward a major political breakup of the country. But all of that changed on September 11. The attacks unified the country and bestowed upon Bush a legitimacy he would otherwise never have achieved. He now has the support of the American people and a mandate to do whatever is necessary to secure the security of the nation. And it is a broad mandate, which ironically could mean he will go down as one of the strongest U.S. presidents in history.

I think underneath, the American people are still deeply divided into the red and the blue states (based on the colors used on election maps in 2000 to show Bush and Gore states). Bush has the support of the red states, about 50 percent of the country on domestic issues. Most Americans think he is doing a horrible job on the economy but a good job on terrorism. And at present, safety means more than money. I believe he will be re-elected and the economic troubles will continue. I have always found Bush to be a very likable man. I never thought he was qualified to be president, but he is there now, he is trying his best, and frankly, in these dangerous times, the learning curve is too great to contemplate any potential replacement.

As for the variance with Europe, most Americans cannot comprehend Europe’s isolationist attitude. The European people seem to feel we should all just leave the evil regimes alone. What they should have learned from WWII is that by leaving the evil regimes alone, as Europe did with Germany from 1933 to 1938, they develop into more powerful evil regimes that eventually threaten other states. The world cannot afford to give Iraq, Iran, and North Korea time to develop an arsenal of nuclear weapons. Iraq already has a large arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, which it has used in the past and threatens to use again. North Korea sells much of the arsenal it already produces. Even if these states do not use the weapons of mass destruction themselves, can we allow them to create and sell them to terrorists like Al Queda, Hezbollah, or the PLO? When Europe is threatened by assorted terrorists wielding nuclear bombs, anthrax, smallpox, sarin gas, and other biological and chemical weapons, we Americans believe the average Europeans will finally realize the true threat posed today, but by then it will be too late. It is easier to disarm a few weapon-producing countries now than to disarm 100,000 terrorists wielding weapons of mass destruction later.

So the short answer is, Americans feel they are saving the world and cannot understand why the European people do not support and join them. The Europeans (aside from the French and the Russians, who have major financial ties with Iraq – not just oil, but the French also sell the Iraqis many component parts for their weapons systems), fear American hegemony and have a sincere aversion to war, having fought so many on their own soil in the past century. As a child and as a young man, I was a pacifist, because I believed rational men should be able to resolve their differences intellectually, without resorting to violence. I still believe that, however, I would add this codicil: sometimes your adversary is not rational, and then violence becomes the only resort. I don’t believe the Europeans have grasped that yet, with the exception of the East Europeans and Tony Blair, who may lose his position as prime minister, but has secured his position in history as a principled statesman.

April 30, 2003

As I write this, the war in Iraq is now over; at least officially. Obviously, the U.S. will be present there for some time, and as snipers and armed civilians abound, the war may be over but the peace is not yet secured.

I do not think Europe realizes how much September 11 changed the American psyche and the U.S. government’s approach to international affairs. Just as the Japanese did in WWII, the Islamic terrorists have awakened a “sleeping giant.” I think you will see a much more militaristic America, willing to take preemptive action where it deems necessary. I expect you will also see a realignment of American troops away from Germany and into the Middle East.

Personally, I would like to see the United States wipe out the terrorist regimes in Syria and Iran, but I do not think they will go that far. American foreign policy is historically incremental.

June 3, 2003

I think Europe is divided. I believe Britain, Spain, Italy, and Eastern Europe are leaning toward the U.S. position. Russia, France, and Germany appear to form a troika in opposition. Frankly, I think there is too much at stake for us to worry how popular we are and with whom. America and its allies will have to do whatever is necessary, and if certain individuals or governments don’t like it, that’s too bad. Actually, Russia and France are mainly siding against us because they have strong financial interests and dependencies in that region (oil and weapons contracts). Chirac also has delusions of grandeur, but I think the French people are beginning to see through him. As for what Americans think of Europe, you must recall Americans are generally quite insular, self-absorbed, and poorly educated. Most do not think of Europe at all. I think they are
positively disposed toward Britain and against France as a result of Blair and Chirac’s actions leading up to the war, but otherwise, I do not think they follow European affairs.

July 13, 2003

I think the reason 911 made such a huge impact on Americans is we has never been attacked on our own soil before, and being surrounded by two oceans and two peaceful nations (Canada and Mexico) we felt insulated and safe. The reaction was like that of a rape victim who feels violated, no longer safe and insulated, vulnerable, shocked, and then ultimately angry. And unfortunately, the news media are fanning the flames, creating fear and paranoia amongst the people. For example, today there was a news story that Al Queda is planning to start multiple forest fires in America. I believe the TV media (which are more politically-conservative than the mainstream print media) are purposely creating a climate of fear which allows the conservative Republican government to exercise authoritarian powers it could never otherwise use.

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