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the u.s. and europe - worldviews apart?

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States and its European allies have moved from a newfound feeling of solidarity in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks to a historic rift over the U.S.-led war on Iraq. Many are now questioning whether the trans-Atlantic alliance has a future, and whether the U.S. and Europe can find a path back to mutual respect and cooperation. Here, to address these questions, are excerpts from FRONTLINE's interviews with American foreign-policy analyst Robert Kagan, E.U. external relations commissioner Chris Patten, historian Tony Judt of New York University, German journalist Stefan Kornelius, and former NATO official Guillaume Parmentier.


Diverging Worldviews

photo of kagan

Senior associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

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Let's face the fact that we have been dealing with two fundamentally different worldviews. Europeans simply do not look at the Iraq issue the same way that Americans do, and I'm not sure that any amount of clever salesmanship could solve that problem. We have fundamental issues on which we fundamentally differ, so it's not just a matter of good PR. ...

[Can you explain] what the different worldviews are? ... And how it applies to Iraq?

The gulf that had opened up between Americans and Europeans concerned the use of military power, the legitimacy of military, and also the proper mechanisms to seek authority for the use of military power. Iraq was the perfect issue that exposed all these differences. Americans were quick to believe that a military option was the right option to use with Iraq. Yes, there was a big debate in the United States, but a majority of Americans early on believed that that was appropriate. It was never the case in Europe that Europeans believed that the military option was the appropriate option in Iraq.

I've described the difference between Americans and Europeans by suggesting that Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus. What I mean by that is that Europeans have moved to a stage in their development where they increasingly believe that the use of military force is unnecessary, inappropriate, and illegitimate, and Americans have not moved in that direction. Americans still believe that military power is an essential tool of international relations. This is what Iraq has exposed, this great difference. ...

- Chris Patten
The European Union's commissioner for external relations, he served as the last British governor of Hong Kong.

Nobody for one moment believes that a unilateralist impulse is new in the United States. And we understand why it exists. ... We have had arguments about it in the past. But by and large, America has been the leader of multilateralism and multilateral institutions, which I think have served America pretty well and served the rest of us extremely well.

... [I think there was some concern that] some in strong positions in the administration, who had always been of the opinion that multilateralism was for wimps -- that it was important that America, as much the biggest kid on the block, should simply do what it thought was right without taking account of allies and partners -- ... were starting to [get] the best of the argument. And if there is an argument about whether you should take a unilateral route or a multilateral route, then to borrow a phrase of secretary [James] Baker's from the past, we have got a dog in this fight. Because we in Europe must be on the side, wherever possible, of doing things multilaterally.


I believe that since the last war, we have enjoyed a period, by and large, of stability and prosperity above all because of the institutions and the rule book which America more than anybody else put in place after the Second World War. And Truman, Marshall, Eisenhower put in place institutions within which I think the world -- and democracy, and open markets -- have thrived. It hasn't been perfect, but it's been incomparably better than what went before. And I think that Sept. 11 hasn't changed any of that. Indeed it's underlined the importance of multilateral cooperation even more strongly. I think America needs a strong United Nations, in a sense to help protect it from the envy and the pursuit of national interests by other countries. Of course it involves accommodations from time to time. But by and large, America has done pretty well out of the multilateral system, and the rest of us have done spectacularly well.

photo of judt

Professor of European studies, New York University

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I think it's important to remember a couple of things. One, that in the course, let's say, of the last 40 years, Europe has become a secular continent. Setting aside the Muslim immigration of recent decades, most Europeans are well-meaning Christians, a small minority are Jews, and don't go to church or synagogue anymore. It is not a religious continent.

The United States has seen almost no change in the percentage of people who attend church or synagogue in the course of their adult lives, from the 1950s to the present. Now that is quite remarkable, and it puts America into a completely different category from the rest of the West, compared, say, to Canada even, much less to Europe.

This is a religious country, and anyone who lives in the heartland of America will know that. People in this country believe not only in God and the devil, but also in miracles. A very large minority of them believe in the coming struggle between Jesus and the Antichrist on the fields of Armageddon, and that is quite closely tied up with views about the Middle East. These are all background elements, without which you cannot understand George Bush, and particularly the appeal of his rhetoric -- precisely what Europeans find disconcerting: the constant reference to good and evil, to moral duty, to absolutes, to "us" and "them."

