Understanding emerging political divisions between Europe and the US

In President Mahmoud Ahmedinijad’s recent visit to the United Nations in late September, he easily became the most-watched head of state. In his various speeches, he took the UN and US to task for presiding over the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq and for the worldwide apparatus of neocolonialism. His September 23 speech sparked an uproar when he discussed the different interpretations of 9/11, including the widespread belief that a contingent of US politicians orchestrated the 9/11 events to penetrate desired regions in Eurasia and the Middle East, and to buttress both the declining US economy and Israel.

Ahmedinijad’s UN appearance provoked a show of solidarity between European and US politicians: their United Nations representatives walked out during Ahmedinijad’s September 23 speech, and their carefully deployed media appearances were designed to project mutual outrage. Ahmedinijad’s speech was considerably censored in the US, over fears that public awareness would dissolve the political justification for the US transformation into an aggressive, civil-liberties chomping hegemon. However, just like the precisely calibrated mechanical toy that he has become, Obama was sent on an international warpath, including an appearance to BBC Persian.

“It was offensive. It was hateful,” declared Obama to the interviewer, “And it stands in contrast with the response of the Iranian people when 9/11 happened.” UN diplomats have obligingly chimed in to provide the chorus. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon dropped his diplomatic mask of neutrality by blurting out: “I strongly condemn the comments made yesterday by a leader of a delegation that called into question the cause of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on US soil.”

However, despite the show of solidarity, the incident underscored increasing divisions dissolving the alliances that have comprised the recent incarnation of the political West –” Europe, Israel, and the United States. In Obama’s speech to the UN General Assembly, he struck many of the same chords that have soured Europeans from the man who once enjoyed the hallowed sobriquet, “rock star”. While he referenced the distaste aroused by Bush on the global stage, he criticized a “reflexive anti-Americanism, which too often has served as an excuse for our collective inaction.” Obama then went on to glorify US accomplishments such as the “banning” of torture, even as Guantanamo and the overseas secret “detention” facilities continue to operate; the “winding down” of the Iraq War, which has merely seen the redeployment of some troops to secure bases inside Iraq and transfer of others to the Afghan battleground; and the initiatives on climate change, even as BP’s destruction of the Gulf of Mexico goes without punishment.

Obama then asked for the world to collectively involve itself on these issues, stating: “Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone.” Translation: other countries must sign up for American crusades and share the risks while handing over the benefits. It appears that even as Obama adopted George Bush’s pastors, after the public outcry over his spiritual ties with outspoken African American pastor Jeremiah Wright, he has also hired the former president’s speechwriters.

Obama’s posture is symptomatic of the growing division between US and Europe that threatens the political integrity of the EU. Since the War on Terror, the US has negotiated draconian political agreements with the EU states that give the CIA access to EU citizens’ private records. The United States has also blocked economic deals that would catapult the EU from an economic competitor to bonafide economic threat to the United States. The US angrily quashed negotiations to transfer international trade in oil from the dollar to the euro, after signs of US economic destabilization became increasingly apparent since 2006. While Europe has certainly not experienced the tyranny levied on Africa, South America, Asia, the Middle East –” and in particular, on Muslim majority regions –” homologies of oppression have forged trans-national sympathies. It is no surprise that a number of participants in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla came from countries like Holland, Germany, the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Greece, and Poland.

There are also generational changes influencing a shifting European attitude. While the older generation tended to view the US positively because of the role played by the US armed forces in defeating Hitler, the younger generation has in its hindsight the full scope of US world imperialism. Elitist disdain of Americans as uncultured and uncouth has transformed into strident opposition to the US as an international bully. Analysts note that there is a significant conflict between the Europeans’ desire for political independence and the US’ unwillingness to regard Europe as anything more than the satellite states that they’ve been since WWII.

But even as citizens and humanitarians are impelled to forge bonds across land, sea, and ideology, there are deeper structural changes dissolving the cultural fiction known as the West. The EU was created as a means to economically compete with the United States, even as Washington viewed it as a way to have easy, consolidated access to the countries in its Northern theatre of power. As such, hard work has gone into lulling European nationalisms and racisms that had caused the countries to spill one another’s blood for centuries before discovering that Muslims, Asians and black peoples were out there in the wide world to conquer.

The Wall Street-impelled world financial collapse is changing the landscape of reasons and dreams. Even as the world economic pie has shrunk, the underlying questions, reservations, and rivalries slumbering beneath the EU are bubbling to the surface. They can be seen in Germany’s reluctance over bailing Greece out of its credit crisis; and in a teutonic disdain for Greek insolvency that expressed itself in blantantly racist terms. It can be seen in the French government deciding to deport the Roma gypsies from France, echoing Hitlerian campaigns to purge his country’s race and economy from their so called genetic inferiority. It can be seen in French vituperations about Anglo Saxon conspiracy driving the EU against Gallic interests. And it can be seen in the increasing perception in the economically strong European countries, that the “semi-barbaric” and “underdeveloped” nations (those two adjectives are more or less synonymous) in the Eastern European bloc are dragging down their progress. France, Germany and the Netherlands are chomping on the bit.

At stake, of course, are the mineral-rich lands of Africa, Eurasia, and the Middle East over which the US is staggering. Clocks are set and eyes are trained for when the US sinks beneath its ponderous weight and its empire gives up the ghost. It comes as no political surprise, despite the dramatic nature of its materiality. The political left has been calling this out for quite some time. Also, Paul Kennedy predicted way back in 1987 in The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, that the US would overly expand in order to slay the Soviet empire and in doing so, cause its own demise. While war and the economy are ballet partners, the delicate balance between the two can easily be tipped to cause the latter to plummet.

The new European scramble over lands and resources will put them face to face with the peoples of the global South, who haven’t forgotten the lessons they learned in Colonialism 101 on how to boot out foreign occupiers. It will be helpful that the World Bank and the United Nations, caretakers of the neocolonial apparatus for the more sophisticated economic dominance prevailing over the past 60 years, probably won’t survive the flux of alliances.

But don’t sign up for a happily ever after just yet. The unraveling of grand alliances is always perilous. In the 20th century, we’ve already seen the outcome when Western relations for power-sharing have broken down; the two World Wars were local quarrels between kinsmen and cousins, after all. World peace is still a dream within a dream.