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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

THE US ELECTIONS AND WEST EUROPE: AN EXCHANGE WITH A BRITISH-AMERICAN CITIZEN

The buggy prof --- taking another rest over the last month for physical reasons (sore hands and wrists) --- now finds that he can sit at a p.c. once more and bang out some observations without much pain, thank heavens. The following exchange, initiated by a U.S. citizen who has UK citizenship as well and has been living and working in Britain for decades, deals with the outcome of the recent US presidential election and the reactions in West Europe to Bush's victory.

From Alan, an American Living in Britain:

Hello Michael:

I thought I would just share a few brief thoughts on the re-election of Bush, and the reaction in this country and on the Continent.

I'm surprised how many people seem to think the outcome has signaled the victory of Mordor, the ultra bad-guy in Lord of the Rings --- the ruler of the dark world. Many of the people I know seem hysterical in their Bushophobia.

One expects this here in West Europe, but all in all, from what I can tell, we Brits seem to accept the re-election with more equanimity than many people I've heard from and read about in the States or on the Continent. I say this, as you know, as no great fan myself of Bush; but I found Kerry, his opponent, about as substantial as candy-floss. What's more, I'm not sure what Kerry as a president would do that would be so different, substantively, than Bush himself. Unfortunately, as I didn't receive an absentee ballot, I couldn't vote. Had it come, I'm not sure who I would have voted for.

In foreign policy matters, I think Bush's position on Iraq is still sound for strategic reasons, even if the neo-con hopes for democracy in the Middle East strike me as naive. Sadly, his Administration's tactics in Iraq since the war itself ended in April 2003 have been full of blunders, a point you yourself made in one of your recent buggy articles. As for his views on stem cell research, they strike as medieval. All in all, Bush strikes me as a fully convinced politico. It's a character trait that can lead to rigidities and be scary, but I doubt that Armageddon is around the corner.

 

On a different topic, what do you think will happen with the Palestinians after Arafat, who will soon be with his ancestors? For my part, I doubt whether the Palestinians will make the changes in leadership changes needed to reach a lasting compromise with Israel. There are too many competing and armed factions in their society to enable this, or am I excessively pessimistic:

 

The Buggy Reply

Alan:

Many thanks for your message, which has some relevant observations and raises a few queries that merit a few responses.

First, Bush's Election and EU Reactions

With a politically correct media flourishing all over the media in West Europe, even in Britain except for The Economist, The Financial Times, and The Telegraph, it doesn't surprise me to learn how Europeans and others abroad have reacted to the outcome of our election here. In the end, for what it's worth, prof bug --- after prayer of great length and excessive virulence (as Mencken once put it in the 1920 US presidential election when he voted for the numskull Harding) --- crossed his ballot for the consummate flip-flopper, Senator Kerry . . . reassured, despite his record of chronic anti-militarism that included opposition to the Persian Gulf War in 1991, by the kinds of foreign policy advisers around him. By contrast, the Bush record in Iraq since the war's end in the spring of 2003 also seemed so riddled with unnecessary blunders and setbacks that the president deserved to be punished at the polls --- or so it seemed to me despite supporting the decision to topple the brutal, mass-murdering Saddamite regime.

Even so, I was hardly surprised by Kerry's defeat, generally predicted with accuracy by all the public opinion surveys except the one run by Zogby--- a pollster whose statistical methodologies (explained at length in a recent New Yorker article) seem wacko. Kerry didn't inspire confidence among the majority of voters. No surprise really, a matter I'll return to in a few moments.

 

As for your reference to Mordor, that's not much of an exaggeration to judge by what I've seen in the press or watching French news each night.

Essentially, to put the nutbin reactions in West Europe to the election's outcome in perspective, the hierarchy of evil in European p.c. circles seems to be headed by a quarter of heavies: Mordor in fourth place, topped by Beelzebub, then by Hitler, and at the top, the acme of mofo evildoers, by the Texan Toxin himself. Imagine the cowboy's gall. He has dared to reject all the pieties and the rest of the taken-for-granted litany of left-wing and Gaullist European shibboleths and illusions that have brought economic growth to a near standstill in all of West Europe save for Britain, Ireland, and a couple of tiny Scandinavian countries, even as, at the same time, their multicultural utopian dreams have come crashing down around them in growing social conflicts, violent crime, Islamist radicalism, anti-Islamic racism, and fascist-like right-wing backlashes that include more and more anti-Semitism as well. Witness, alas, the nosedive of civility and the surge of hostility, violence, and ethnic and religious conflict in the Netherlands --- a country traditionally of impressive civic discipline and an admirable respect for civil liberties.

Is the plunge in Dutch civility and social harmony unique to that country?