Tell me about the language. Why does this language make Europeans feel uneasy?

Listen to George Bush, and then compare him to Tony Blair. Now, Tony Blair is an unusual European politician; he is church-going, he is religious, he is a moralist. So there's no question that he, too, uses a moralized language of politics. ... All of Bush's language is invested with either/or, this/that, us/them, good/evil, right/wrong. These rhetorical choices -- it's all this, or it's all that -- which make immediate sense to Americans for whom they are part of the language ... to Europeans feel much too simple.

[To Europeans], life is more complicated. Life contains ironies, paradoxes, multiple choices, perverse consequences. There have been too many complications in the recent European past for people to be sure about anything. It doesn't mean that Europeans can't tell the difference between good and evil. They know perfectly well who Adolf Hitler was. They know perfectly well, most of them, who Saddam Hussein is. What worries them is the certainty with which Bush feels he can go to war and be sure of the good consequences afterwards. The Europeans are much less sure of themselves. ...


Differing Responses to Sept. 11

- Stefan Kornelius
Editorial page editor of Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany's most influential daily newspapers.

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Can you characterize for me the reaction here in Germany to the events of Sept. 11 in New York?

The reaction was of shock and disbelief, as almost everywhere in the world. People rallied together. I remember a huge demonstration in front of the Brandenburg Gate. ... People swung American flags and waved in sympathy. There was a lot of grief.

However, I remember one little poster, one little sign in the midst of that crowd, saying, "No War." There it was, this German sentiment that something is going wrong. And in all that ... sorrow ... and the anger felt against terrorists -- in all that mix of feelings -- you could hear voices saying, "Well, they got too powerful, didn't they?"

So I got a feeling right at the beginning that this expression of grief wasn't totally heartfelt. ... That little sign in the crowd, right in front of the Brandenburg Gate, reminded me of that deeply felt German pacifism which immediately sensed that there could be war. ...

What was your reaction to the "axis of evil" speech and your sense of how it would play in Germany?

My first reaction to the "axis of evil" was, "How could he use that word, 'axis'?" To the Germans, the word "axis" has a historical connotation; it is used in the Second World War, meaning the axis of Nazi Germany with Japan and being sort of the driving force behind World War II. ...

However, I didn't give it too much credit at first. I thought, "Well, that's one of Bush's typical rhetorical slips." When it was argued that this has a huge meaning behind it -- it's almost like a doctrine -- I got wary, because you can't put three countries like that in one line. You can't really tackle totally different and complex foreign political problems like Iran, Iraq and Korea with the same means. That seemed to have been lost over the course of writing that speech.

My fear was that Sept. 11 has led to a radicalization in American foreign policy, which I only knew before from American domestic policy. It's kind of hardcore politics, which I personally experienced when I was a correspondent in Washington during the Clinton impeachment period. That kind of hardcore politics now had taken hold of the foreign political field, and all that room for manuvering, all that gray shadowing, was lost.

Professor of European studies, New York University

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Le Monde famously published the headline [after Sept. 11], "We are all Americans now." What's happened? What's gone wrong with that?

Well, it lasted about a month. It was a genuine reaction to a moment of shock. I don't think [it was] so much the shock that terrorism can happen. Europeans have been living with terrorism, in one form or another, for many decades, including the French. It was the scale of it, the symbolic significance of it: the World Trade Center in New York City, unquestionably the capital of the world. It was the feeling that somehow this was a moment of truth. You either announced that you were unambiguously with America in whatever it had to do to fight back against this kind of terrorism, or the opposition was ethically and politically very questionable indeed.

What happened, I think, is a combination of domestic pressures in many countries to say, "Wait a minute. Well, all right, America didn't ask for it" -- whatever that would mean, which is ridiculous -- "but America certainly has been engaged with the world in many ways which have made enemies. So we should not be quite as surprised or horrified as we were that something like this should happen."

