Some of the recent articles at David’s Medienkritik and No Pasaran are not only depressing in themselves, but even more so in aggregate. Whatever the occasion, there is something the US did wrong. The degree of hatred expressed by the European left is orders of magnitude out of proportion to any wrongs we may have done them, a mindset shared by multitudes in the Middle East. That is, of course, unless they both still resent our role in the implosion of their sponsor, the USSR.
I think that there is also a fundamental misunderstanding of the US in Europe and in much of the rest of the world as well. Fundamentally, we are a regional power that has outgrown its region. With vast oceans east and west, friendly nations north and south, and only weak enemies in our hemisphere, Americans have often felt the rest of world needed a good, brisk leaving-alone. We had a war in 1812 – comparatively a small war in the years of Napoleon’s bloody project – and didn’t appear again on the world’s battlefields until Great Britain helpfully showed us that Germany was trying to get Mexico to enter the war on their side by invading us (the Zimmerman telegram). We avoided the Second World War until it came to us. Until that point, there was sympathy for Great Britain and China, but the war fell into the category of Europeans doing stupid and cruel things to each other, with Japan taking the traditional European role of ravaging China.
The change came when we realized that the USSR was no more kindly disposed toward us than the Nazis had been. Mass graves full of class enemies or of racial enemies were pretty much the same thing to us, if not to the more sophisticated and learned Europeans, and if preventing them meant we couldn’t go home, we didn’t go home. That doesn’t mean we didn’t want to.
From Washington’s farewell address in 1796:
The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.
Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?
The Europeans have to understand that this distance from their affairs is more than physical. Frankly, we would be content to never think of them except in terms of trade and vacation destinations. We’re willing to ignore you as long as you do the same for us. You don’t have to like us. You don’t even have to notice us. Just leave us alone.
If only Osama, Mullah Omar, and Saddam had been able to absorb this simple idea.