The mainstream news media in the United States have drawn a circle around the country. From their viewpoint, we stand as an island-nation with global reach through our wars and confrontational politics. Oddly enough, we don’t like to hear about the wars we conduct (there is no David Halberstam employed by the major news media and no one with his journalistic standards is in the field covering our conflicts/wars) or the cultural theater in which they take place; we hear even less about the world outside our war theaters. And, at the bottom of our outside news priority list, is Europe. We hear very little about Europe, which is going through a transformation that has already substantially impacted on us, though not quite in the way we would like. We are flummoxed by European behavior, in part because we feel they are not living up to their NATO agreements–they should be sending more troops to Afghanistan, yet, in fact, they are bringing them home and disengaging. Western Europe does not approve of our American wars and they see much better than we do the futility of fighting in a country where the end result is to behave as a primary recruiting service for the enemy. We are also very poor at defining who the enemy actually is and we have the Vietnam war experience in our past to substantiate that allegation.
Recently I met a prominent German scientist who works at an America research university and has lived in this country for many years. He was born during WW II and all the males in his immediate family were killed at the Russian front. He had just completed an extensive travel through Europe and told me that everywhere he went, when people learned he lived in America, Europeans were quick to indicate that America is a country in steep decline and is on a self-destructive trajectory. Europeans have many other issues which occupy them and have become indifferent to the interests of the United States. They no longer view themselves as the American satellites we forced on them at the close of WW II. Increasingly, we think of Western Europe as having a very “unEuropean” attitude towards us because they are no longer behaving like our old dependent satellites, when NATO was a household word. William Pfaff, an American who writes from Paris for the International Herald Tribune, keeps his eye on both continents and is thus a frequent source of insight about relations between the U.S. and the evolving attitudes of Europeans towards us. Of course, you cannot talk about the history of our relationship with Europe, without understanding the impact of WWII and the Cold War. But this is post-Cold War Europe and they are trying to shape their own destiny and increasingly view the United States as unwanted baggage. In the process, they are not in favor of the war-like island state across the Atlantic because it poses too much risk for them as members of NATO. If Afghanistan doesn’t actually break up NATO, it has certainly robbed it of any meaningful European participation, at least in the foreseeable future.
Once the Cold War was over, I thought it made sense to dissolve NATO and reformulate relations in Europe that eliminated the encirclement and isolation of the Soviet Union. The European union has sought to partially achieve that objective by admitting Eastern European countries, while NATO has behaved as if encircling Russia was still an objective by admitting many former Soviet block countries into the alliance. The recent war in Georgia was in reality, Russia opposing its NATO encirclement. That aggressive posturing remains as one of the reasons that Russians have a low opinion of the United States. It very easily could have been otherwise. Not only did we continue our militaristic posturing towards Russia, but we participated in forming the ruling oligarchy that sold Russian assets and created a few wealthy Russians, while plunging the country into an economic crisis. Today, Russia is doing better, primarily because they have oil and gas and we are now competing with the Chinese to find as many stable sources of gas and oil as we can: preferably outside of the Middle East, but, because of their vast oil resources, that is always hard to do. Perhaps we need to look at the panic we have about our energy future as the straw that broke the camel’s back and finally, truly ended the Cold War, but with a comma rather than an exclamation point. NATO will probably exist in name only.
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