Europe at Peace? Thanks to Uncle Sam

Below somewhere, Conor Friedersdorf makes this observation (I know I’m supposed to be able to link to his original post, but I haven’t yet figured out how):

And isn’t it nice, incidentally, that none of us fear the French, German or Italian overreaction that the former German foreign minister mentioned? Given even recent European history, that is an achievement to be celebrated.

That depends on just what sort of celebration you have in mind. If Conor means the orgy of self-congratulation in which the Europeans indulged themselves a couple of years ago, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, then, actually, I’d say no: Scrap the celebration. If by contrast Conor has in mind circulating a petition around the capitals of Europe to collect signatures thanking the tens of thousands of American troops who have served in Europe since the end of the Second World War the American taxpayers who for six decades now have underwritten the defense of Europe–and if, once the signatures are collected, the petitions were to be formally offered to the American ambassador to the EU during a Fourth of July ceremony in Brussels that culminated in a fireworks display in which bursts of red, white and blue form Old Glory while a brass band plays “The Stars and Stripes Forever”–if that’s the kind of celebration we’re talking about here, then let ‘er rip.

  1. James Poulos
    C

    Charting a middle course, Peter, I’d say that Europe is to be congratulated on its difficult and protracted labors toward a Continent that can actually live with itself in peace and prosperity. The unfortunate aspect here is that the EU has not been a particularly phenomenal mechanism for producing prosperity. But the fact is that Europe has a pretty steep climb in this respect — out of a pretty deep pit of acrimony and political error the likes of which the US simply can’t, providentially, relate. So congratulations, by all means, because another bench-clearing brawl in Europe is one too many. But for Europe, this one round of cheers is but a prologue to the necessary, if demanding, work to be done.

  2. Dave Carter
    C

    Peter, if the Europeans actually pull off the kind of celebration you describe, I will find a way to take my truck there AND I’ll supply the gumbo too.  As we say back home, “We’ll pass a good time, yeah.” 

  3. Aaron Miller

    As U.N. peacekeeping forces regularly demonstrate, it’s not enough to merely train soldiers and place them constested zones. The rules under which those soldiers operate is also an issue. European soldiers often work alongside our own but are forbidden from engaging directly in combat. Europe’s peoples need not only militaries of their own but also the will to fight. A gun in the hands of a pacifist is not deterrence.

    I’ve spoken with Europeans before who do not remember WWII history as we do. Not all think highly of America’s contributions during that time, though I cannot even guess how common such views are.

  4. Conor Friedersdorf

    Peter,

    The celebration I had in mind wasn’t a European one, but an American celebration, acknowledging the achievement of the WWII era soldiers we’ve sent to Europe, the Marshall plan, the Berlin airlift (my grandfather served there), the strides made by the European people, as well as the international institutions we birthed — I am thinking of NATO in particular — in order to successfully wage the Cold War, a prerequisite for making any strides at all.

    It worked. France and Germany didn’t fight again, the Berlin Wall eventually fell, and even the strife in the Balkans that Rob reminded me about didn’t escalate as it did in the run-up to WWI.

    One cost is that America has born more than its share of the burden for global security. I very much want that to change, and if James gets his way in France, it may well, though I’d hedge that bet. Likewise, I want Europe’s unsustainable economic model to change, and to avoid a continental collapse that would harm our interests.

    Having achieved so much in Europe before, against much longer odds, I’d hate to resign ourselves prematurely to continental collapse.

  5. Tom Lindholtz

    Michael makes a good point, I think, in noting that for several generations the Europeans have not had to take responsibility for their own defense, and that that has produced a softness and an anti-war attitude that probably leaves them largely incapable now. (I was one of those American troops who served in the US Army stationed in Germany for several years.)

    But it is worth noting, too, that the lack of the requirement to contribute to their own defense is, I think, a major part of what enabled their social programs, especially their socialized medical care, to remain afloat for as long as it has. With a major share of our GDP going for our defense, as well as the defense of most of the rest of the free world, Obamacare will not possibly last so long…as is already abundantly apparent.

  6. Pat in Obamaland

    It may also be worth noting that Europe, like America, has big discrepancies in what constitutes accepted political norms between the political class and the average person. Most of what Americans hear as “European sentiments” comes from media and bureaucratic study commissions. If a European were to listen to the same type of sources in America, they be shocked that we could ever elect a support a war, reject an entitlement, or elect a Republican.

    I don’t know if Europeans as a whole are as soft and anti-war as Americans generally assume, but rather those who hold Europe’s levers of power.

  7. Michael Labeit

    Why continue? Let’s remove the U.S. military from Europe. Let the Europeans deal with the issue of defense themselves.

    The U.S. presence ensured the defense of Europe from the Soviet Union for so long and to such an extent, that it actually enabled European intellectuals to indulge in idealistic, anti-war political sentiment. When the burden of defense falls upon others, the necessity of concerning oneself with it disappears.

    This extends beyond the Cold War. The U.S. did not have to participate on the Western Front when it did – we could have concentrated our efforts on the Pacific Front and against the u-boats within the Atlantic. The American military has been responsible for Europe for over half a century. Its about time it ended.

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