Commentary

Americans Are from Earth, and so Are the Europeans

By Leon T. Hadar
July 11, 2003

The way American neoconservatives see it, the split over Iraq between the United States and France and Germany reflected a political-cultural gap. It demonstrated, as Robert Kagan put it, that “Americans are from Mars, and Europeans are from Venus.” In the neoconservative media there has been a litany of similar vilifications of Old Europe, depicting it as the “Axis of Weasel” and “Euroweenies.” One columnist called the French “Cheese-eating surrender Monkeys.”

On one level, the neoconservatives draw a caricature, depicting Americans as … well … Real Men, virile and tough, ready to fight for and defend their women against the barbarians at the gate. The Europeans are drawn as wimpy, decadent, and emasculated guys, which supposedly explains why the Americans were willing to go to oust Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and the Europeans weren’t.

On another level, Kagan & Company present a more sophisticated analysis of the transatlantic tensions, arguing that the Europeans are “has-been” powers that reside in a post-nationalist universe, where the commitment to multilateral institutions, like the United Nations, diplomatic policy tools, and international law, replaces the traditional allegiance shared by Americans to the nation-state and the reliance on military force for protection against security threats. The Europeans are “idealists” who believe in the application of “soft power” to contain global challenges. Americans are “realists” who know that only the use of “hard power” can be effective in containing aggressors.

This kind of political-cultural schism between Europeans and Americans explains, according to the neocons, the reasons why Americans were willing to stand up to Saddam Hussein, and why most Europeans wanted to rely on the U.N. for resolving the Iraq crisis.

Focusing on politics through cultural lenses, not unlike the way some analysts studied the results of the 2000 presidential elections along the lines of the Blue vs. the Red states, offers some limited insights into choices individuals and governments make. But those choices reflect mostly political, economic, and military interests, as they interact sometimes with cultural values. Interestingly, polls suggest that many Americans in the “Red states,” i.e., pro-Bush in the 2000 campaign, shared the inclination of Old Europe to deal with Iraq through the U.N.

Moreover, by employing Kagan’s paradigm, one is forced to conclude that Japan is also from Venus, more so than France or Germany. It is a pacifist country that, like the EU, identifies foreign policy with the use of “soft power,” and regards multilateral regimes as central to the advancement of its global interests. Yet Japan was a member of the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq, and neoconservatives advocate that Washington should recruit Tokyo as part of a strategy to “contain” China.

That France was opposed to using military power in Iraq, and that Japan supported that policy, has to do less with cultural values and more with strategic interests. For Western Europe, the Middle East is considered a “strategic backyard,” not unlike the way Americans perceive Latin America. Europe, unlike the United States, receives most of its energy resources from the Middle East. And it has historic ties and demographic links to the region, including large Arab immigrant populations. From the Europeans’ perspective, the policies they advocate in the Middle East, including resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict and maintaining the status quo in Iraq and other Arabs countries is not “idealistic,” but realistic. They contend that the policies advanced by the Bushies, including the alliance with the Likud government and the campaign to “democratize” the Middle East, would only ignite anti-Western sentiments in the region, threaten Europeans’ access to oil resources in the region and radicalize their Arab population. With their geographical proximity to the Middle East, the Europeans would have to bear the destructive consequences of instability in the region. The Americans could always go back home.

Indeed, to empathize with the European views, Americans should imagine the following scenario: A civil war is taking place in Mexico and Venezuela’s authoritarian leader Hugo Chavez may be gaining access to weapons of mass destruction. Washington’s policy agenda to deal with those problems includes using diplomacy to mediate between the sides in the Mexican civil war and sending U.N. weapons inspectors to Venezuela. Yet, the EU, under pressure from a powerful lobby in Brussels, is supporting one of the warring groups in Mexico, and is sending its military troops to force Chavez out of power. Americans are concerned that such moves will hurt their interests, including radicalizing the Hispanic community in California. But America can’t do anything about it.

That is exactly how the Europeans feel these days. And that is why there is growing pressure among EU members to create a powerful and distinct military arm of the EU, as opposed to a European force under NATO, i.e., American control. After all, the Europeans, like the Americans, are from Earth. They also understand that when push comes to shove only “hard power” will help them secure their interests. My guess is that Robert Kagan and other neocons would not applaud such a show of European “manliness.”

Leon Hadar is a research fellow in foreign policy with the Cato Institute.