Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Capisce, per favore ... è difficile essere il hegemon

I love Italy. I really love Italy and I love Europe. I've lived in Italy and am heading there very, very soon to see dear friends including my co-blogger Lorenzo Zucca. I honestly cannot wait to sit down with Lorenzo and sip Chianti as we discuss our work and our lives.

But we cannot allow our love, or our rage, to blind us from the cold, complex sociological difficulties of world politics. It is this blindness that is causing the fissures between our continents.

There is a disconnect between Americans and Europeans generally that represents the root of most of the cultural and political difficulties that have arisen since the end of the Cold War. Robert Kagan summarizes this differential as such: "Europeans have stepped out of the Hobbesian world of anarchy into the Kantian world of perpetual peace."

The disconnect between Americans and Europeans is that the Kantian world cannot exist without a Hobbesian protector, nor is the Hobbesian protector as effective without counterbalancing Kantian proponents. Kant's world of perpetual peace was fraught with the dangers of despotism and internal power monopoly. Kant's "united government" required supreme military power which, after securing its territory could, over time, terrorize its inhabitants. Europe has been able to enjoy the fruits of a post-modern peace by having its security guaranteed by an outside force generally uninterested in the domestic politics of the European sphere. The guarantor is, of course, the United States.

Europe's payment for security? Open markets and access to capital. The U.S. capitalistic machine clearly cannot function entirely within its own borders, nor by relying on developing markets in Asia and elsewhere. Europe provides an outlet for goods services and a source of importation for many of the goods desired by U.S. consumers. All of this has enhanced U.S. quality of life as well as substantial benefits to European citizenry. The U.S. focus on military prowess enabled the historically instable European continent to forgo military efficiency. In fact, it precluded it, because any one of the single nations matching spending with the U.S. would be unwise. It also enabled (and spurred) closer cooperation within the context of the European Union to the point where a viable European Constitution is now up for a vote.

I feel that many in Europe believe that the hypercriticism of U.S. actions is a product of the Bush administration, but this is not borne out by the facts. When Europeans look back upon the Clinton administration with great nostalgia they ignore two things: (1) intense criticiscm of the U.S. was already present in most European countries; and (2) Clinton's differences with Bush in matters of European relations and international law was more a matter of style over substance.

The U.S. views its world as one fraught with dangers and that, while it makes mistakes, it is exhausted with being run over the coals with each one. Such results may be the destiny of the world hegemon, but it does not inspire good relations. While the U.S. should be unanimously critiqued for its poor style in dealing with its European allies, these same European powers suffer the same political grandstanding in their own domestic spheres.

So where does this leave us? Probably in the same place we began. Europe and the U.S. need the state equivalent of marriage counseling. It's clear that we're both in this for the long haul, if only we can communicate and as Bill would say "feel each other's pain."


Srdjan Cvijic said...

I agree with this point of Scott's "Clinton's differences with Bush in matters of European relations and international law was more a matter of style over substance." Clinton knew something Bush does not know, HOW TO HIDE POWER but still very much so use it...

Euan MacDonald said...

There is little to disagree with in that contribution, Scott - and yet, it does not seem to respond to the issue central to Lorenzo's post: namely, the fact that the US investigation into the accidental shooting of Calipari has resulted in a total lack of censure of those involved, and the Italian investigators returning home early, refusing to sign off on the finding, citing a "lack of objectivity" in the way evidence was presented and conclusions were reached.

It strikes me that there is something of a pattern emerging here: the US is keen to encourage its allies to participate in military adventures that are often deeply unpopular domestically - and yet often seem unconcerned to assist those allies when committed. The UK and Italy both provide examples of this: in the former, at a time when the legality of war was haunting Blair even more than now, senior figures in the US government were openly admitting that WMD was little more than a technical reason for going to war. Blair's critics, and the press in general, had a field day on that and other similar comments.

The truth is that the US seems to think that it is so good at influencing people that it need not concern itself with making, or keeping, friends. It remains to be seen if that proves to be a sustainable approach to hegemony.

Scott M. Sullivan said...

The point I agree with of yours Euan is that I think that this disconnect between American and Europe IS the central issue pertaining to Lorenzo's critique.

The actual US and Italian reports regarding Calipari strike me as fairly irrelevant. The US says the car was speeding, the Italians say the soldiers may have been overstressed. Ultimately, I think the real answer is the truth lies in the middle.

Honestly, I'm torn as to whether the critique that the U.S. is failing stylistically to wield its power in a way to support its friends is powerful. Part of me feels strongly that intelligent peoples should be able to see past poor style to mine the substance. On the other hand, I am sensistive to the belief that "perception is reality" and as such you make your own reality.

Euan MacDonald said...

I think that you're probably correct about the substance of the report, Scott - as Lorenzo noted, there were almost certainly failures on both sides.

Also, don't get me wrong - I was one of the critics who had a field day when members of the US administration landed Blair in it, and will be pleased if this proves to be a strategic error. However, I'm not convinced that your style/substance distinction is entirely sustainable. The point here, in essence, is that style is substance; once again, the US has failed to make a gesture that would have cost them little and eased matters somewhat domestically for their allies. You may well be correct to dismiss the substantive factual issues as being fairly irrelevant; I'm not sure, however, if the - equally substantive - political implications can be dismissed as mere "style".

Scott M. Sullivan said...

I agree that there is overlap within the genres of style and substance. Having said that, I think that it should be recognized that while there is overlap, the two are generally distinct.

I don't believe that the US report is an indication of any style/substance overlap. This is a report that was produced among mid-levels and was designed to be factual in nature. In fact, there were substantial moves by the administration to express its sorrow over Calipari's death. These overtures were largely ignored.

To get back to the broader issue. I agree that stylistic differences can have substantive consequences, but I'm not as certain that government policy should stray from what it believes to be the truth to attempt to assuage allies.

Maybe the truth should be sacrificed for the feelings of others. I am always amazed how Europeans adore Clinton, the president that assured the death of the ICC, Kyoto and numerous other international agreements.