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Tuesday, February 11, 2003

EXCHANGE WITH JOHN NEU ABOUT THE US'S EUROPEAN ALLIES, FOR AND AGAINST BUSH'S POLICIES

From John Neu

I'm listening to Christopher Hitchens speak on NPR at a Commonwealth Club debate on the appropriate use of US power, with focus on Iraq. In his summation, Hitchens exhorts the audience to consider the available facts and answer for themselves the question of appropriate action in Iraq, rather than mindlessly deferring that decision to international consensus. Your posts underscore Hitchens' point by exposing the less-than-benevolent motivations of our detractors on Iraq and, accordingly, the danger of deferring an Iraq decision to international consensus. Following Hitchens' point, however, should it matter which European nation supports the US or doesn't? Isn't that just a rebuttal to anti-war advocates based on their own flawed deferral to international consensus? The facts, which you've brilliantly presented in earlier posts, should alone inform any decision on Iraq. I recognize that as a
general matter, allied support has important political dimensions. Of course, we need international support to facilitate US military action (e.g., Turkey, Kuwait) and to pursue any agenda that requires coordinated action (e.g., on free trade, ecological protection, embargoes). But how much weight should those considerations have in our calculations regarding Iraq, especially when our detractors are motivated in large part by a desire to circumscribe US power and service to their own economic and political interests? Arguably, moreover, international cooperation on other matters relies on participating countries continuing to find it in their interests to do so, which seems unlikely to dramatically change on the basis of US action in Iraq.

My own view is that hand-wringing about the US acting without an international consensus is motivated in two things. First, it's an attempt by the left to raise questions about the Bush administration's credibility and trustworthiness by pointing to the brazen opposition of Germany and France, among others, to support that view. This also is informative as to why the support you describe in Europe and elsewhere is underreported in the media. Second, it's borne of the moral relativism prevalent among elites, who refuse to stake out any position as to right or wrong, fact or equally valid alternative worldview. The Iraq question requires the kind of stark decision of consequence that puts the moral relativists in a quandry. Long having avoided any challenge to their equally valid alternative worldview, they now demand shelter in consensus if any decision is to be made.

Posted by John @ /2003 08:35 AM CST



THE BUGGY PROF REPLIES

John Neu, who sent us this stimulating set of comments, is a former honors' student at UCSB who wrote one of the best honors' theses I've seen in more than two decades here --- a study of Austrian politics. John spent a year in the UC Education Abroad Program at the university in Vienna, then did two paid internships with the German government in Bonn in the mid-1990s before returning to this country and going to NYU's law school. He now is practicing law in San Fancisco.

John:

Many thanks for this unusually thoughtful commentary. It strikes me as altogether sound, if not complete --- among other thing, not just the left in the EU, but also Gaullist France, dominated by the Gaullist right-wing coalition that is always seeking to enhance French prestige and influence, seem more concerned with containing the US and limiting its influence and freedom of action than with dealing with Saddam Hussein. I also think you're right about the moral relativism of too many of the elites, especially in universities, media, the churches, and schools in the EU --- with a little concession now and then that yes, Saddam Hussein is a "scoundrel" --- ein Sschurke (had to look this up in the dictionary, which says it's outdated, yet I saw it in a German paper last week) --- or maybe even a terrible tyrant. The latter phrase used by the Foreign Minister Fischer at Munich this weekend.

Anyway, the commentary isn't finished yet ---the transfer of the site the main reason ---and I'll try to do it tonight or tomorrow.

Please be sure to comment again, on this or any other commentary. In many ways, your first-hand inspired insights in European politics and culture are more up-to-date than my scholarly views.

Posted by The Buggy Prof @ /2003 08:27 PM CST



JOHN NEU REPLIES

I hate to hog space on your site with my posts, so I'll try to be brief...

I can only say that, after seven years of higher education at four prestigious institutions here and abroad, you're still my best professor and greatest intellectual influence.

Having worked for the Bundestag and as a regular visitor to and observer of Germany, I laughed out loud at your humorous and accurate description of the worst of Germans: the appalling self-righteousness of the Besserwissender Deutscher, who knows better than the rest even when his position defies such logic as to be preposterous. I think that you also accurately describe the origins of anti-Americanism among German elites. But my sense is that the anti-Americanism among the Jedermann that Schroeder tapped into in the recent election has different, more recent, origins. I think that many Germans believe, more on the left than the right but really in both parties, that the slow-motion collapse of the German welfare state model, and all the anxious uncertainty and wresting away of expected entitlements that entails, has been accelerated if not caused by the seemingly inexorable imposition of a heartless, American style of capitalism borne of a global forces "Made in America." It's no wonder then, that Schroeder, who was unwilling (politically incapable?) during his first term to impose any really substantive or lasting reforms, sought to channel frustrations about sky-high German unemployment and economic stagnation into America-bashing and away from his political failure. He was just fighting and-- poor him-- losing the battle to preserve the status quo against the onslaught of forces beyond any German's control. I think there are Germans on the left who place great hope in Europe as a means to insulate and preserve the welfare state status quo, ignoring the fact that advanced economies must evolve in order to remain on top in a world of relatively free trade where rapidly industrializing nations can effectively compete with them on numerous levels.

To be fair to Germany, and to my former employers, the Christian Democrats (CDU), Edmund Stoiber, the uncharismatic CSU (CDU equivalent in Bavaria) chancellor candidate who lost to Schroeder, wrote an Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal during the 2002 election pledging his support to President Bush in the war on terror and in Iraq. I know the high value the CDU has historically put on Germany's relationship with the US because several important people within the party told me emphatically that was the most important thing they hoped I would take away from my experience there. In fact, I just recently read in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (a serious paper, unlike that rag Der Spiegel, in which I've never read a positive word about the US) that the opposition Christian Democrats are apparently already making preparations for German reconciliation with the US, perhaps under a new government. And that seeking to assure the US of her party's loyalty, CDU party whip Angela Merkel plans to fly to Washington to pledge the CDU's unwavering support of our Iraq plans. With Schroeder's free-fall in popularity, and recent CDU political gains, I have to believe there's still hope for Germany.

Finally, in the last paragraph of my previous post (written during a bout of insomnia), I was thinking mostly about US critique on US intervention in Iraq. The media reports poll after poll in which we're led to the conclusion the country seems to want to defer the decision to international consensus, and has the Bush administration done enough to convince our allies? But I do think it's equally applicable to Europe-- and of course across the political spectrum-- although the European right is quite often to the left of mainstream Democrats in the US (something I had to come to terms with working for the CDU).

Posted by John @ /2003 04:07 AM CST