Tuesday, March 01, 2005

"It's because of its support for the struggle for freedom, rather than in spite of it, that the Bush administration is loathed" in Old Europe

You've heard how it isn't the U.S. military, or George W Bush, who brought down the bloody dictatorship of Saddam Hussein while ensuring elections in Iraq but (in the immortal words of a French government spokesman) the international community, haven't you?

Well, now it turns out that it wasn't Uncle Sam, or Ronald Reagan, who brought down the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, ensuring freedom to the masses of Eastern Europe, but the Helsinki Agreements!

John Vinocur has more in the International Herald Tribune about the ever-so-decent-and-trustworthy European realists who are always carping about Bush's alleged lies, the administration's liberties with the truth, and America's wishful thinking. (In his column, Vinocur notes, among other things, that "the Helsinki precedent was impotent to stop the Jaruzelski military regime's crushing of Solidarity in 1981" and that Gerhard Schröder displays "serious discomfort" with the F-word [freedom] except when it concerns emancipation "from the United States".)

On the final day of his visit last week to near-friends and kind-of continental allies, George W. Bush shook hands with a European who told him in no uncertain terms that he appreciated the role of the United States "doing a lot of things in the world."

Mikulas Dzurinda, the prime minister of Slovakia — a rather new, very small country with realities that include a border with Ukraine, a contingent in Iraq, and insecurities about its own eternal independence — said Slovakia "supports the policy of the United States based on advancing freedom and democracy."

Bush may have thought, finally a guy who wants to get the message. Three days earlier in Brussels, … Bush used the word "freedom" 22 times. There was no bludgeon in its delivery, but the president was telling Europe the United States owed it consideration and respect — although in the parameters of an American foreign policy he defined as advancing freedom in the world.

Perhaps because he did not catch the Schröders or the Chiracs rising to replicate his vocabulary, Bush upped the ante in a shorter talk here. My Freedometer clocked the president at 17 mentions of freedom or liberty, one in each paragraph of his text. A grateful-sounding Bush said of Dzurinda, "the prime minister understands that those of us who are free have a responsibility to help free others in order to make ourselves more secure." …

A French reporter, who may have thought she was teeing up a sarcastic hole-in-one for Jacques Chirac, asked him to comment on Bush's "march towards freedom." Chirac chose the grand manner instead, saying he didn't see how anyone could not be receptive to a plea for freedom. After all, he recalled, liberté, égalité, fraternité.

But Gerhard Schröder? The F-word, as best as I could hear and read in Brussels and Mainz, did not come out of his mouth, although he has talked in recent years of Europe's emancipation from the United States. If Friedrich Schiller wrote magnificently of freedom in the Germany of the late 18th century, freiheit now has a leaden sound for the government there.

…In Brussels, in Bush's presence, the Belgian prime minister, after a nod in liberty's direction, offered the world a reading of history that went straight to the throat of both America's role in the collapse of the Soviet Union and Bush's views of spreading freedom.

The Soviet Union imploded, [Guy] Verhofstadt said, to a large extent through the pressure of the Helsinki Agreements. No mention of NATO. Exit the United States' staring down the Soviets as the essential element in Europe's remaking.

Decoded, the argument raised to both the level of sacrament and Europe's doctrine for the future the old West German approach to dealing with oppression and potential aggression, awkwardly translated as "change through rapprochement." It advanced, as if fact, the idea that it was not the Americans but the Helsinki Accords of 1975 (a kind of rule book for détente, legitimizing Russia's western borders, but hardly ever getting a Western newspaper past the Berlin Wall under its reputed liberalizing provisions) that really freed the Slovaks, Poles, Romanians and so on.

This surely is not the vision today of Eastern Europe, like the Poles, who raged when both Germanys, east and west, winking at Russia, scorned the Solidarnosc freedom movement. But it is becoming the not-so-subterranean justification in Germany for its caution about the Orange Revolution in Ukraine last year, and its frequent contempt for Bush's arguments on attaining freedom in the Middle East. [In related news, Poland's president met with his French counterpart on Monday.]

The fact is, Schröder, who fought against a United States daring to counter Soviet missiles in the early '80s (with the same vision he later summoned to argue against German reunification or creating the euro), may well have caught onto something in the German psyche and historical experience that prefers stability to freedom — and that he thinks can be made all of Europe's.

An article late last year in the Berliner Zeitung, no pal of the Bush administration, pointed to it, saying Michael Moore's ranting about Bush aroused far more excitement in Germany than the Ukrainians' struggle. "Why so cool?" it asked. "Does it have to do with the Germans themselves? West Germany was much more about stability than freedom." …

Looking at Germany and Bush last week, the German daily Die Welt went as far as writing, "You almost get the impression that it's because of its support for the struggle for freedom, rather than in spite of it, that the Bush administration is loathed." And it offered a bet that hatred for America would subside sooner in the Middle East than in Europe.

"Democracy and freedom are on the march"

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