OPINION

US, EU shy away from hard stuff

«Is there any chance of getting back the America we once knew and loved?» Following the outcome of America’s midterm elections, one can afford to be a little bit more upbeat about the answer. The sense of optimism is not so much because the Democrats won the election but because the Neocons, the arrogant and bigoted face of America, lost it. The USA had started to look increasingly like the flipside of the Taliban regime, throwing out deeply messianic sound bites on complex strategic issues, such as the future of the Middle East, while conveying a dangerous conviction that it is the only light in a world of darkness. Non-American observers swiftly moved from the mode of «We are all Americans now,» displayed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to anti-American posturing. Pro-American pundits and analysts, such as Thanos Veremis, started to sound more like Noam Chomsky and lovers of American culture could be heard vowing that they «intend not to set foot on US soil again until Bush is out.» In the old days, people may have objected to Washington’s interference in Vietnam, Chile or Greece but they would still acknowledge that the US foreign policy establishment had achieved the impossible after the Second World War, such as restructuring Japan and bringing stability to a Europe torn by the war. That establishment consisted of people like the former president George Bush, the father of the current president, and former secretary of state Henry Kissinger. Those were people with a good knowledge of Europe, people who loved the European way of life and people who knew, with few exceptions, how and when use American power. To be sure, these people committed crimes and errors but, at the end of the day, managed to win the Cold War without firing a single bullet and at the same time projected a positive image of the American nation. These people believed in realpolitik and knew how to run a superpower. And then came George W. Bush and with him came a new establishment made up of the Evangelical Right, the pro-Israel lobby and a new business circle that had no vision of America’s role in the world. This is where things got confused with the psychoanalysis of a president who escaped alcoholism only to lapse into a very American style of born-again Christianity. Bush Junior wanted to commit the perfect patricide on the world stage. But in doing so he also struck at the heart of the superpower. So what now? Sure, history is cyclical: Carter, Reagan, Clinton. But the more profound trends are there: the role of the lobbies, the Christian Right, the absence of any strategic goal after the Cold War. Will America face up to these issues or run away, allowing them to turn the nation into a fortress? Europeans too have shied away from existential debate. We prefer to have a good time, as the continent is turning into a global Disneyland. We delude ourselves that all is well while the continent is slipping into decrepit old age, lacking any vision and arrogantly critical.