This is the first rather US-centric post on this blog. I decided to publish it as it came out, very naturally one evening, on the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. I was going to write something on the European response, but actually, that would have been weak. This is much more personal and rich I think.
I’m incidentally peddling the piece to the Liberal-leftist Anglo-American blogosphere for it to reach a wider audience. Please contact me if you know someone who might want to publish it.
I began to come to political consciousness in many ways on 11 September 2001. It was, wrongly given all the other ills about, the moment I realized not all was well in the world and one could not live “carelessly” on a planet characterized by infinite, gentle progress. I was 14.
I have never thought the War on Terror was anything but a parochial, Western phenomenon, unimportant except for those who must die in its name. Bush-era officials, asinine conservative hacks, former CIA officials, and neocons in their armchairs of course compared it, and still do, to the Second World War or the Cold War.
I always thought it was scandalously offensive and conceited to compare our troubles with those who died defeating Nazism or lived through the threat of nuclear holocaust. One has to ask the question: Who in their right mind can put Osama Bin Laden – who has only 9/11 and a few sporadic attacks to his name – on the same historical level as Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin?
As an American citizen, I can only react with joy to the physical exorcising of this specter. I hope Obama takes advantage of the opportunity to declare victory and go home. I hope against hope that America will cease to wage its imaginary wars.
For over forty years the United States fought Communists all around the world under the pretext that every sorry little impoverished peasant country was in fact the next step of Moscow’s plan for world domination. And this, even as the Communists – nothing more than brutish soldier-bureaucrats exercising the lowest form of power – time and again fell into infighting and division in a way which did not exist within the Western Alliance.
The Americans knew Marshal Tito, Enver Hoxha and Mao Zedong all fell out with Moscow over their natural desire for national independence. They also knew Ho Chi Minh and Mao fought a war immediately after the Americans withdrew from Vietnam.
If they had any brains – and I think of the Reagan-era Cold War hacks in particular – they would have known only one thing could keep the façade of Communist “brotherly unity” together: violence. The violence of the Red Army in Eastern Europe and the violence of the US armed forces and secret agencies everywhere else. In the absence of this, nothing could keep the totalitarians together. Indeed today, the Communist leftovers (Cuba, China, Vietnam, North Korea) are not known for their cohesiveness.
America’s leaders perpetuate these wars out of vanity and selfish (as opposed to “enlightened”) self-interest. Self-interest when anti-Communism – whipped up to into the hysteria often characteristic of US politics – is cynically used as an excuse to destroy disagreeable regimes (particularly ones interested in nationalizing natural resources, as in Iran 1953 or Congo 1960). Vanity when it lets the leader imagine he is playing a historic role in a world-epic struggle for freedom.
The Cold War ended with Mikhail Gorbachev’s unwillingness to use violence to maintain the Soviet Empire, which went the way every empire must go. The uneasy “peace” of the 1990s might have lasted another decade. It was broken however when Osama bin Laden provided a new specter, a new threat, a new narrative for trigger-happy and comic-book gorged American leaders to indulge in.
In truth, I think cynicism played the larger part until the arrival of George W. Bush. I believe he on the other hand, with his monumental ignorance and parochialism, sincerely thought by waging war he really was living up to Churchill and Reagan. (As ridiculous and conceited as that might sound!)
Now Bin Laden is dead. Will America believe it is safe? Or, perhaps ten or twenty years from now, once the wounds and lessons of Iraq are forgotten as were those of Vietnam, will America find a new foe for its eternal crusade? China seems a most likely candidate: It is in the midst an unprecedented transformation and the West was capable of being hysterically afraid of the “Yellow Peril” in the nineteenth century even as the Middle Kingdom was being destroyed.
I worked in the US Congress in the winter of 2009-10 – the time when health reform was being passed and the Afghan War was escalated. I found the experience depressing on the whole for reasons that largely went beyond politics. I eventually moved to Brussels where I currently work as a journalist on EU affairs.
Part of my interest in Europe has been motivated by the rejection of this side of America. Europe, we are told, stands for peace while the Americans – crass, ignorant but powerful Americans – stand for war. A part of me wishes and hopes the Europeans would help America free itself from its fears. I know however this hope is futile.
Europeans are not from Venus. They do not believe in peace. I will not go into the details of the base reasons (chiefly currying American favor) why the majority of Europeans have token forces in Afghanistan.
The Europeans, incidentally, have long since ceased believing in this war. They are being slovenly and perfidious. If the Europeans were truly America’s friends, they would either buckle down to win the war or they would frankly say the thing is pointless and withdraw their forces. As it stands, all but the British have a symbolic presence, with no other purpose than to pretend to the Americans and the world that the effort is worthwhile.
It has now been almost a full decade that German soldiers – previously scarcely allowed to carry weapons outside the borders of the Federal Republic – are now running around the Hindu Kush in perfect “self-defense”. Have they not also lost their way?
I will not list the overwhelming majority of European leaders who collaborated in the unprovoked aggression against Iraq in 2003. Do I need to recall that the current President of the European Commission, before acquiring a “good European’s” taste for peace and “non-imperial empires”, organized the summit in the Azores at which Bush and Blair finalized the plan of attack? Said politician was also a Maoist militant in his youth. I will let you speculate as to what values or principles could possibly hold that career together.
In truth, Europe’s leaders don’t believe in being European. They clearly care nothing for the Union as a project, as evidenced by the choice of unknowns and outright mediocrities to be its most important officers. Many – Blair, Sarkozy, Berlusconi, most in Eastern Europe – actually prefer America to anything else. The country is wealth, power, glory and indeed the closest thing one has to perfection.
They cannot see or don’t care for the country’s faults – the endless wars, the prison-industrial complex more vast than the Soviet gulag, the criminally inefficient and unjust healthcare system, the epidemic of obesity, endless over-consumption, the incredibly wasteful and even “unpatriotic” transport system… America can often seem a nation of bingers.
Most European leaders cannot see these faults. They only see America’s greatness and are obsessed with sharing in its glory. As such, Europeans rarely have the courage – only the French seem to summon it from time to time – to be frank and tell America, as only a true friend can, when they have gone down the wrong path.
All this leads me to believe that Americans must save America alone. Two decades from now, when America’s leaders launch their next crusade, what will be the “peace-loving” Europeans’ response? If the past is anything to go by, the Europeans will cheer on as America descends into another mad adventure until its boys are waist-deep in the mud and blood of a country you’ve never heard of.
America has no friends or allies in Europe, only vassals and sycophants. It is up to good Americans to raise their own consciousness. To convince their countrymen the world is not such a frightening place. That just because a war is on somewhere and foreigners are dying does not mean anyone is “safer”.
Only Americans can wake themselves from their self-inflicted nightmare. And I really hope they do. They called the second half of the twentieth century the “Cold War”. The first decade of the twenty-first was the “War on Terror”. I hope Americans can find the serenity, the courage and the wisdom to finally join the postwar world.