Then, of course, there was the question of the Bush administration's, I would say, monumental series of miscalculations in the way it handled the post-9/11 diplomacy. ... There's no doubt that the vital moment was the State of the Union speech, in January 2002. Bush managed simultaneously not to mention any of the major international allies that he had spent so much time trying to gather around him, and who had gone to the trouble of presenting themselves as absolutely reliable allies -- "We are all Americans now"; Article V of NATO was invoked to say, "We will fight for America; America's fight is our fight."

NATO wasn't mentioned. The U.N. wasn't mentioned, the E.U. was hardly mentioned. There was a sense that somehow this was the world's fight, but America actually was doing it alone. And if America was doing it alone, then why need the world feel quite so engaged on America's side? Particularly when the rhetorical ratcheting up of the war on terror, from an attack on Osama bin Laden to the "axis of evil" speech, made Europeans extremely uneasy that American foreign policy had moved from defense to offense, and in a way that made it much harder for the Europeans and others to follow suit. ...

Senior associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

read the interview

Quite obviously, Americans were terribly traumatized by Sept. 11. ... For most Europeans watching it, I think it was a horrifying event. But the degree to which it instilled real fear in the American people that they hadn't known probably since the Cuban missile crisis -- I think was the last time that Americans as a general population were this afraid -- I think perhaps that wasn't fully understood in Europe. Much that stemmed from that in terms of American behavior was derived from this very focused fear, and I think [it] was misunderstood around the world and especially in Europe. ...

The "axis of evil" speech -- how did that speech go down in America, and how did it go down in Europe? What do the different reactions tell us about the cultures?

Well, first of all the "axis of evil" speech went over very big in the United States. ... I think Americans heartened to that, because Americans don't mind thinking of the world in terms of good and evil. In fact, they frequently do think of the world in terms of good and evil.

Now of course the reaction in Europe was entirely different. I think many Europeans were sort of stunned and perhaps even horrified by that speech. ... partly because Europeans pride themselves on having a kind of nuanced and subtle view of humanity. It's also partly because of Europe's own history. The Europeans unified despite the fact that, in the past, there were evil regimes in the heart of Europe, and it's not proper or useful for Europe to talk in terms of good and evil. I've found many Europeans who have made that point -- that to talk about evil revisits an unhappy past in Europe. ...

Tell me about how the speech seemed to offend the European idea of international order. ...

I think Europeans feared that, on the one hand, the United States was taking it upon itself to designate what countries were considered acceptable targets. ... That left the Europeans powerless to control their fate in some way, which I think was a legitimate concern on the part of the Europeans. ...

It dawned on Europeans rather suddenly that what had been true actually for more than a decade was now really upon them -- that here was this enormous superpower, with power that no country had ever had in the history of the world, and it was unchecked. ... So I think that the sense after Sept. 11 and the rhetoric of the Bush administration and the clear determination of Bush to take these actions frightened Europe, because now they didn't know exactly how America was ever going to be constrained. ...

I do think that Sept. 11 cast a very bright light on a gap that had been opening up between the United States and Europe for a decade. Since the end of the Cold War, Europe had been evolving in one direction with the formation of the European Union and the establishment of something quite miraculous -- an international system on the continent in which European military force played no role whatsoever -- and Europeans were moving in the direction of believing that it was possible to move beyond military power.

The United States was not moving in that direction. The United States in fact was building up its military power. ... So Sept. 11 did bring into sharp focus for the Europeans something that they vaguely had understood since the end of the Cold War: that here was, for the first time in history, a power, a superpower, that was unconstrained by the international system, and could act if it chose to act, with or without European permission and without any check from another major power. ...

Both the United States and Europe had come upon this new situation unaware of what had changed, and so neither Europeans nor Americans were really ready for the new world situation that we'd moved into. ... Neither side was making any adjustment. ... It did not occur to [the Bush administration] that the United States could appear frightening to its allies. ...

photo of parmentier

- Guillaume Parmentier
Director of the French Center on the U.S. at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris, he formerly was head of external relations at NATO.

  read the interview

On Sept. 12, 2001, the NATO nations decided to invoke Article V of the NATO treaty. It is a sort of Three Musketeers article -- "one for all, all for one." And it was the first time in NATO history that it had been invoked. It had been meant to make sure that the Americans were coming to the rescue of the Europeans, but in fact it was invoked [following Sept. 11] for the first time for America by the Europeans.

