Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Europe? Why Bother?

From the International Herald Tribune:

Has Europe become a sideshow? Sometimes it is clear when things come to an end. At others, the lines of history are blurred, less demarcations than smudges.

So it is in a Europe today that does not know if the dominant and fruitful postwar idea of "ever closer union" is now dead. How they will respond to the French and Dutch rejection of a proposed European constitution is unclear, but it is a safe bet that muddling through will be the favored course. The 25-member Union will not unravel.

Already, Europe is viewed with a cynicism often bordering on contempt in some American circles. The neoconservative view of the Continent - feckless, wimpy, legalistic, aging, tired - is well known.

But even among more mainstream Republicans, and within the Democratic Party, there are those for whom Europe poses one question above all: Why bother? At a recent meeting here of the Council for the United States and Italy, a group that brings together influential folk from both sides of the Atlantic, America's often withering view of Europe was as clear as the light on the lagoon.

That view may be summarized as follows: a Continent reluctant to spend on defense, offering only "postmodernist" armies useful enough as peacekeepers but next to useless as warriors, given to earnest blah-blah about the pre-eminence of international law, inhabited by a declining and evermore aged citizenry living in overregulated economies that have not shown significant growth for at least five years.

Contrast that image with another offered at the meeting: that of an India growing at over 7 percent a year, inhabited by more than 500 million people under the age of 25, busy buying hundreds of advanced aircraft, convinced that armies are still created to fight, churning out English-speaking high-tech graduates by the million each year, and persuaded by Islamic terrorism that its strategic goals and America's are often identical or at least complementary.

So, which of these parts of the world is more worthy of the attention of the United States? Which is a compelling affair: the intensifying and fast-changing relationship with India, or the largely stagnant alliance with Europe that served above all a cold-war strategic challenge now overcome?

Beyond India, of course, lie other issues demanding of U.S. attention.

China, with its own growth story and welter of staggering statistics that suggest its challenge to American supremacy must be taken seriously.

A low-intensity Iraqi war that has already taken a significant toll.

The attempt to ignite and manage a democratic transformation of the Middle East that is portrayed as central to long-term American security.

In this world, Europe slips down the list. It often looks more complicated than compelling. It is sufficiently split, sufficiently stable, and sufficiently stalled for back-burner treatment to seem most appropriate.

I think the writers perspective is interesting, for it's sheer foolishness.

The idea that Europe is a sideshow to the real world at this point looks true when viewed in the light of recent events. But, that's similar to answering a call from a lifelong friend and saying, "I haven't heard from you lately. What relevance do you have to my life?"

I'm not saying Europe and the United States are the best of friends, but, when one takes into consideration the size of the Euro economy, the fact that Europe does still innovate, the reality of the lingering paradigm of European cultural imperialism, we can see that this is not just the world of America and her enemies.

I believe Europe will once again be a force to be reckoned with. Europe will not remain a sideshow for long. The question is, will Europe help or hurt the cause of freedom.?