Hardly. What's happening in that small affluent country of 15 million people is, I fear, an augury of what's in store for virtually every country in West Europe. Holland, after all, doesn't have the history of Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Italy, or France, all countries with a long history of extremist ideologies, political violence, dictatorial rule, militarism, and racisms of various sort . . . for all the impressive changes that have occurred in all of them since 1945.

Take Spain. There, according to recent reports, the appeasement of Al Qaeda and other radical Islamist terrorists after the bombings in Madrid last spring have done nothing to assuage the desires of Islamist crazies to continue building bombs and trying to set them off. Ever since, it seems, one terrorist network after another plotting new bombings has been uncovered . . . often weekly. Bin Laden himself has demanded that Spain cede its southern regions (Andalusia) back to Muslim rule before he is satisfied that these conquistador-types have learned how to respect his version of Islam. Meanwhile, in France, Le Pen's extremist movement not only goes on flourishing politically, it has managed to influence French public opinion in noticeable ways, dragging it rightward to the point that it overlaps with National Front positions. Not for nothing did Le Monde note last year, after some recent public opinion surveys, that a majority of Frenchmen now shared the National Front's extremist positions on a host of social issues relating to minorities, civil liberties, dangers, and immigration.

 

Back in the US

The Democrats, alas --- my party of preference for decades --- are increasingly out of touch with the majority of US citizens: their aspirations, hopes, fears, and longings. A party of minorities, it is now ending up a minority party on the national scene. Worse, most of the minorities are themselves moving toward the Republicans.

Nearly a majority of Latinos voted for Bush (45%), the evangelical conversion rate especially high among them; and about 25-30% of Jews followed suit. Women too --- traditionally, since the 1960s, a Democratic stronghold --- moved more into the Republican camp and more or less divided their vote equally. All these electoral developments are bad portents for the future of the Democratic Party unless its leaders find a way to move closer to the political center again --- itself now shifted toward the right in reaction to 40 years of moral and social changes that a large number of average Americans find worrying, a source of moral rot or threat. Are there any groups still strongly for Democrats? Yes, African-Americans --- about 11% of the population (though Bush did draw more black votes this time than in 2000). And one other, tinier still: Hollywood and other media celebrities and their co-workers. Most of them, as a recent buggy article showed, are founts of left-wing clichés and pieties, and they seem to influence one another in a self-made cocoon, convinced that the average American is a boob like Bush himself.
Most average Americans, it appears --- mind you, I've seen no polls on this, just journalistic accounts --- seem to hate these celebrity types and identify them with liberal politicos like John Kerry. If Michael Moore could spin off a few clones of himself, he'd probably get the fervent support --- financial and otherwise --- of the Republican National Committee to continue making his hate-laden fantasy films for mass distribution. The French and other Europeans might continue to fete Moore and his hateful ilk at the Cannes Film Festivals --- or their analogues elsewhere around the Continent --- but every new film of theirs will probably ratchet up the Republican vote by a discernible percentage in the elections that follow here. Wonder why . . . .

 



Bush Foreign Policy: The Middle East:

Your references to foreign policy are apt. Take Iraq first.

The next few months will be the key to the country's future there, starting with the battle for Fallujah. Though the Bush administration did bungle badly in Iraq after the war for a good year or so, the destruction of Saddam's brutal regime remains desirable, and the political future for the country is, I think, still retrievable --- which means decent prospects for some sort of legitimate, stable government that is pro-Western and a source of stimulus for wider changes of that sort in the rest of the Middle East. Is to say this unrealistic? Maybe; but I don't think so. Sufficient American help and staying power are the key, along with the ability of more and more Iraqis to take responsibility for their own security and stability. That said, I grant you: we really can't be sure what will happen in Iraq for at least two years or so. Right now, any of the pundits and profs who claim differently --- on either side of the political equation for the country --- are deluding themselves and others.

As for Arafat, I'd be amazed if --- within the year --- the various Palestinian factions aren't killing off one another in a mass internecine slaughter. There's too much dough, power, and nepotism at stake . . . the Palestinian Authority itself a typically corrupt, authoritarian Arab dictatorship, only with an intransigent diehard revolutionary in charge. Dennis Ross, our envoy to the Middle East who shepherded the Oslo Process --- and met with Arafat himself about 500 times in the 1990s --- clearly singled Arafat out as the major cause of the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian talks to lead to a successful compromise outcome. Whether any successor leadership will prevail over all the other factions and be more forthcoming in future negotiations with Israel --- at any rate, when the bloodshed is over --- is another imponderable.