America's reaction to this, instead of being welcoming, was fairly dismissive, and in fact, sometimes close to contemptuous. The reason for that was Kosovo. ... The Americans realized that the political bodies of the alliance, the NATO Council, tried to micromanage the military operations themselves. The Americans were very worried that NATO would make their campaign in Afghanistan too politically controlled. Therefore, instead of being sort of thankful [for the invocation of Article V], saying, "No, thank you, we'd rather do that ourselves; we've been attacked," they were fairly openly contemptuous of the ability of the Europeans to help. Of course, that was difficult to take for the leaders of European countries. So I think this was a bad signal, and clearly it played a role in what happened after that.


Consequences and Costs

Professor of European studies, New York University

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Does what's happened to the Western alliance matter?

I think it matters in a number of ways. It firstly matters, if you like, psychologically -- but in diplomacy, that counts, too. There are a lot of wounded sensibilities out there that are going to take time to be reconstructed. In the course of that, all kinds of decisions that would have been easy to take will be hard to take. Then all kinds of prices will have to be paid, literally, and in terms of hand-holding, to make things work that should have been easy. So that's one item.

Secondly, I think that both the Europeans, and the British in this sense, will look very hard now, once this crisis is over, at the price they pay either for being with the Americans or for being against the Americans. That's not a question they have asked themselves in the course of the last generation.

- Stefan Kornelius
Editorial page editor of Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany's most influential daily newspapers.

read the interview

I think the great losers in this drama will be the Germans as a people and probably the Europeans, because if that whole trans-Atlantic alliance is now weakened or probably even shattered and we drift apart, I fear that Europe will face sort of a return of history.

European politics worked best when America was part of it, when America had a foot in Europe -- and the foot was militarily, definitely. So America as a balancing power in Europe was not only welcomed, but a necessity. Since that belief doesn't seem to exist anymore in Washington, Europe is getting out of balance. What we have seen over the past weeks is the old game of coalition building, nations balancing powers off against each other; Europe being shattered; France, Germany versus Spain, Italy; Britain somewhere in the game.

This is not the Europe I envision for the future. This is a Europe which reminds me of the Wilhelmian, of the Prussian eras, the Bismarck eras -- power games, old nation power games. I thought we were over that. I guess we still have a chance to bind it together and avoid this, because it would be a catastrophe. Over the long run, it might even force the Americans to come back. But I don't want to wish them to come back on the terms they had to come in the 1940s. So this is a historical decision which is made right now. I wish those who act there would be aware of what they do historically.

- Chris Patten
The European Union's commissioner for external relations, he served as the last British governor of Hong Kong.

Has this in any way proved the unilateralists in the U.S. right?

I think this has proved the unilateralists in the United States are wrong. And I think it's also proved that the multilateralists in Europe haven't done enough in order to demonstrate to our greatest ally that multilateralism has to be the way of sorting out the world's problems. If we want to convince the Americans that the multilateral institutions which they, more than anybody else, created are still appropriate dealing with the challenges facing the world, then we have to do more together to make those multilateral institutions work.

Are we looking at a new world order? And if we are, how would you characterize that? ...

I hope that we are not living at a point in time when people think that we should make a choice to go back to the 19th century, to go back to the rivalries and the alliances of nation states. I think that would be such an absurd way of responding to the challenges of our globalized politics. At a time when we need more of multilateralism, I think to turn our back and to go back to Metternich in the 19th century would be pretty crazy.

I also think that we should be pretty wary about some of the stereotypes that we have heard: the "America is Mars, Europe is Venus" nonsense. You can't conceivably look at some of the threats that Europe has had to deal with in the last few years, you can't conceivably look at some of the contributions that Europe has made to peacekeeping around the world, you can't possibly look at the preparedness of countries like France and Britain to put their young soldiers in the way of serious danger, you can't do those things and make that ridiculous [albeit] pretty argument stand up.

