In Europe, talk is cheap

Posted: Aug 02, 2002 12:00 AM
"Europeans have done something that no one has ever done before: create a zone of peace where war is ruled out, absolutely out," Karl Kaiser, the director of something called the Research Institute of the German Society for Foreign Affairs in Berlin explained to the Chicago Tribune. "Europeans are convinced that this model is valid for other parts of the world." Rarely have so many inaccurate statements been crammed into so few words. This unfounded assertion appears in the latest of a series of articles by the Tribune's R.C. Longworth. This one, appearing July 31 under the headline, "Europe asks why U.S. can't see its `miracle,'" illustrates the huge ideological divide between the United States and its friends across the pond. But before we get into that, we should take a few whacks at this piƱata of erroneousness and see what falls out. First of all, one could argue that North America has had a zone of peace since 1865. Meanwhile, Europe's so-called "zone of peace" is barely a few years old. Remember the former Yugoslavia? Rape camps, hundreds of thousands killed, including tens of thousands of civilians and children, millions dislocated. I guess that doesn't count. Also, the Czechs and Slovaks might be shocked to learn that they aren't Europeans and that the tanks of other "non-European" countries such as Russia, Poland, East Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria were on a peace mission in 1968. But these are all historical quibbles. The real error on Kaiser's -and Europe's -part is philosophical. The Europeans believe the EU is a "miracle" because it has replaced war with negotiations, borders with a common currency. "This miracle of Europe is underperceived in America," Klaus Scharioth, political director of the German Foreign Ministry tells the Tribune. "Once, we were a continent of borders and of wars. Now you can go from Denmark to Portugal without being stopped once or having to change your money. I think it's a miracle. Why is it that this European miracle is underperceived?" The answer is simple: Europeans underperceive the fact that while their bureaucrats haggled in their comfortable hotel conference rooms over wine corks, clever cheeses and other Euro-whatnots, the United States was acting as their bodyguard. Americans -or at least the Americans running this administration -believe that the "European miracle" couldn't have happened without an American-led security umbrella. The Europeans have accomplished a great deal, to be sure. But they couldn't have done it without tanks. Of course, this is a broad generalization. Americans appreciate diplomacy and Europeans know that force is sometimes necessary. But at a fundamental level, Europeans believe in talk and Americans place their bets on tanks. This split of tanks vs. talk highlights Kaiser's biggest whopper. When he says Europeans are "convinced" that their "model is valid for other parts of the world," he is basically saying that we can drape Europe's legalistic-political system across any hotspot on the globe. More and more, this is what Europeans believe when the question turns to war with Iraq, the battle against terrorism or the ongoing conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians: If we can just talk things through, the way we do over cucumber regulations, everything will be fine. Obviously there's plenty of room for talk -when talk will do some good. The problem with the European model is that it doesn't recognize that talking is only useful when both sides of the conversation act in good faith. For example, when Saddam Hussein or Yasser Arafat talk, they are merely saying "nice doggie" until they can find a rock (or a suicide bomber). When one side refuses to foreswear violence, "negotiation and compromise" is a fool's game. How, for example, would a negotiation with al-Qaida work? If their side came to the bargaining table demanding the total destruction of the United States, would we think it a great victory if we got them to settle for only partial destruction? Force is often necessary to get bad actors to abandon violence. The best illustration of this isn't Western Europe, but Japan. If the United States had not defeated Japan, ruled it for about a decade, rewritten its constitution and agreed to provide for its defense, it's very unlikely we would have had the "Japanese miracle." Obviously, the Japanese should be congratulated for their dedication to peace and democracy. But, according to the European view, Iraq could be turned into another Japan through some nice words and a few new U.N. regulations. Americans recognize this is the sort of utopianism that encourages aggression. It's the difference between thinking the law keeps criminals from doing bad things and believing the sheriff keeps criminals from doing bad things. And let us not forget that when, just a few years ago, the Europeans couldn't talk the rape and murder away in Bosnia, they turned to the American sheriff instead. And, once again, American bombs did a better job than European talk.