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War, War, War, War, Then . . .

Saturday, May 05, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

A couple of times during the conversations (see Conversations With th Enemy) I offered my brief history of Europe. It goes like this: war, war, war, war, war, the Americans show up, peace. I like to accompany that deliberately provocative statement with irritating karate chop motions. The point was to see whether the person across the table would be able to effectively rebut me.

I don't think anyone did. I think the premise caught them off-guard. I think the idea that they owed their peaceful, prosperous Europe to American intervention and protection was an entirely alien notion, so inconceivable that it left them with almost nothing to say.

Pushed further -- and I pushed a lot on this point -- Europeans will admit that the US liberated Western Europe from the Nazis. (Some of the older generation not only admit this but express unstinting gratitude.) The next step, admitting that we then spent 40 years protecting them from the USSR, is harder for them to swallow. It's not really a question of the facts being in dispute, I think, it's that it takes the idea of American benevolence out of the long-distant past and moves it uncomfortably close to the present day.

Europe exists, free and prosperous, because the Americans kicked out the bad guys, kept out the bad guys, and built a nice little playpen for the Europeans. We acted in loco parentis, or perhaps like the responsible big brother dealing with the hopeless screw-up of a sibling. War, war, war, war, war, the Americans show up, peace.

Europeans can't accept any of that narrative. It would require them to admit that the Americans occasionally do the right thing. It would require them to admit that what they value so highly, their cosmopolitan lifestyle, was in large part a gift from a nation they are pathologically unable to trust. And just as important, it would require them to believe that there are bears in the woods.

That last point is where Americans and Europeans run into a wall. Americans think the world is a dangerous place, full of bad people doing bad things. Europeans reject categorically any notion of a serious external or internal threat to their way of life. To admit the possibility of threat would be to face the fact of European weakness and dependence. They can't do that without admitting that the bad guys have been kept at bay by the Americans, that Europe is Europe because of Americans sitting in tanks at the Fulda gap for 40 years.

Interestingly, Europeans have no problem at all blaming us for endangering them when our muscular efforts go wrong, as in Iraq. So, while Europeans won't admit that American power at its best has kept them secure, they are eager to claim that American power at its most inept endangers them. Foreign threats are unreal when the Americans are competent, and then real when we're not. There is no bear in the woods . . . and then there is . . . and then he disappears . . . and then back he comes, but the constant is that Americans must recieve no credit for chasing the bear away, just blame when we fail.

So often in these European conversations I've found myself arguing with my kids. As most parents know, the ten times you give your kid what he wants are as nothing when measured against the one time you refuse. The ten times you make it to the play or the game or the recital do not insulate you from guilt over your one failure. The Europeans see Iraq, and Iraq is a mess, and that one failure, because it ratifies their prejudices, becomes the only benchmark for judging the nation that saved them from fascism, kept them safe from communism, and cradled them in its arms until it could grow up to reach contemptuous, oblivious adolescence.

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