On American and European Relations
There is no doubt great opposition among the citizens of Europe to the Iraqi adventure. But while the opposition to that war may not be as great in the United States, the scale of the mobilizations in New York, on the West Coast, in most state capitals, was not so different from those in Europe.
So what are we talking about then? I think the cultural differences between Western Europe and America have declined in recent years due to the hegemony of the United States as a world power. English is now an imperial language. It’s well known that European publishers look at the best-seller lists in The New York Times and decide which books they”re going to buy before they’ve even read them. It”s well known that Hollywood movies travel all over the world, that the distribution networks and the cinemas of Europe are often packed with American films, with the exception of France, which still has its own industry. I’m not one of those who believe that there’s a very big gulf between the official cultures and politics of Western Europe and those of the United States.
What has created a problem is the abrasive stance taken by the current administration in America. It’s Bush who is unpopular, and I don’t think that feeling is limited to Europe. I travel in the United States quite a lot and find that he’s unpopular in large parts of this country as well. But by and large, the Washington consensus of global economics has been accepted by most of the European social democratic parties in one form or another. Britain has gone the furthest down that route, but the French and Germans are not so far behind. So I’m skeptical of the notion of a big divide.
What is absolutely true is that Western European public opinion—the nonofficial Europe not represented in official politics—is hostile to the United States, but not in the sense that Europeans hate all Americans. They are hostile to the American empire. This is not surprising—most large empires are unpopular. The British Empire was extremely unpopular in the United States. If you look at what was being published in The New Republic—to give just one magazine—in the ’20s and ’30s, before the Second World War, it was virulently hostile to the British Empire and its machinations. A number of articles even compared Britain and the British Empire to the Third Reich, which created a feeling of revulsion among the English liberal intelligentsia. John Maynard Keynes, for one, said he would no longer write in The New Republic. Whether the magazine’s circulation went up or down as a result has not been recorded. But that’s just a fact. Large empires are resented in parts of the world where their domination is very strong and in countries that are potential rivals. The United States is now in the position not simply of being the dominant empire: It is the only empire.
This empire is unlike the European empires that existed in the past, but its hold is no less powerful—economically, politically, militarily—over large areas of the world. I couldn’t help noticing that when Bush went to the Philippines, apart from rewriting the history of the occupation of that country, he said that the model he had for Iraq was the occupation of the Philippines, in which case all one can say is God help the Iraqis, because that occupation lasted forty-six years. I don’t think this one will last as long, but I mention the Philippines because at that time, intellectuals in the United States of many stripes, but obviously liberals of one sort or another—led by Mark Twain, Henry James, William James, W. E. B. Du Bois—called for the formation of the Anti-Imperialist League, which was created in Chicago, and within two years had a quarter of a million members in thirty cities.
My own feeling is that the divide between Europe and America has been overplayed. What has brought about the sharp difference of opinion has been the war in Iraq. And even here, once the war had actually commenced, both Schroeder and Chirac wished the United States godspeed, and said, “Let’s hope you’ll win quickly.” The big attempt by official Europe is to become friends again as soon as possible. European leaders would prefer a more friendly and emollient President in power in the White House. Bush makes it harder to justify their positions to their populations.