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April 12, 2005

Something for Everyone
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Wherein we join Derek in piling on the Europeans; blast trade orthodoxy of all kinds; show some love to our readers; and inaugurate the democracyarsenal politix reading list.

Re Derek's report from the junkets of Europe:  shortly before the election last fall, a European diplomat, from a country that sent troops to Iraq, told me that his European colleagues were rooting for Kerry without considering how quickly we would come knocking if Kerry won.

I used to lie awake at night worrying -- and I assume folks with no nursing baby but lots of foreign policy responsibility did too -- about what Kerry's first six months would have looked like.  He would have had to return troops to Iraq, as Bush did.  He would have had to deal with the pre-vote uptick in insurgent attacks.  He would have found some allies willing to make nice noises about more troops, but likely not in time to do much good.

So here's where I think there's no point in agonizing too much about Europeans' Bush obsession:  for that subset of Europeans who define themselves as "not America," Bush is such a godsend that, if he didn't exist, they'd have to invent him.  And they do, as anyone who has ever spent much time being subjected to European cliches about America knows.  Freedom fries, schmeedom fries -- the Europeans give as good as they get when it comes to transatlantic stereotyping.   

As a final bonbon for the Europe-watchers among us, I have been enjoying the delicious ridiculousness of the situation in which the other Perm Four favor a German seat on the Security Council and the sober, rational Americans are left looking at the EU, which says it coordinates foreign policy among the UK, France, Germany and the rest of them, and saying, "hey, this doesn't make any sense."

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Suzanne's Top 10 mentioned trade policy the other day.  I think the actual mythology problem is broader than she suggests:  both pro-trade idealogues and protectionism purists are working from models that are outdated, don't reflect economic reality and don't represent actual swathes of voting Americans.  Foreign policy progressives ought to get their minds opened on this one for two reasons.  Overseas, trade has the potential to help or undnermine so much of what we are trying to do.  Imagine, for example, if the end of clothing and fabric duties kills off what's left of Pakistan's fabric and garment industry, sending that many more young men to extremist madrasas for hope. 

At home, anybody trying to put a progressive coalition together to govern, much less win elections, is going to have to grapple with the threatened textile, auto and agricultural industries on the one hand, and the copyright-protecting pharmaceutical and entertainment industries on the other.  Not to mention their workers and voters in key swing states such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania.

That same pre-election PIPA poll that I cited earlier this week found that 93 percent of Bush voters favored labor and environmental standards in trade agreements.  So deviation from free trade orthodoxy is not a fringe point of view and not limited to union members.  (It's still the case, by the way, that about one in four voters, not likely voters but people who really pull the levers, comes from a union household.)

None other than Bill Clinton said at Davos in 2000:  "Those who heard a wake-up call on the streets of Seattle were right."

In some parts of the developing world, farmers and their families are literally dying for lack of open trade to sell their goods at decent prices; elsewhere, though, free trade is hurting coffee farmers, garment workers and even Chinese factory workers.  Trade policy is no panacea -- economists will tell you that there are always sectoral winners and losers -- and while progressives shouldn't fear trade, we needn't fetishize it either.

Both parties are really stuck right now, to my mind, between ideological free-traders and old-style protectionists.  Meanwhile, we don't have free trade, never have, and never will, given what it would do to Florida sugar and orange growers, just to name two commodities of many.And the 1990s "Washington consensus" of expert advice for emerging economies, including extreme free-trade prescriptions, has quietly been walked back by the World Bank and IMF, and more loudly abandoned by countries in Latin America and elsewhere.

Somebody is going to figure out a smart new middle ground on this issue.  It will include real supports for workers who lose their jobs, not tiny hikes in assistance to community colleges.  It will reverse US intellectual property policies that block life-saving medicines from the people who need them, and may eventually even restrict how we get healthcare here at home.  It will include some global re-thinking about where freer trade is working in favor of stability and freedom and where it is not.

It should be progressives who figure this out.  But the more we cling to old orthodoxy and tell ourselves not even to talk about trade, the more likely it is that smart conservatives will beat us to the punch.   

They could do worse than go back and look at Clinton as a place to start.  And one thing Clinton was too smart ever to do was stick outdated labels on his progressive allies.   

I'm looking forward to hearing what Derek, whose former employer represented a whole lot of un-and under-employed former millworkers, has to say on this one.  I for one thought Edwards did a nice job of connecting with real folks' concerns on this without grossly pandering.

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I'm guessing I speak for all five weapons in democracyarsenal when I say that the response has been just amazing... and gratifying.  I want to make a habit of responding to at least some of the comments and emails we get.

