Being a superpower makes America’s relationship to old foes, traditional friends, and new pals into a matter of significance. This condition explains the attempted inquiry into some aspects of the matter.
Throughout its existence, the Soviet dominated system of Eurasia has made a major effort to create and fuel anti-American sentiments in the region it controlled. This try proved to be a dud. A reason might have been the White House and the Kremlin were seen as opposites. And since the latter brought poverty and suppression, the former, a remote apparition, attained perfection as a hope for a better life.
Especially in central and eastern Europe, the belt that extends from the Baltic through Poland to the Black Sea, America enjoyed, and continues to enjoy, popularity. Not without reason. The liberation of small countries from the yoke of a superpower used to be imaginable only with the help of another superpower. America met the criterion and appeared to be benevolent. Certainly, the national histories of the “captive nations” contained no evidence of harm done to them. Regarding Russia and its Soviet succession state this cannot be pretended.
A teflon-effect vis-à-vis communist propaganda also had personal roots. The region’s peoples had an emigrant community in in America. So, it was cousin so-and-so’s word against the Party’s. Here a special mention is due to a successful US foreign venture to exert influence and gain friends. Through “Radio Free Europe”, America’s around the clock broadcasts determined what people knew, thought, and wanted. There were consequential implications. In my personal case, as an inductee of the “People’s Army” (a Soviet auxiliary) I was determined not to fight US troops even if that puts my life in danger. Regarding other western services, I planned to surrender only at the first safe opportunity to change sides.
One might even argue that RFE’s popularity had a weakness. The region developed an immaculate image that no reality could not quite match. Even after the collapse of Soviet domination, the zone on Russia’s western border remains, on the government and the popular level, friendly towards the US. The more so as it is assumed that the region needs a military protector. Western Europe would not even take the field on its own behalf. Therefore, the only reliable friend, and whose price is not too high, is in Washington -provided that the White House has the right occupant.
Another image emerges once Western Europe is placed under the microscope. At first sight, it seems to be logical to assume that cooperation based upon compatibility would govern the nexus. This goes beyond the existence of formal alliances and the collaboration since 1917. It had been a European idea that made the USA possible. This Enlightenment has inspired the development of American institutions. Matching ideal foundations explain not only similarities but also a shared purpose. Meanwhile, the US was more successful in implementing the ideals of the Enlightenment than the Continent. Some see a source of jealousy emanating from this.
On the whole, Europe’s west and America have a mutually gainful record. During the early Republic, the separation by the Atlantic served both parties well. Once independent, the new republic resisted the temptation to confront monarchical Europe that was busy misgoverning itself. Healthy and realistic isolationism allowed for security, and that made transcontinental political consolidation possible. That the Civil War, -a breakdown of the reason- and fairness-based system- could be fought without foreign intervention, supports the thesis. Thereafter, the US’ rise to global power guaranteed her quick development and the separation needed to complete that process. Europe’s gain had been that America’s space and her progressive system could suck in a qualified and assimilable mass immigration. This throng with middle-class aspirations attained that status by settling. Without this safety valve, this element would have remained alienated and poor and as such, the mass of a European revolution that did not need to take place.
Although America reduced the pressure on Europe’s systems, her ruling classes disliked the US. Interestingly, those who wished to be rated as intellectuals, and even the rising left, shared the “ruling reactionaries” disdain. There were good reasons for this historic anti-Americanism. The American model challenged the establishment’s order. At the same time, America was built without the governing input of the kind of intellectuals that were Europe’s ruling-class-in-reserve. Only the “common man”, the true outsider of the prevailing order, liked America. His preferences made him to migrate to where his expectations would enable him to achieve his desired rise.
“The Great War”, an outcome of the Old World’s political ineptitude, forced the reluctant abandonment of American neutrality which decided the conflict in favor of the Entente. President Wilson, inebriated by his own words, attempted to play the same decisive role in shaping the peace as he did in the war. Outfoxed by craftier leaders, he settled for a bad peace instead of making the world safe for democracy.
The resulting disappointed retreat to a Fortress America and lacking interest, could not alter the fact that, a new conflict was programmed to rise from the ashes of an inadequate peace. Events proved that her wartime role had pushed the USA to become a participant of global politics. Reluctance could not prevent a Great Power from involvement in a global conflict. Having to rescue liberty in Europe determined that, contrary to her traditions and will, America would be involved and wind up as part of the European system labeled “The Atlantic Alliance”.
For our purposes it is notable here, that unlike history’s Great Powers, America did not seek an imperial role. Actually, a major critique to be leveled against the country is that she can be aloof and disinterested. Regardless of slogans, the American threat, at least beyond her own continent, is not imperialist interventionism, but the temptation of bored unilateralism and careless neutrality.
Indubitably, the second World War, a continuation of the first one, would have been lost had America not intervened. Britain might have wished for that as had a faction of the US’ establishment. Even so, the decision to do what was required fell not in Washington but in Tokyo and in Berlin that, underestimating its foe in a manner that is typical, followed up Pearl Harbor by declaring war.