- Guillaume Parmentier
Director of the French Center on the U.S. at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris, he formerly was head of external relations at NATO.

read the interview

Traditionally the Americans had a conception of foreign policy that was based upon conviction before coercion. They were always ready to use coercion, and that's entirely legitimate and normal. But their great strength historically was that they were able to convince other countries that it was in their interest to follow the Americans.

What they're losing today is this ability to convince. What is happening today is that the Americans haven't tried to convince the leaders of Europe. They've just said, "Well, you're not reasonable. You're not useful. We're not interested. We want to get rid of this problem, and we will, in whatever way." ...

Of course the United States has, on the whole, benevolent intentions. But you know, power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. That is true in the domestic field. It is true in the international field.

And the Americans have developed through their Constitution a way of organizing checks and balances on the domestic level. They have developed, through internationalism, a way of organizing checks and balances on the international scale. This is what gave them incredible strength, because it allowed people to adhere to the American model, to become, in a sense, partners, friends of America, without needing to be coerced into becoming so. Well, that's what the United States runs a serious risk of losing in the present circumstances, by being so heavy-handed, so unilateralist, so, if I may say, nationalistic. ...

Where does this whole thing leave NATO and the U.N.?

NATO was badly damaged by the Kosovo war -- the idea that NATO was too multilateral for the Americans, too unilateral for the Europeans. The idea that NATO's American military bodies were trying to do a political job, and the NATO political bodies were trying to do the military job -- all of this meant that this organization wasn't working. ... I think that NATO really has a very, very difficult future ahead of it. ...

The U.N. is in a difficult position. If the U.S. refuses to use the U.N. Security Council when crises are forthcoming, then it will create a serious problem for the system that the Americans created. I think frankly that the Americans, by dividing NATO deeply, perhaps irretrievably, by weakening the U.N. Security Council, and by dividing the E.U., have weakened the three international institutions upon which they had built their foreign policy since the end of the Second World War.

A very heavy price to pay for putting an end to a tin-pot dictator in a far-off part of the world who could be contained by other means.

Senior associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

read the interview

Where does this leave the U.N.? And does it matter?

... The danger of this most recent crisis is that a new generation of Americans will have become convinced that the U.N. Security Council is not the place to go. I don't see why this is a great victory for Europeans. I think this is where the French in particular may have made a very serious mistake, because if the goal is to rope the United States in as best as possible inside the international order and to get the United States to seek legitimate authorization from the U.N. Security Council, I'm not sure this was the best way to go about it. The lesson that the American public -- set the Bush administration aside -- the lesson that the American public may have learned is that the U.N. Security Council is hopeless. ...

What price is America paying in exercising power in the way it is over Iraq?

... Europeans should understand that they have enormous influence over Americans. They can affect the American conscience, and Americans have been very uncomfortable with the fact that there is so much opposition to American policy. So the cost for Americans is the sense that maybe they're not in the right. This can have an effect on American foreign policy, but we have to separate the material capabilities of the United States from the sort of psychic costs of acting alone.

I mean, the consequences of this crisis are likely to be many, and not all moving in the same direction. On the one hand, the United States and the people of the United States in particular will have had the experience of going to war without real support in Europe. The possibility that they will get used to that is a danger that Europeans should be concerned about, that in fact the object lesson of this whole conflict will be [that] we can survive if the Europeans are very unhappy with us; we can do what needs to be done, and it can work. So that next time there's a crisis and Europeans complain, it's possible that that complaint will be discounted to some extent.

At the same time, I do think there's going to be a reaction in America against the perceived unilateralism of American foreign policy, and that there will be pressure to repair the damage with the Europeans. It will be a popular political cause, at least for the Democratic Party, but probably for more than the Democratic Party, to say, "We need to get back in sync with the rest of the world. We can't be going off with the rest of the world angry at us."

I think that both of those will be sort of cross-cutting pressures in the American political system afterwards. A lot of the decision about what course America ultimately takes will depend on statesmanship both in the United States and in Europe -- how do the statesmen on both sides of the Atlantic try to repair the damage after we've moved past this conflict. ...



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posted april 3, 2003

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