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  • French and Germans Behaving Badly: Causes and Consequences

    Posted by Lexington Green on January 25th, 2003 (All posts by )

    In recent, much-noted piece by Steve den Beste he argues with his usual force, facts and logic that the French and the Germans are opposing the (almost certainly) upcoming war with Iraq primarily because they are interested in hiding their deep involvement in Iraq’s secret armament industry. Ralf’s recent ChicagoBoyz post takes a contrary position, arguing that the domestic forces in play in Germany are sufficient to cause Schroeder to dig in against the U.S., and that the scale of German involvement in Iraq’s arms programs is not as great as den Beste suggests. Ralf notes that Schroeder is desperate to mobilize his left political base so he avoids catastrophe in the upcoming elections. (See this piece on Schroeder’s current sorry state.) Politicians do and say many irresponsible things when facing political death.

    There are further explanations for the behavior of the French and Germans beyond those mentioned by Ralf, other than dread of being smoked out as Saddam’s covert arms suppliers.

    For example, Schroeder’s and Joschka Fischer’s political ideology is a factor in what they do and how they verbalize what they are doing. In this eye-opening article, from the National Interest, Siemon Netto analyzes the world view of the “68ers” now in power in Germany, and describes their odd love-hate relationship with America. The “America” they fell in love with was the “anti-American America” of the ’60s era hippie and radical movements. These guys would find it very, very hard to support a U.S. led war, no matter how justified, both on a personal level, and because it would necessarily alienate their core supporters. Also, the Germans have worked so hard for so long at being pacifists, atoning vicariously for the Third Reich’s conquests and genocides, that they have a hard time getting their heads around any war (seemingly) voluntarily embarked on. This factor should not be downplayed. So, these factors may play a large part in Germany’s actions, whether or not it has had dirty dealings with Iraq which it wants to keep in the closet.

    Arguably, if that were the primary element in Schroeder’s and Fischer’s position, it would make just as much sense for them to condemn those practices, air the dirty linen, blame their rightist predecessors, and make up for past sins by supporting the war.

    As to the French, the simple explanations are probably the correct ones. They are clinging to a grand scheme of a united Europe in which they will play a dominant role. Opposing the U.S. seems to be the purpose of any such union, in their eyes, and they are pretty straightforward about that. To the French, for many years, foreign policy has consisted of reflexively opposing whatever the United States does, at least out loud, or as a public posture, and then actually doing whatever seemed to the economic advantage of France. This current situation apparently seems no different to them. Also, there may be an element of sour grapes for the French. I think they are miffed at us championing Turkey for EU membership. They know and we know that the reason we did that was to strengthen our relationship with Turkey at the expense of France and the Euro-federalizers. So, the French may figure it is their turn to jam a stick in our eye. (ChicagoBoyz’ own Sylvain, who knows more about France than I ever will, is dubious about major French involvement in Iraqi WMD.)

    Yet another facet of the odd and offensive behavior of Chirac, Schroeder and their henchmen is captured nicely by David Warren:

    The North American media are if possible overplaying the soap operatic performances of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder, as they strew thumbtacks along the road to Baghdad. If you turn to the European media, you see that the French and Germans themselves hardly take their leaders so seriously. They are used to this kind of cynical posturing, and it doesn’t make the front page. What scares them is rather the American earnestness, the possibility that Mr. Bush means what he says. They expect politicians to lie to them — it is part of the “social contract” as in Canada — and when one of them starts putting his money where his mouth is, they are naturally alarmed.

    In other words, the French and German elites do not take themselves seriously, their voters do not take them seriously, and everybody knows that their words are gestures, play-acting, to be taken with a wink and a shrug. This may be correct. I guess this is the kind of thing over-educated people in the States mean when they say that the Europeans are better than us at dealing with “complexity”, “nuance”, “ambiguity”, etc. That kind of crap may be OK when all you are arguing about is the size of the agricultural subsidy, or how big and what shape cheese packages have to be to comply with EU regulations. But to deal with the actual cement-floor basics of statecraft, like deciding to wage a war when it has become necessary, this puppet-theatre model of leadership just won’t cut it. In other words, Chirac and Schroeder are misplaying this because they are out of their league when there are serious issues to deal with.