The war’s outcome and the connected nuclear age resulted in a new era of world history by leaving behind two superpowers. One, the USSR, was expansionist, while America can be called “satiated” and even tempted by isolationism. A sign of that is the acted-upon slogan to “bring the boys back home”. Indeed, to opt for isolation behind a nuclear wall had not been an absurd scenario. The decision to remain an active member of the global system is not only a result of American statesmanship. Responses, such as NATO, Marshall Plan, Truman Doctrine, reacted to threatening decisions taken by her detractors.
Who in Europe cheered America when it faced aggression in Korea, Viet Nam, or stood her ground in Berlin? The anti-Reagan-graffiti “better Donald (the duck, not Trump!) than Ronald” competed with “Ami go home”. Indelible memories are left by throngs demanding unilateral nuclear disarmament and that opposed the positioning of missiles to counter the silently accepted deployment of Soviet rockets.
Prior to Reagan’s cold war victory, western Europe resented America’s efforts to defend it because that entailed a price to be paid by Europe, too. The protests suggested that there was an easier way to do the job than the one preferred by the uncouth Yankees who did not understand the Soviets’ defensive overreactions. Following the Soviet Union’s dissolution, Europe’s “enlightened” could afford to reject openly the system they used to need to survive.
Europe’s “common man” rather values the USA. Intellectuals, and those that would like to be one, suspect and resent her. Rejection is due to an order which reflects the tastes and aspirations of -to use a phrase of the International- “the wretched of the earth”. These people are a power elite that controls the press, the pulpit, film, celebs, and the universities. The mass they move is, besides the professional outsiders, the dissidents of a bored middle-class. Due to its success as a “state class”, it enjoys the luxury of not needing to worry about its daily bread -and so it lacks a purpose. Convinced that no harm can come to them, its members seek a role by making a “revolution” as long as its victims -moral dwarfs- are not allowed to hit back. In the process they like to destroy what they had not built and what they cannot match. You might conclude that this is reminiscent of the case within the US. By the way, the “best” of anti-Americanism abroad comes from US sources.
If you peruse the reports pertaining to the USA in Western Europe, you get the feeling that the worse possible outcome is wished upon her. It is a nation run by a lunatic in favor of racist murderers and conscienceless exploiters. May the coronavirus romp, let its economic consequences be devastating. Good news comes from China. It is about to overtake and then limit America “in decline”, and the PLO, Jihadists and Russia also defy her with success. Anything anti-American is good. That is why, as this is written (June 5) a TV station here will broadcast a documentary about a “hero” who happens to be Kaepernick.
The more secure Europe’s West feels, the greater the contempt of its political class for the States. With this, the region is the victim of two miscalculations. The anti-US dogma does, to put it mildly, exaggerate its case. Then, while Europe is unprepared physically and mentally to defend itself, challenges grow to her security and way of life by the rise of China, Russia, the Jihadists and uncontrolled migration.
Where are the origins of the hostility? A factor is that in the past the US gave much and expected little in return. Assured of American support, politicians could gather “merit points” by indicating that their position is more “differentiated” toward communist states than Washington’s. (That equivocation had an element of reality as communism means government by scribes.) Oddly, even if American habits, foods and fashion have become universal, those that exhibit these outwardly, know little about the States and their understanding for her modus operandi is limited. Visceral antipathy and derision have roots in misunderstanding and lacking knowledge.
Although history has hardly produced a hegemon as restrained as America, the tolerance makes few friends in the political class. A projection feeds the suspicion of the intention to dominate and to exploit. It betrays how, in conformity with the past, Europe’s mid-powers would handle unlimited power if they still had it.
Are bad friends an inevitable burden of America’s international role? For one thing, some benign neglect, a dearth of unilateralism spiced with distancing, would impress the European chicken-coop once the lured fox approaches. Second, perhaps the term “Europe” needs some rethinking. The continent is more than its western fringe. Once it is deducted, the remaining balance is of considerable weight. Additionally, it is sufficiently predisposed to be friendly and self-reliant to be extended Washington’s special attention. The sphere between Vienna and Moscow, the “new Europe”, might be less glamorous and familiar from the US’ Atlantic perspective than is “old Europe”. However, being a welcoming and cooperative conglomerate of countries, the zone is a good strategic investment that promises smoother relations than does the alliance with its current hub.
Some aspects of America’s foreign relations need re-thinking. Not a break is suggested here with Europe’s West. However, relations will improve if some distance is put between partners that regard their nexus as sacrosanct, taken for granted, and thus worth of only a limited effort. A signaled shift by America will moderate its detractors. Once a bit on its own, old Europe will become more alert. It will discover that weakness is a luxury and grow correspondingly appreciative, while the new Europe’s commendable recovery and consolidation will accelerate.