The Magazine


An exercise in posing and preening.

Sep 10, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 48 • By JEREMY RABKIN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

IT HAS BEEN A BUSY SUMMER for European diplomats and for the human rights activists who dance to the Euro-beat. They have been much exercised about dangers to global stability. The main danger, they seem to think, comes from the United States.

Europeans want to stop global warming and stand up for global justice. So do the globalist non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, who are their moaning bass accompanists. But the Bush administration has said no to the Kyoto Protocol and no to the International Criminal Court. The Bush administration is even pressing ahead with plans for a missile defense system. But that means—national defense! Europeans don’t like to think about national defense. They don’t even like to think about nations. They prefer to think about "peace."

So European governments and advocacy groups have been protesting U.S. "obstructionism" and also griping about the death penalty in the United States. And they have been grimacing at Washington’s ally, Israel. In recent months, Palestinian terror bombings have struck Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem, and the toll of murdered or maimed Israeli civilians has been rising steadily. But, as the New York Times reported on July 28, Israel’s claim to be acting in self-defense "leaves many Europeans cold." They condemn Israel for trying to kill organizers of the Palestinian terror war.

Is this a failure of imagination? Western Europeans now live in orderly, tolerant democracies. They have trouble grasping the notion that anyone would seek the indiscriminate slaughter of Jewish grandmothers, teenagers, and toddlers. It is so alien to European experience.

At least it is alien to Europe’s current way of thinking, which is resolutely forward-looking. Germany now has a foreign minister from the Green party, Joschka Fischer. And Fischer is the foremost champion of a constitution for the European Union, replacing the current hodgepodge of continually adjusted treaties. A formal constitution could provide an assured position of predominance, within Europe, for its largest states, like Germany. Isn’t that forward-looking?

Foreign Minister Fischer has spent the summer laboring to negotiate a Mideast "truce" so that a "peace process" can be resumed in the Mideast. What could be more natural than brokering Mideast peace in Berlin? After all, Germany has a "special relationship" with Israel—for remote historical reasons on which it is not now necessary to dwell.

And Fischer has a special relationship with the Palestinians. In 1970, a younger Fischer, then a leftist street brawler in Germany, attended a PLO conference in Algeria, where the other delegates clamored for the destruction of the Zionist entity. Shortly thereafter, Fischer’s associates in the German Left helped to organize the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.

Well, perhaps it would be better not to dwell on that ancient history, either. The point is that the Green party is for peace and Germany is for peace and Fischer is Germany’s foreign minister and the United States has stopped negotiating with Arafat but Fischer can find the way forward. Fischer secured an agreement from Arafat to stop the terror attacks back in June. Fischer himself did it then. He can do it again.

Perhaps the problem, after all, is not a failure of imagination in Europe. Perhaps it is too much imagination. There was plenty of imaginative thinking on display across Europe this summer.

BACK IN JUNE, Sweden, taking its turn in the rotating presidency of the European Union, hosted a U.S.-E.U. summit, and the Swedish prime minister told reporters that the E.U. is "one of the few institutions we can develop as a balance to U.S. world domination." When world domination was threatened by Nazi Germany and then by Soviet communism, Sweden was proudly—or at least profitably—on the sidelines, a firm neutral. For the struggle against "U.S. world domination," Sweden is now eager to lead the E.U. counterforce.

This imaginative perspective is actually widely shared in Europe. A week later, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe—a broader grouping than the 15-state European Union—put in its oar. It adopted a resolution "requiring Japan and the United States of America to put a moratorium on executions in place without delay and to take steps to abolish the death penalty."