We?ll be there for you

Posted: Apr 15, 2005 12:00 AM

Situation comedies once helped NBC build a successful Thursday night lineup. But on a recent Thursday, the peacock network couldn?t hold a comedic candle to a documentary on the Discovery Channel. At times, ?Does Europe Hate Us? Thomas L. Friedman Reporting? is fall-on-the-floor funny. And that?s frightening.

The program opens up with the Pulitzer prize-winning reporter (he?s won three, the announcer informs us) walking the streets of gay Paris. Everywhere he turns, American icons -- The Gap, Disney Store, Pizza Hut, etc, surround him.

?Who would have thought that at the beginning of the 21st Century, Europe and America would be so much at odds?? Friedman muses. ?After all, for much of the 20th Century, we were the best of friends.? The reason is simple, of course. They needed us then, and they don?t believe they need us now.

Friedman mentions out that our 60-year alliance with Europe was based on a shared ?commitment to preserving democracy and containing the Soviet Union.? Well, the Soviet Union is gone, but the United States remains committed to preserving democracy and containing evil.

We?ve even started planting seeds of freedom in the rocky soil of the Middle East. This year alone: Iraqis and Palestinians voted, Lebanese rallied to demand that Syria end its decades-long military occupation, Egypt?s president announced he?d allow some democracy, and even Saudis went to the polls for limited elections.

All these things happened because of our influence and because of our willingness to use our military. But it?s that very willingness -- the same willingness that frightened the Soviets throughout the Cold War -- that has caused a divide with our allies.

?Most Europeans feel that America?s single-minded exercise of military power is part of the problem, not the solution,? Friedman says, while images of riotous European ?peace? protesters fill the screen. The only use of firepower these protesters condone is when it?s used to burn the American flag.

Most western Europeans seem to agree. ?We believe that the use of force can arouse rancor and hatred, fuel a clash of identities, of cultures -- something that our generation has, precisely, a prime responsibility to avoid,? then French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told the U.N. Security Council in 2003.

The documentary crosses a line when Friedman crosses into Germany. ?We are seeing more parallels to the rise of Hitler and to liberties taken slowly,? a young German tells Friedman. ?Our generation is afraid that America is not seeing what could happen to its own country.? Now, when someone compares Bush to Hitler, he?s probably taken leave of his senses. Sadly, the other Germans in the room don?t argue the point.

It?s up to a group of Americans studying at Oxford to briefly inject a bit of sense into the program. ?I went to Iran and was interviewing students,? one says. ?Unanimously they loved not just America but the American government.? Friedmen observes, ?You go to Iran now for relief from anti-Americanism in Europe. Who?d have thunk that??

Actually, it?s not that surprising. Since 1979, Iranians have lived under a dictatorial government. They know that their salvation and freedom probably depend on the power of the United States. We?re their best hope in a dark world -- Iranians are all too aware they?ll get no support from France or Germany.

To underline that, an anti-war organizer named Julien (stereotypically dressed in a black-and-white striped mock turtleneck) tells Friedman, ?All we hear about is that American soldiers are destroying the lives of Iraqi civilians.? Another protester challenges him to ?prove to me that Iraqis are happy.? She insists she knows they?re not, because she sees unhappy Iraqis every day on al Jazerra, ?and those images are not manipulated.?

Friedman assures her, ?There?s no question to anyone who?s gone to Iraq that the people living in the primarily Shiite areas and the primarily Kurdish areas are far, far happier today than they were under Saddam Hussein.?

The difference between the United States and Europe can be summed up in one sentence. ?In France, there are very few people who believe that you can liberate people by dropping bombs on them,? an anti-war activist named Marie says. Then they must have forgotten that in 1944 the allies liberated France by dropping bombs on it.

Our country hasn?t changed, and Europe has. We?re still serious in our outlook, and they aren?t.

But the day of reckoning may come. Islamic extremists may attack western Europe, as they attacked New York on 9/11. If that happens, the Europeans again will get serious. And Americans will be ready to stand beside them -- and die beside them -- to win another war.