September 11 Special – “We Are Not All Americans”

As an apt accompaniment to its coverage of all of today’s “September 11” ceremonies, remembrances, etc., the New York Times is also publishing a lengthy article by Berlin correspondent Richard Bernstein entitled Foreign Views of U.S. Darken Since Sept. 11 – basically about how the Bush administration within a mere two years has managed to squander all the sympathy and good-will that was being mind-beamed by foreigners in the direction of the US in the wake of the catastrophic attacks in New York and Washington. “Gone are the days,” Bernstein writes (towards the end of the article), “when 200,000 Germans marched in Berlin to show solidarity with their American allies, or when Le Monde, the most prestigious French newspaper, could publish a large headline, ‘We Are All Americans.'”

Things have reached a point, Bernstein notes, where “more recently” the French weekly Nouvel Observateur published an editorial entitled “We Are Not All Americans.”

That sort of mention always makes my antennae pop up and go “zing!”, and my fingers scramble to my keyboard to summon my faithful search engine. (Trusty “Geegor,” if you know what I’m trying to say.) Of course Geegor found this Nouvel Observateur article on-line, and a mighty interesting piece it is, too. Problem is (and, darn it, material in the Nouvel Observateur seems to suffer from this chronically), it’s written in French.

Hey! Hooya gonna call? Why, your friendly neighborhood EuroSavant, of course! Just look under the “Savant” heading in your local Yellow Pages!

Or, if you’re interested in what the French have to say, and you’re blessed with a connection to the Internet, you could instead click on “More…”

First, a little truth in advertising. Bernstein wrote that this article was published “more recently” (you’ll note I put that phrase in quotes), and he’s technically correct: it’s dated 26 September 2002 (I say again: “2002”), which is “more recent” when benchmarked against the date 11 September 2001, but is way before the US-led move against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq – which is why you would assume they all hate Americans out there now – had really got up much of a head of steam. In fact, the article was written on the occasion of the (narrow) victory by Gerhard Schröder in last year’s German general elections, a victory he won partly, you’ll recall, by in a sense running against the United States, or at least against the Bush administration. So by no means is this an article about why the French have now fallen out of love with Americans as a result of Iraq and all that – it is instead probably a rather more interesting article about how the French were already out of love with Americans way before any of that other ugly stuff happened!

(I hope that this isn’t too disheartening for you American readers out there. If all else fails to cheer you up, just remember – it’s only the French. Uhhh . . . oops, sorry, not true. Well, it is only a French writer, in a French magazine, at least. Meanwhile, EuroSavant is thrust into the awkward, unprecedented situation of reviewing an article in the foreign press that is not contemporary, but somewhat old. But I hope you can see the connection with this special date.)

Now, to the piece itself: Does it live up to its hype? Not really. As mentioned, the article was written by Nouvel Observateur editor Jean Daniel shortly after Schröder’s electoral victory in Germany, but it’s more appropriate to note that it also appeared shortly after the release of the document “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America” to the Congress and to the public. That is what Daniel is really upset about, and it offers him the occasion to inveigh against the cold-blooded, realpolitik principles he finds that new security doctrine is built around, as well as the way the administration is trying to apply this doctrine (remember, back in September, 2002) to Iraq.

Daniel calls the document the “new Bible of Pax Americana,” and it was this security doctrine which, most notably, introduced and advanced the notion of the necessity of preemptive war. The new menace to the security of the United States is premeditated terrorism, and the best defense against it is attack. A reactive policy of absorbing the first blow and then counter-attacking may have been an appropriate stance for America in the past, but now the terrible capabilities of weapons of mass destruction, and the modern difficulty of predicting and detecting potential attacks, mean that “[w]e can no longer permit our enemies to strike first.” That means, as Daniel puts it, “the United States proposes to intervene everywhere insufficiencies and failures of democracy can give rise to attempts at terrorism.” Her weapons – including most especially the American nuclear arsenal – which during the Cold War were weapons of last resort, now have become, in Daniel’s words, “instruments of intimidation and military aggression against her neighbors.”

The National Security Strategy document goes on to state that “[t]he United States must maintain its capacity to inflict defeat upon whatever enemy, and to dissuade potential adversaries.” In so doing, it will respect “the values, the judgments, and the interests” of its partners – but must be prepared to act alone if its own interests and specific responsibilities demand that. Daniel asks: Does this mean breaking with the UN? With NATO? With the EU? The sad thing is that such a statement is probably completely unnecessary as, especially after the September 11 attacks, any international organization of which the US was a member would have sympathized with what the US felt that it had to do (such as attack Afghanistan) and would have not raised any objection. There would have been no need to threaten to go it alone. Yet that language is there nonetheless, and it paints an ugly picture of a superpower determined to defend “democratic values” everywhere, acting as judge and jury: only the superpower judges which “democratic values” are under threat, and where, and who is doing the threatening.

Daniel then applies these principles to the question of Iraq, and even back then almost a year ago he comes up with questions that still resonate today – perhaps because they have yet to be satisfactorily answered. What relation does Iraq have to the need to conduct a war on terrorism? Wouldn’t a war against Iraq actually divert forces needed to pursue a war on terrorism? What implications does the alleged need to impose democracy on Iraq have for North Korea, or the rest of the Middle East? At that time, George W. Bush had just delivered his speech to the UN General Assembly demanding action against Iraq. After reading this new security doctrine, Daniel is sure that, if UN action is not forthcoming, then America will be willing and prepared to act alone. And then “it will be necessary to re-think our conception of anti-Americanism.”

America did not act alone against Iraq, strictly speaking, but she went to war in cooperation with a group of self-selected coalition partners, and by-passed UN approval. Still, as Bernstein’s New York Times article makes clear, anti-Americanism has nonetheless changed in the intervening time, becoming more virulent and widespread.

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