So, Ezra asked me for five books that every aspiring political writer should read.  I'll offer one, to get us started, and then invite fellow bloggers and readers to jump in with suggestions for the democracyarsenal reading list.

What I Saw at the Revolution:  A Political Life in the Reagan Era by Peggy Noonan.

Her politics are not mine.  But this book is beautifully-written, vivid and real -- about how young people get their politics, and their jobs; how movements, specifically Ronald Reagan's, form; and how lofty and petty the world of White House politics can simultaneously be.  I don't believe it's been equalled.

Other submissions?

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Comments

Heather, I think that you are gravely misjudging the current European opposition to America (especially Bush), if you reduce them to "not America" stereotypes who are inherently in opposition and just needed someone to focus their negative energies on. This is not how it is. Europeans aren't anti-American by general disposition. The latest significant upsurge in anti-Americanism has an entirely different background and was "hard-earned".

To out myself, I'm a German who was extremely Americophile in the past. I've been visiting the US regularly and I have lots of American friends. And I believe that I am representative for a big part of the German population who recognizes and is grateful for everything America did for us in the past and thus starts from a positive perspective. Now, what changed all this for me can be quickly summed up with these bullet points:

1) For someone who is not "directly" emotionally involved, it was blatantly obvious that the Iraq war was purposely engineered by interested people and public support was built with a massive media campaign. The fact that rational voices could be so completely suppressed by a pseudo-patriotic media blitz shook my confidence in the American democracy. I believe that under the right circumstances, it can happen again.

2) When the neocons/hawks were bathing in the afterglow of their political victory, many masks dropped. As an European, you had to realize that the world leader you have been looking up to in the past actually had drastic character defects. At least the crew currently running the ship.

3) The blatant human rights and international law abuses in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay are inexplicable for a European. Not that they CAN happen under the right (more correctly, wrong) circumstances, but the way how nonchalantly the administration could ignore them and sweep them under the rug. Europeans learned that America doesn't give a damn about human rights and international law if it's not perceived to be in their own national interest (!)

4) The clincher in the end was that when there was a chance to hold the administration accountable for all this, the elections, Bush came out victorious. Therefore, the "easy out" for Europeans, to convince themselves that it was only a bunch of rotten apples at the top doing all this, was taken away by Bush's victory in the elections. Now we have to realize that the (slight) majority of Americans is supportive of Bush's actions. And so, the responsibility was transitionally passed on to the American people aswell.

So what altered the perception of America in Europe was not the fact that they were anti-American to begin with and now had something to focus their negative energies on, it was the realization that the world leader's "moral compass" (which some Americans love to quote) was significantly out of synch with European values (who human rights and international law in much higher regard). The admired bigger brother turns out to have some major character defects, and even worse: He insists that because he's the biggest guy around, he doesn't care at all about your discomfort. And finally you realize that he's not just having a bad day, this is what he REALLY thinks.

Anti-Americanism in Europe is the result of all these points adding up. I find it surprising that so few Americans seem to understand this, because this phenomenon isn't limited to Europe, this is why America's standing all over the world has been suffering. On my behalf, I can say that serious friendly admiration has turned into worried and mildly disgusted opposition. Sorry.

Rudolf raises good points. It seems that our allies (and others) have reason to believe that Sept. 11 created a reactionary nationalism that is easily manipulated by amoral politicians.

Even by many liberal Americans now view understandable international concern as anti-American.

As an American, I think Rudolf speaks for a sizable minority in this country as well.

One of the few times I agreed with Bush in the 2000 campaign was when he said that we needed a more humble foreign policy. Even during Clinton's time our arrogance was contrary to our interests. (e.g. our "Washington Consensus" on economic policy drove SE Asia -- and maybe Latin America as well -- into China's arms; Madeleine Albright's cost/benefit analysis of half a million dead Iraqi kids was off-putting, as was her talk about America "seeing farther" than other countries).

Today our policy makers list international law with terrorism "as a strategy of the weak," and this is unlikely to change if/when a Democrat ever returns to the Oval Office. So when Derek asks what being a European will mean in 2008 if a Dem is president, an Old Worlder can honestly answer "not American." This is only fair, since the colonies united mainly out of a fear of Europe.

It's hard to say that either of them didn't have a point.

With all due respect, Rudolf, I have to disagree with your overall tone. While there are certainly Germans who are not viscerally anti-American, the evidence is pretty overwhelming that a significant chunk are just that. It doesn't take much reading of the daily press to discover it, either.