    This is essentially the same argument made by Robert Kagan in his justifiably famous essay Power and Weakness, about the trans-Atlantic gap. Kagan argues that the U.S. still lives in “history”, where tough decisions have to be made, while the Europeans, under the U.S. security umbrella, have the luxury of living after “history”, where all is merely administrative detail and someone else keeps the wolves from the door. Such post-historical politics is all the French and Germans know how to do anymore. Worse, they think this is all that politics and political leadership consists of, categorically. They don’t know what to make of the real thing when they see it.

    A final factor is plain fear. The French and Germans have shown themselves to be totally unable to deal with the massive influx of muslims into their countries. They are unwilling and unable to assimilate them. Their stagnant economies are unable to provide jobs, and their lavish welfare states allow the small minority of genuinely bad actors to subsist in their midst. (This strong article by Theodore Dalrymple is in part on point). They have allowed themselves to become havens for crime and terrorism. They want to be able to keep ignoring this festering reality. Their official and unassailable leftist ideology won’t even permit realistic discussion of these problem. (This stifling of legitimate debate has given rise to people like Le Pen, people who don’t care about preserving the decencies, and ordinary people can find no one else who will talk about the things which worry them most.) Most of all, the leaders of France and Germany live in mortal dread of terrorism in their own countries. They fear, with some cause, that a major war in the Middle East may lead to all kinds of horrors right at home. They would rather keep whistling past the graveyard than actually come to grips with all this. And they are furious at Bush for forcing all this onto the front burner.

    So, the French and Germans are not adopting postures of opposition to the Bush juggernaut because they are an evil cabal with a lot to hide. At least not primarily. They are acting this way due to their own atrophied ability to function as real countries confronting serious challenges. They are also in the grip of leftist ideologies which consistently lead them to misread the world and its dangers, and to make stupid decisions. And they are afraid. Their elites also despise the United States generally and W in particular. They can’t take him or us seriously. These factors are the main ones driving their obstructionist policies.

    Instapundit had a link to this excellent post by Trent Trelenko. Trelenko focuses on the conduct of France and Germany, and notes, as does den Beste, that this conduct may lead to an angry American response. There is certainly a growing animus in Blogspace, for sure. But so far it is a jeering, irritated animus, not true anger, and certainly not real hatred — the “Axis of Weasels” is not language directed at people truly perceived as enemies.

    It is too soon to say whether what goes on in the rarefied world of the blogosphere will come sally forth and take up residence out in the rest of non-cyberspatial America. I tend to think not. Only a small proportion of the population are glued to the internet and television news and all on edge about the upcoming war. (Not many people are typing blog posts late at night on Saturday about all this, for example.) Meanwhile virtually the entire country focuses on the Superbowl and is only fractionally aware that anything big is going on with Iraq, or that a major war is about to start in a few days or weeks, or that Bush is going to, you know, do, like, whatever. So, where den Beste apparently anticipates an outpouring of Jacksonian anger about all this, I think that is still only a possibility.

    Now, I am (by and large) a Jacksonian myself, and I think den Beste’s analysis of the Jacksonian response to all this is astute, so far as it goes. But it is also noteworthy that Jacksonians are slow to anger. There is a lot about the rest of the world that they simply don’t give a rat’s ass about, anyway. They need to really have a reason to focus on and care about any foreign country at all. They seem to have bought into getting rid of Saddam, as a villain, as a long-time enemy, as a guy we should have killed a long time ago and, most of all, as a threat to our oil supply. Assuming there is a war, and we win big, and win quickly, the final take-away for Joe and Jane Minivan, your typical crabgrass Jacksonians, may be simply, “the French and the Germans? What do they have to do with all this? Who cares what they think?” And that may be all to the good. It need not mean “the end of NATO” for example. That now pointless entity will continue to limp along. After all, bureaucracies rarely ever really die. We will continue to trade with Europe, and have military bases there, and nothing dramatic will necessarily happen. They’ll loathe us a little more, and we’ll ignore them as we do now.

