The US is not Indispensable
The rest of the world can govern its affairs without asking for US permission
By Norman Birnbaum
[This article originally published in: die tageszeitung, May 24, 2002 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.taz.de/pt/.nf/spText.Name,neoliberalismus.idx,3. The author is an emeritus professor of sociology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.]
Many Europeans view George W. Bush and the members of his administration as characters from one of Bert Brecht's less subtle plays. Revengeful, vindictive Christians who see the US as a redeemer nation smack of oil, not incense and their holy scripture is the dollar. However Beckett was the dramatist who described them, not Brecht. They are souls wandering about in reality, separated from the social realm and historical times of other people.
European critics of US hegemony like former French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine are also victims of the absurdly flattering picture that our foreign policy elite has of itself, that journalists and politicians ought to serve them. The US is not the indispensable nation and the rest of the world can govern its affairs without asking the US for permission in advance. (The US was openly criticized at the UN world assembly in Madrid by the European Union and countries of Central America.) European followers of the US model have very different motives. Some simply can not endure being excluded from power; others, European capitalists seeking to discredit the welfare state, are more calculating.
In a grotesque way, Bush's apologists and critics overrate Bush's command of the situation. The US operation in Afghanistan is a military and political disaster since our diplomacy concentrates on avoiding a nuclear war between India and Pakistan. Our new allies who strive for universal human rights are China, Russia and Uzbekistan. That says everything.
US opposition lives
Our proteges in the Middle East, Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia do not obey as they should. The US attempt to chase Hugo Chavez in Venezuela from office resembled the triumph of inspector Clouseau. The economy is paralyzed domestically. Reproaches of corruption and fraud do not stop at the White House. Discussion about the judgment errors of the US leadership on the eve of the September 11 attacks flares up again. The Democrats are fighting once again.
The last century (particularly the Vietnam war) has brought us an imperial presidency. However imperial presidents (and the foreign policy organization that listens to their commands) are only unchallenged as they produce relatively cheap victories. The costs for the war against terror are high; only a few citizens in the US benefit. Bush's recourse to empty patriotism and moral infantilism ("either you are with us or you are against us") can no longer silence resistance.
US opposition lives. George W. Bush is supported by Protestant fundamentalists. Nevertheless the majority of US Protestants stay in the 21st century, not in the 16th century. Their premise is that their nation should listen to the world, not command it.
The Catholic church obstinantly follows its doctrine of social solidarity and cultivates relations to poorer Latin American countries. The large part of the Jewish community in the US rallies around the "just cause" in unquestioned solidarity with Israel and supports the president's campaign against "terror". Nevertheless many American Jews think differently.
The US union movement AFL-CIO (together with its catholic chairperson John Sweeney) was one of the initiators of the anti-globalization protests of Seattle and Genoa. Common with the churches, consumer groups, environmentalists and women's groups, the unions strive for an indigenous and global economy different from the social-Darwinian maxims of a George W. Bush. The moralism in the US tradition has its good side. One recalls Franklin D. Roosevelt's inheritance or Jimmy Carter's recent efforts at an approach to Cuba.
The US opposition is rightly skeptical about Europeans. Too many Europeans view the US in a one-dimensional caricature. Those European leaders who don't criticize the one-sidedness of the US strengthen Washington's illusions of its own omnipotence. Tony Blair may evoke memories of Attlee, Chirac of de Gaulle or Schroder of Brandt. We in the US would be delighted about a Europe that respects itself.