For example, not so long ago 1/3 of Germans polled said that the CIA was behind 9/11. Just last week, Antje Vollmer* said on television that the US involved Poland in Iraq to weaken the Pope and that the campaign against pedophile priests in the US was reaction against the Pope's opposition to the war. The take on Americans generally, and Bush specifically, often borders on ridiculous parody rather than principled dissent. At the very least (beyond being offensive to Americans), this approach dilutes serious objections made on substantial grounds.

*Antje Vollmer, you'll recall, is the Vice President of the Bundestag and a leading member of the Green Party.

Heather et al:

I think you mistake European interest in fixing the Middle East with the distaste for the current administration's policies. Yes, if Kerry was elected, he would have to finish the job that Bush started. However, if Kerry went to the European governments and said, "here's the enddate - within 18 months, we're out of there and here's what I need from you to achieve our mutual goals." I think that message would have been very well received and supported. Reaching out instead of lecturing is the key.

For your reading list: I recommend Thomas Hammes' "The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century," to appreciate how the military needs to change to be an effective tool for national security.

Rofe: You're entitled to your opinion of course, but I opt to disagree. If you really want to go by poll numbers, you can see that a clear majority supported military action in Afghanistan (as response to 9/11), and America was held in high esteem back then. If Germany was so innately anti-American, these results should have been different back then. No, what caused the ratings to plummet was the Iraq war, and the deliberate engineering to get this war of choice. And that was exactly the turning point.

To respond to the examples you gave: The famous 9/11-CIA poll is much less impressive if you have a closer look at it. First, it was a very small sample size inviting errors. Then, the question was worded whether or not people could _imagine_ that the CIA _might_ be involved in it - not whether or not people actually believed it.

Since you quote Antje Volmer (who I consider a nutcase anyway), you should also mention the reaction she got for this stuff: She got flak from everywhere, since this was a fairly ridiculous and unworthy conspiracy theory. It was universally rejected.

The media is very critical of American policies in general, true. Take into account that Germans are raised with our sordid past very clearly before our eyes. Therefore, we are extremely sensitive to all forms of nationalist-patriotist propaganda and especially all forms of torture or (if this is less objectionable to you) coercive rendition. I'm not sure if you can imagine how allergic we react to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo - ESPECIALLY the fact that the latter place still exists. Call us overzealous if you want, this is where it comes from.

I do agree with you that right now the media is going overboard. It's popular to bash Americans, so many jump on the bandwagon. Compare it to the treatment of France in American media, and you're close. But would you argue that Americans are anti-French in general?

As a progressive who has been very involved in issues of fair trade and development I just want to say: THANK YOU. For a long time it has seemed that being a progressive critical of how trade is practiced meant you were outside the acceptable dialogue; a "protectionist." Yet people like Jeffrey Sachs, Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz have all been critical of the "Washington Consensus" model but are certainly not "anti-trade." Also, the beginnings of a progressive third path are coming together in the work of NGOs like Oxfam and with the One Campaign which is uniting a wide array of NGOs, faith groups and others behind some key demands.

I also want to add a note of appreciation for your comments on trade. It has long amazed me how U.S liberals who have no particular affinity for laissez-faire economics in domestic policy become free market fundamentalists as soon as discussion turns to the international sphere. We need to develop a stance toward globalization that eschews both protectionism and free trade dogma.

You link to an article by John Van Oudenaren wherein he writes:

"The second [group who argues that a Security Council seat for Germany is in the U.S. interest] are neo-conservative critics who argue that the UN is ineffective and illegitimate and that anything that is done to undermine its effectiveness – including indiscriminate enlargement of the Security Council – will further diminish support for the organization."

Can you (or anyone else here) tell me which neoconservative has made this argument, and where they made it?

Thanks

One thing that bothers me about so much left-leaning commentary
such as this is the willingness to believe that Americans, conservatives, or otherwise anyone who takes a position other than your own, are being decieved and mindwashed by propaganda, but
the unwillingness to accept that such propaganda exists on your
side. As and American living in Britain, and getting news outside
of the NYT, Washington Post, tribune, etc, I see
alot of subtle editorial agendas designed to support American Stereotypes, and, worse, stoke Anti-American sentiment among
the population. All governments have an agenda, and national interests. They will all influence the 'National Debate'
to promote this agenda. American news sources tend to focus on
UN malfaescence but ignore their own, while Europeans news sources do the opposite. In order to have a proper debate, we all need to examine our own points of view in the light of this attempt to manipulate how we think.

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