Thursday, April 02, 2009

"We have all been surprised. He is so . . . American!"

Robert Kagan has an interesting article in today's WaPo describing Europe's uncomfortable embrace of Barack Obama:

...Europeans want to be left in peace. They experienced enough turmoil in the 20th century to last a millennium: the two world wars that devastated the continent and took tens of millions of lives; the Holocaust, which still inspires deep guilt, and not only in Germany; the rampant inflations and depressions of the 1920s and 1930s; the wild political swings from romantic and belligerent nationalism to fascism to socialism to flirtations with communism to democracy; the Cold War that divided the continent, not only along the Iron Curtain but also within and between the nations of Western Europe. Just beneath the skin, all of Europe remains deeply scarred.

So how surprising is it that what Europeans yearn for in their self-contained world is stability and predictability, a little peace and quiet? They don't want more excitement. The most revolutionary innovation in the history of geopolitics, the European Union, was paradoxically brought to fruition not by a desire for revolution but by a deep conservatism -- a mortal fear of the turmoil that can be caused by unconstrained ambitions, both national and individual. The German people, for whom and by whom the European Union was consecrated, want to be constrained. The E.U.'s economic strictures, which now act as a barrier to Keynesian deficit spending, were put there by the Germans, for whom memories of inflation, not depression, are the great nightmare. The Germans and French prefer welfare payments to government stimulus spending, for they are part of the passive system of social safety nets on which their citizens have grown so comfortably dependent. The creative destruction of the business-oriented political economies of the Anglo-Americans is too violent and unstable, too brutal and unpredictable. Better to regulate more tightly the international capitalists who can cause havoc through their inventiveness. Better to be less rich than less secure.

... It is into this Europe that President Obama has flown, with what Europeans regard as some radical and frightening plans for the economy; with a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that is far more aggressive, militaristic and success-oriented than they would prefer; with ideas about Iran that are welcome (the promise to talk) but also unnerving (the threat to impose more sanctions). As one savvy French journalist told me, "We have all been surprised. He is so . . . American!"

Americans are creators of turmoil. Europeans see them the way the ancient Greeks saw the Athenians, as "incapable of either living a quiet life themselves or of allowing anyone else to do so."

...Europeans love Obama, but European leaders have been fretting ever since his election. George W. Bush did the Europeans a huge favor by giving them the best excuse for inaction in transatlantic history. Now comes Obama, so much more compelling and yet, still, American.

Read more here:

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