Note here. You can't say Arab diplomacy is always illusion-laden or intransigent: witness Sadat in Egypt and King Hussein in Jordan, both of whom made peace with Israel in the last 25 years (though Sadat paid for his courage with his life). The trouble is, Palestinian leadership for the last 8 decades has compiled a lengthy record of disastrous judgments and a chronic aversion to compromise that has left the Palestinian people with more and more misery, nothing else.

 

Consider the historical record. In 1937, the Palestinian leaders refused the British offer to divide Palestine into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab, with the latter getting nearly 70% of the land. The Jews accepted; the Palestinian leaders said no. In 1947, the UN partition scheme --- still very favorable to the Palestinians (about 65% of the land aside from the Negev desert) --- met with no less perversity, followed by a disastrous war when 5 Arab states invaded the new Israeli state. Then came the 1967 6 Day War. As soon as it ended, the Israeli Labour government offered to trade all the conquered land in return for peace and recognition from the PLO and the other Arab states. The PLO, plus all the Arab states, said no three times: no negotiations, no peace, no recognition. Then the PLO, now located in Jordan, staged in uprising in September 1970 to topple King Hussein's regime, and in the resulting brief war, thousands of Palestinians lost their lives and the PLO had to scurry to Lebanon. There it soon became entangled in the local civil wars, and twice the PLO and Arafat had to be rescued by the international community --- read, the US and West Europe --- in order to survive in Tunisia.

As if all that weren't disastrous enough, Arafat turned down the best offer the Palestinians will ever get --- the follow-up accord to the Camp David talks in 2000 that Dennis Ross mediated. As he notes in his book, 95-97% of the West Bank would come into Palestinian hands, as would all of Gaza . . . the two areas linked by a corridor carved out from Israeli territory. Simultaneously, all the Israeli settlements would have been demolished save those immediately to Jerusalem. A new Palestinian state could share rule in Jerusalem. There would also have been $35 billion offered to the refugees from 1947. As Ross further notes, many of the Palestinian negotiators urged Arafat to sign the agreement. The despot --- who had jailed his opponents under PA rule and turned the Palestinian parliament into a rubber-stamp legislature --- not only refused to sign the accord (which Prime Minister Barak himself had signed), but didn't even explain its terms to his people. Ross's judgment? Arafat turned out to be a revolutionary despot who couldn't see a future for himself or his people without endless conflict and violence.

 

Meanwhile, in Israel, Ariel Sharon will continue his withdrawal from Gaza, will extend the wall, will reduce terrorist attack even more as a result, and --- if he's smart --- will find ways to bring back the most exposed settlements nearer to Jerusalem. Naturally, this won't satisfy your compatriots in the media in the UK or the politicos and media types on the Continent in West Europe. Their understanding of a settlement, it seems is one imposed by the US, which means that they don't give a damn about the security or survival of the Israelis . . . only an end to a conflict that they see hurting European interests and stability.

 

Some Final Remarks: Back to Europe and Its Future:

Ultimately, most of West Europe looks headed for gradual hari-kari --- a decline marked by a shoddy work ethos, a vacation-ridden view of life, and drastically dwindling native populations even as the disaffected Muslim communities, full of alienated young men and women, continue to grow rapidly. Then there are all the harmful effects of a half century of growing dependence on statist policies that have to be retrenched --- the big EU countries on the Continent running out of finances to support all their welfare programs, never mind what lies in store as more and more retirees are supposed to live on state-financed pensions (and no private ones) even while the working population shrinks with rapid alarm in the decades to come.

That's only one clear harm. Worse yet is what has happened to the entrepreneurial spirit and other risk-taking initiatives West Europeans once had --- even if the most risk-taking ones seemed to have moved out of Europe to the Americas and Australia in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. Remember the study, carried out by a joint US-UK team of business professors in the late 1990s? It showed that 1 out 11 American adults started a new business each year, whereas in the UK and Italy it was 1 out of 33 adults, and in France, Germany, and elsewhere about 1 in 50. Small wonder that 75% of the American Fortune 500 big firms didn't even exist in 1975. In Germany, France, Britain, and elsewhere, hardly any new big firms can be found that weren't around 30 years ago with the same fat-cat size. (Fortunately for all of us, Airbus has been a notable exception. It's been a boon to air travel that Boeing has had to compete head-on in airplane construction, subsidies or otherwise.)

As for the chances of economic revitalization, the efforts in Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and France --- probably in Belgium too --- to cut back welfare and taxes and stimulate market-oriented changes will likely produce more and more social turmoil. Much of it, alas, will likely be violent . . . especially as the problems caused by rapidly growing Muslim communities hostile to European mainstream life will be entangled with the social conflicts over the economy and welfare policies that influence far larger swathes of the West European populations than the Muslims themselves.

