Wednesday, March 23, 2011

When you call Europe on the phone ... a busy signal?

Scene: President Obama, en route from Chile to San Salvador on his first imperial tour of Latin America, uses the time on Air Force One to bring order to the squabbling NATO allies. Prime Minister Erdogan must first be cajoled: he can claim all he wants to his party faithful that Turkey will not be shooting at Muslims in Libya, but he mustn't block NATO's command-and-control role there. Then Cameron and Sarkozy must be placated: NATO will take a lead role (Cameron), but so will an independent authority (Sarkozy). Now if Italy doesn't get cold feet, if Norway can be reassured and Chancellor Merkel (looking at her party's declining poll numbers) doesn't make a fuss, and a couple of Arab states can be brought on board, the US can make good on its claim to play a secondary role. But meanwhile, no in-flight basketball games for the President, as he carries out his functions as Leader of the Free World.

One of my main interests in pursuing this blog is to see whether Europe, particularly the 'Old Europe' with its traditions of social democracy and post-colonial contrition, can play a significant and countervailing role on the world-stage of the 21st century. As the world system evolves from a single superpower to a multilateral system embodied in the G-7 or -8 or -20--or is it really a G-2, as China steps firmly into every power vacuum?--I, like many others, have held out hope that the European civilization, somewhat world-weary and battle-scarred, could gather its forces and bring into world affairs a degree of circumspection and civility that seemed so wanting in the America of George W. Bush and our yahoo Congress. I still think the EU has that potential.

But right now, in the face of an urgent situation in Libya and throughout the Arab world that demands clarity of purpose and deft diplomatic and military discipline, Europe seems more than ever to be looking over its shoulder for its American big brother to take charge. Who else could make those calls to order? Lady Ashton? 'President' van Rompuy? The EU's exclusion of Turkey is of course an initial difficulty, but it hardly stops there. The particularist--and nakedly political--interests of politician-statesmen like Sarkozy and Merkel, both looking at unfavorable polls, present another. And then the divergent traditions each works within: Cameron must bring his policies back to Parliament where he is primus inter pares, while Sarkozy is half-expected to act like General de Gaulle, if not Napoleon. Germany isn't sure whether it is still a pacifist nation, in rehabilitation, or one of the new world-system's Great Powers. Belgium, the Netherlands, and others to varying degrees are held hostage to nationalist, xenophobic parties whose world-view has nothing in common with the global perspective I would hope for in this virtual Europe of my dreams. And let's not talk about Italy's leadership ...

I salute for the moment the efforts of Obama and Clinton to implement the Pax Americana, with all its bellicose trappings, along lines of UN sponsorship, multi-lateral responsibility, and diplomatic consensus. In some ways an outlier like Gadhafi makes an easier test case for such an initiative than more complex test-cases like Afghanistan or Iraq. But despite the eager volunteerism of Sarkozy and Cameron, 'Europe' is in no way ready to be a co-equal partner in this venture, and I have to ask: if not now, when?


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