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A View from Europe
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So the President of the United States is to become a Nobel Peace Laureate. Such a decision, while shocking to many, is merely the logical extension of European, particularly Nordic/Scandinavian, policy for at least the last two decades. As long as one appears to care and says the right things, it doesn’t matter if you do anything useful. In fact, one can be counterproductive again and again as long as one stands by what cultural anthropologists call ‘status markers of opinions’–known more simply as ‘what all right thinking people think’–sorry, that should be ‘what all left-thinking people know is right’.
There are important issues one must not only want to do something about, such as climate change, African poverty and sickness, rogue states etc, but agree there is one solution to the problem so debate is simply not necessary–and then tell everyone that this solution was arrived at by consensus. Take climate change: as long as one stands up and says it’s terrible, demand emissions reduction to save the children, low lying islands and, Bangladesh, and also insist that the rich, especially America’s rich, pay for it–then you’re in the club.
You’re also then free to increase your personal carbon footprint to fly around the world bemoaning others’ use of energy, and airplanes in particular–note those promoting the dystopian movie ‘The Age of Stupid’.
I saw this hypocrisy first hand in February 1998 when I was in Trinidad and Tobago on vacation and found myself on a beach surrounded by UN-funded climate scientists who were debating how damaging air travel would be on the environment. Climate change was the best thing that EVER happened to these pasty-faced climatologists and permanently tanned Eurocrats.
But if you take issue with any of the above you’re outside the club. Even if you agree that climate change is serious, that action is required, but that perhaps you think diplomacy should be based around demanding China make serious efforts to control its own emissions, or western efforts will be nullified, you’re viewed as part of the problem, not the solution.
Dissent within Europe is treated just as harshly, note what happened over the past week or so. The Lisbon Treaty extends unelected and increasingly unaccountable Eurocrats’ powers in Brussels, yet it is what the elite want and so has now been ratified by every member of the European Union, except Vaclav Klaus’ Czech Republic, and he is expected to fold after coming under increasing pressure this past week. Take the Irish. Having once rejected Lisbon, they were encouraged to try again, and last week delivered the ‘right’ answer.
It is obviously far too early to judge President Obama’s performance on any front except speech-making, where he excels–and for many that appears to be all that counts. He’s made all the right noises for a European audience, where he is loved from Latvia to London. He highlights his cosmopolitan differences from the Texas cowboy that he replaced–he’ll talk to America’s enemies, and he’s such a joy at all the right problems. With him, everything can be resolved. And Europeans lap it up.
Distancing yourself rhetorically from the previous unpopular administration is understandable. And it is made easier by the sheer ignorance of so many about certain aspects of foreign policy. I’m constantly amazed at how many Europeans seem to think that the Bush administration never engaged in diplomacy. The real question is what happens when talking doesn’t prove enough? The EU answer is more talking (think Rwanda, Kosovo, etc.). It is a terrible responsibility to risk the lives of your military, but sometimes it has to be done–Europeans should be acutely aware of this given the recent 60th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II.
I’ve visited a few locations in the last decade which could have benefitted from military intervention, Zimbabwe to name but one. But other than US what other bodies could one ever expect to act in a significant military way? The UN? the EU? the African Union? Usually, by the time these agencies get their act together it is so blindingly obvious that action was required that the people worth saving have usually been slaughtered. The ‘correct’ EU opinion is to delay military action until it is too late to do any good.
Europeans may love President Obama, but he is an American, and the American people will expect their leader to put US interests first, which probably means more troops for Afghanistan and more than harsh words for the despotic leaders of Iran, North Korea etc. In the very difficult months ahead President Obama has to hope that winning the Nobel Prize isn’t a poisoned chalice, because at some stage he will need to do more than talk tough. The Nobel committee obviously hopes their bribe will prevent him doing so.
Of course, this coming Wednesday is the 146th anniversary of the first patent awarded for dynamite. Given what five Norwegian politicians have done to the prize that bears his name, its inventor, Alfred Nobel, might well be wishing there was a stick under his grave to stop his spinning.
Roger Bate is the Legatum Fellow in Global Prosperity at AEI.
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