Monday, February 21, 2005

When America's Friends Are Infected and Corrupted By the General Anti-American Ambiance

It was as if a visitor to the office of the president of the European Commission was watching caution's cloak descend in slo-mo over José Manuel Barroso's shoulders, and eurospeak, like a Denver boot, clamp tightly onto his tongue
writes John Vinocur in the IHT as he shows the perfidy of Europe's self-serving views, and how in Europe, principles — and a spine — are chewed away and corrupted when joining the government and the élite.

This is something I have had the opportunity to see happen time and again (not least with this politician), where American friends are asked if they can't be reasonable and identify just one mistake or fault with the "current" administration in Washington (it's not about America itself, you understand), while refraining from treating their own country — or any other — in a similar way. Thus, a model of double standards that starts to grow — consciously or not, deliberately or not — into a pattern…

It is also how expats are expected to act in Europe — refrain from criticizing the host country (too much), while agreeing with the Europeans when they make thier critical (and supposedly harmless) criticisms of Uncle Sam. Speaking for myself, silence in the face of ugly European (or Arab or third-world) attitudes is something I decided to forego once and for all three and a half years ago — to be precise, on September 11, 2001.

…A couple of years ago, as Portugal's center-right prime minister, Barroso had played eager host on the eve of the Iraq war to the Azores summit, a photo op with Bush and a few of Europe's then willing and bellicose. Barely a year later, still at the head of what he liked to call the essential Euro-Atlantic country, and talking about other Europeans' difficulties with Iraq, Barroso told the same visitor, "If it was Clinton or the liberals in power, we wouldn't have had the same criticism."

Now, although Barroso insists that none of his convictions have changed, he is Europe's most officially consensual voice, with a new distance to the Americans showing in his diction. For Bush, who may look for yardsticks to measure just how much the estrangement of his first term has hardened into the European status quo (while he respects Europe to death in speech after speech this week), Barroso's manner signals the arm's length of reality.

Respect, yes, that's what America must show Europe, Barroso says. You know, respect, he insists, like in that song by Otis Redding. …

Respect — and sophistication too. There ought to be more sophistication in America's judgments of the EU, Barroso went on. He said he understood how the current U.S. National Intelligence Council report reasons that the next 15 years will be those of the emergence of China and India, while it grades Europe's big ambitions as an uncertain bet. Yet the assessment somehow offended the Brussels world.

"A little more sophistication is needed," Barroso argued. "We are in many ways a superpower. We are a moral power."

At this, although his eyes do not roll back into his head, the visitor's thoughts jerk toward Europe's plan to abandon its embargo on arms sales to China. Expressed in the gentler language of the hour, the United States and Japan, asserting their joint concern over the weekend about Taiwan's safety, seem to think this step by the moral power is inopportune. Dangerous even.

With a kind of social worker/guidance counselor I'm-here-to-help-you look, Barroso explains: "China at this moment feels discriminated against. Our interest is stability. The EU believes it can do better by positive engagement."

But what's that? In the context of supplying China with arms, positive engagement sounds a lot like European incoherence.

France, through its defense minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, said Europe should sell China arms first so it didn't develop the technology and make them later themselves. But Gerhard Schröder of Germany, in an interview with Handelsblatt, was insisting that the EU offered only "a symbolic act" in China's direction, "since we absolutely don't have the intention of delivering weapons."

Oh? Barroso himself got caught up, venturing that the EU would establish a "binding" code of conduct for its China arms sales. This contradicted reports in the German press that France has privately rejected obligatory compliance.

In a sense, questions about relations with America and how the EU behaves as the moral superpower are a subordinate part of Barroso's concerns. Real life is trying to revive EU economy …

In truth, on America, being consensual at EU headquarters generally means no specific commitments beyond readings from the golden book of European-American values. In less than 100 days on the job, Barroso, the former Euro-Atlanticist, has easily adopted the less-than-Atlanticist honk that matches the Brussels mood.

Barroso, the new pol in Brussels, is being the good European survivalist by accurately reflecting his constituency's reservations, its now congealed coolness about America. Whatever Bush's efforts, his old friend's manner suggests this will be very hard to change. …

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