    However, if this French and German perfidy ever does penetrate the Jacksonian consciousness, there will be anger, and a sense of betrayal, and this will indeed have long, and lingering effects on any attempt by the Europeans to patch things up. For example, the war could go badly, or takes a long time, or lead to larger than expected casualties, or there could be attacks on Americans in Europe either by Europeans protestor-types, or muslims living in Europe. And if the Europeans adopt the wrong tone in these circumstances, the American public will notice. And if that happens the French and the German political elites will come to realize that they have made a disastrous miscalculation even appearing to side with the enemies of the United States. How exactly this Jacksonian anger would work itself out in actual policies is not clear to me. Outright war is not an option. But a mutually destructive trade war could be one consequence.

    This potential is apparently absent from the political calculations of Chirac and Schroeder. They are focused on domestic consumption. If they consider their effect on American opinion at all, they seem to be doing so based upon their domestic political experience, rather than from a grasp of American political realities. But they ought to try to understand us better. Jacksonians do take honor seriously. (They don’t put it in quotations marks, for example.) And that means how they are viewed by the world at large, i.e. as meriting respect or not, not some subjective sense of worth. Chirac and Schroeder should not lightly dis America.

    Another factor which den Beste does not mention, and which actually supports his point, is also worth noting here: Jacksonians tend to believe in conspiracy theories. They have for centuries believed that there is a foreign locus of evil which is manipulating us and leading us astray and infiltrating our institutions and corrupting them. First it was the Vatican, and in some circles it still is. Then, it was the Kremlin. Also, intermittently, it has been the Trilateral Commission and the East Coast business and political elite. But since the end of the Cold War, there has been no focus for this type of thinking, and the locus of worldly evil has not settled anywhere definitively. The United Nations is a perennial contender, except its blatant incompetence makes it implausible as a manifestation of Anti-Christ.

    (Nonetheless, let me share an aside. I recall a perfectly rational-seeming man in a Kinkos in Lafayette, Indiana. He was photocopying part of his own translation of the Bible. He mentioned casually that there were stickers on the back of road signs, and these were coded to maps which were going to be used by the U.N. Blue Helmets that Clinton was going to bring in. The concentration camps had already been surveyed up in Michigan, for the arrestees in the Midwest. All registered gun owners were going to be arrested first. He was not going without a fight.)

    Another low-level candidate as a focus of Jacksonian conspiracy theorizing has long been the European Union. I once saw an episode of the extraordinary and, in its own insane way, brilliant TV show This Week in Bible Prophecy. The program noted that the EU was using the symbol of Europa riding a bull, on a proposed euro note I think. The host of the show explained that this symbol was in fact predicted in the Book of Revelations, etc. If the EU becomes more widely accepted on the crackpot fringe of Jacksonianism as the seed-bed of foreign evil, the French and the Germans will have all kinds of extra trouble on their hands any time they have to deal with the United States.

    In conclusion, if I had to take bets on where we will be in six months, I’d say that (1) Iraq will have been conquered, (2) nothing about French or German involvement in Iraq’s armament will have emerged which is very major or very novel, (3) United States relations with Germany and France will not be warm, but will not have undergone any very major changes, (4) NATO will continue to fade in importance, but will continue to exist de jure, (5) the U.N. will continue to exist and everyone will act like nothing big happened, even though that institution may continue to decline in importance and influence. I don’t think there will be a Jacksonian backlash against “Old Europe”, as Rumsfeld dismissively calls it, unless there is an unanticipated turn for the worse in the war, or other related disaster, and the French and the German politicians badly misplay their public response to it.

    Nothing in the foregoing should be taken as an excuse for the French and the Germans. They are acting like weasels, and they should be ashamed of themselves.