Tuesday, April 05, 2005

During the election run-up last year, I talked with a fair number of American liberals who spoke longingly of Europe. Since America seemed to be drifting to the right, this was certainly understandable. In Europe the Democratic platform is the norm rather than the dream; it's taken as a given that civil liberties are inherently valuable, that no government should ever torture or kill prisoners, and that you don't declare war unless it's first been declared on you.

Yet the reality of European politics is a far cry from its appearance. In fact, European liberalism is in many ways a mere reverse-image of American conservatism: lots of rhetoric, little substance.

The latest example of the European rhetoric-reality disconnect is the confirmation process for Paul Wolfowitz. The European press has quite rightly pointed out Wolfowitz’s numerous failings, foremost among which are his handling of the Abu Graib scandal and the Pentagon's shady reconstruction accounting in Iraq. Yet the European political establishment is more or less granting Wolfowitz a free pass. As a result it's all but certain that Wolfowitz will be the new head of the World Bank.

The actual reason Europe has been so docile in accepting Wolfowitz is that the U.S. is still able to leverage its political strength against each EU country individually. And when it’s one-on-one, none of them save Britain stands a chance. A few occasionally summon the courage to hold out anyway, but only if the cause is a defining issue such as capital punishment or war, not a peripheral matter like the World Bank.

What the Wolfowitz confirmation exposes anew then is the lack of a European political framework capable of supporting European political rhetoric. Making this failing particularly deplorable is the fact that all the countries involved share the same core values; each preaches the virtues of treating all people humanely, and of trusting your fellow man. Yet none are willing to practice those virtues on a national scale. Despite the miracle of a common currency and the common interests it generates, Europe's political scene is still rife with ethnic rivalries and petty jealousies.

Perhaps later I’ll get into the various ways in which the European dream fails in terms of domestic policies as well. But for now the main point I want to make is that anyone who thinks of Europe as a model for what American liberalism should be ought to take a closer look. Once they get past the rhetoric, they’ll find that Europe is very much the dog that always barks but never bites.


Post a Comment

<< Home