Thursday, September 16, 2004

The United States of America: hypocritical and patronising?

According to Fareed Zakaria (the editor of Newsweek International, but writing in Foreign Policy), Europe is "the only other player with the resources and tradition to play a global role... U.S. and European goals on most issues are quite similar. Both want a peaceful world free from terror, with open trade, growing freedom, and civilized codes of conduct. A Europe that charts its own course just to mark its differences from the United States threatens to fracture global efforts—whether on trade, proliferation, or the Middle East. Europe is too disunited to achieve its goals without the United States; it can only ensure that America’s plans don’t succeed. The result will be a world that muddles along, with the constant danger that unattended problems will flare up disastrously. Instead of win-win, it will be lose-lose—for Europe, for the United States, and for the world."

The rest of the article is fairly bland stuff (but thanks to Metafilter for pointing it out nonetheless), and says nothing especially new or interesting. But one bit of that paragraph got me thinking - is that really how they see it? Do they really think that the European experiment is incapable of succeeding without American help?

So it got me thinking, just what does America think it can contribute to the European project? It has jettisoned any chance it once had to act as mediator, as half the continent despises the current administration. Having had its latest escapade declared to be illegal by the Secretary General of the United Nations, and having seemingly decided that unilateral action is the only way to get anything done, can the US really contribute any specialist knowledge or advice to what is essentially a plan to get a group of nations working harmoniously together as one? Although it may be a federation of sovereign states in principle, the USA is to all intents and purposes a single entity, and a single entity with a very poor record when it comes to foreign affairs.

Now I'll be the first to admit that yes, immediately after the Second World War we very much did need US finance to get our feet back on the ground. After the devastation of the Blitz and the drain on the British economy that the years of diversion to military production necessitated, the UK was effectively bankrupt; mainland Europe, meanwhile, had been all but turned to rubble.

But the Marshall Plan was hardly the ideal solution, as the good intentions of some within the US government were swiftly subverted by the growing anticommunism of the Truman Doctrine. This was an early example of an on-going and worsening problem - the United States' apparent inability to see that it is highly hypocritical to go on about "promoting democracy" all the time and then use force or threats to compel sovereign nations to accept a system of government acceptable to the US.

This is hardly a new idea and certainly not a phenomenon exclusive to the United States - pretty much any nation which has been in a position to dominate others has tried to impose their own governing ideas on them, from Egypt to the USSR (and countless others, including Britain, of course).

The only thing is, it always seems to backfire when the US does it: try to get friendly regimes installed in Cuba, end up with a standoff lasting five decades; try the same in Latin America, end up with fascistic military dictatorships and a pissed-off populace; try it in Iran, get a rabidly oppressive and anti-American bunch of religious fanatics in charge; Afghanistan - Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban, and a severe attack on the American mainland as thanks; Iraq - Saddam Hussein, two wars, tens of thousands of deaths, and what looks to be a rapidly approaching civil war. There are countless other examples - Grenada, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Korea, Mexico, etc. etc. etc. It rather looks as if the only times American intervention has actually made a positive difference was during the two World Wars - and on both occasions they were somewhat reluctant participants.

Then there's the rampant hypocracy of the US stating their current aim is to promote democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan while simultaneously having the absolutist monarchy of Saudi Arabia and the military dictatorship of Pakistan as two of their closest allies. Everyone seems to have forgotten that "President" Musharraf seized power in a military coup five years ago. No one in the American high command seems to remember that Saddam himself was also once a "friendly dictator", or to see the irony.

This has ended up fairly rambling, but considering the majority of visitors to this blog seem to be American I am genuinely intrigued to find out what you lot think about the potential for US-EU co-operation and friendship. In Britain we are often presented with a binary choice by the eurosceptic press - either become the 51st state (not sure what Puerto Rico would have to say about that, but still...) or join forces with a bunch of countries we've spent most of the last millennium at war with. It seems to be a different story in mainland Europe, where America plays little part in the calculations.

But how does the US really see the EU? As a friend or as competition?

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