 

Nor, Alas, Is That All

The worse outcome of 60 years of lavish EU welfarism, intrusive bureaucracy without let-up, and a vacation-charged outlook on the world has yet to be mentioned: a steady decline in European creativity and talent in all areas of life, not just economic or technical. Britain is an exception, the only EU country I know of that has matched its previous cultural creativity of the pre-WWII period --- and in music and painting, has even outperformed itself. Probably, too, tiny and dynamic Ireland and two or three small Northern European countries will flourish as sources of cultural and scientific and technical creativity, but not France or Germany or Italy or Spain . . . to take the big countries on the Continent, at any rate in the western parts of Europe.

Even in the small countries on the Continent --- witness Holland again, a country whose people thought they were immune to turmoil and conflict as late as 2002 --- violent conflicts with the increasingly fundamentalist and rapidly growing Muslim immigrant communities will likely increase and maybe even surge beyond a tipping point. So too, in consequence, will there likely be a surge in the fortunes of populist right-wing movements akin to Haider's Freedom Party in Austria, Le Pen's National Front in France, Volksblaam in Belgium, and whatever form right-wing extremist thought now takes in Italy and elsewhere.

Not, I fear, a future I'd want to see happen here in the States, and I don't think it will --- just the contrary, whether Mordoch's Texas god-child is in charge or anyone else.

Replies: 3 comments

History will prove that the foresight of Bush and Blair will prevail. And the foreward march of freeedom , democracy, and human rights they bring to the middle east via Iraq will be the only true solution to the woes of those opressed peoples being exploited by islamo-facist terrorist groups and governments that nurture them. As the PLO,Syria,Iran, even Saudi Arabia breed hate to distract and degflect their masses from the true problems of government opression and hoarding wealth, a new local democracy in Iraq will stand to remind those regimes how backward and sick they are. This is why they resist because they will be shamed by contrast and comparison.

Posted by Laslo_draga @ 11/17/2004 08:43 AM PST

Greetings Professor,

Thanks once again for your insights. I always look forward to your posts. As a Bush supporter (foreign policy especially), I remained somehwat mystified by the conventional wisdom set forth by moderates that the decision to remove Saddam was correct but tht the war has been "bungled".

From my perspective this does not jive with any objective standard of criticism compared to say...any other prolonged military engagement the US has been involved in. I think people, including the fair Professor, need to remember that war is an incredibly complex environment with thousands of variables. No one is in complete control at all times given political and humanitarian realities. Many large scale projects (say the building of a skyscraper) are rife with set backs and commonly go well over budget. And in that scenario there is no actively engaged opposition.

So what I would love to see is your perspective on how the war was bungled for the first year. I mean, are we talking about the unfortunate prison abuse (small scale abuse from my perspective)and car bombs? I think 30 years from now those types of things will merit a paragraph or two in the history textbooks.

Posted by Matt @ 11/12/2004 08:34 AM PST

I'm glad to see you back writing Prof Bug. I'm not going to criticise your evaluation of the US because a) I agree with it and b) you live there and I don't. However I disagree somewhat with your European summary. Firstly the nit picking correction: the Belgian party is the Vlaams Blok. Secondly and more importantly I think it is very important to note that the far right is gaining because of the failure to assimilate of the Moslem immmigrants and the corresponding failure to do anything about that by the governing elites. The VB is received 1 million votes in the last Belgian elections out of a population of 10 million (not the electorate, the population). The fact that it has received this level of support despite universal condemnation by everyone "respectable" is a sign of the failure of the traditional Belgian political system. The fact that they have just banned the party shows both a worrying lack of judgement and an extremely worrying lack of freedome of expression. Across the border reaction to the murder of Theo Van Gogh is pointing the way towards a similar lack of contentment with the status quo as was also illustrated by the electoral success of Pim Fortuyn.

To put it bluntly there is a problem here and the reaction of the governing elites has generally been denial and/or misdirection. I believe that this partly explains their anti-Americanism. By blaming mid east tension on those meddling "Yankee cowboys" (and yes I am aware of the ignorance shown by such a phrase), they hope to convinve their populations to not blame their leaders for their racial problems. The problem is that although this does work in the short term (and in Schroeder's case it worked long enough for him to get re-elected), it doesn't actually work long term. Hence the attempt to hide the complaints by banning "hate speech" or "racism", which is frequently an amusing double standard because the statements made by the immigrant extremists are not prosecuted, probably because they are not understood. The problem is that this is not going to fix the problem either and hence the attraction of non-mainstream parties who are willing to actually mention these problems.

THE BUGGY REPLY:

Francis:

Thanks again. Your comments deserve a lengthy reply, set out in the next buggy article here.

Posted by Francis @ 11/11/2004 12:11 PM PST