Sunday, February 02, 2003

For those who haven't read Tom Friedman's latest column, here's a brief digest of what the Pulitzer Prize-winning leading light of American foreign policy has to say about opinion in Europe, briefly summarized by yours truly:

Some Europeans object to genetically modified food. Other Europeans smoke. Therefore, Europe as a whole has an inconsistent position on matters of personal health. And since this inconsistent position which the whole of Europe has adopted, all at once, is self-contradictory, it must not be based on a rational assessment of things; they're just trying to be something the Americans are not.

Why isn't Europe behaving in this reactionary way? Because they're weak. The United States has a larger army than all of them put together. Military weakness is a terrible thing. It weakens the mind. Robert Kagan said something a little like that, and he's deeply insightful. That's why the "insufferable" European arguments against Dubya's war are "mere cynicism and insecurity, masquerading as moral superiority", and unworthy of serious consideration.

In fact, it has gotten so bad that lingerie stores in Davos are putting signs in their windows expressing sympathy for protesters to keep from getting their windows smashed. That happened on "demonstration day", when protestors are allowed (get this) to express their opinions. How strange.

Now, does this bit about shop windows really have anything to do with the European foreign ministers at the meeting a few miles away? Or am I just filling column inches, because with a war about to start, crises all over Africa, a new administration in China, tensions ratcheting up again between India and Pakistan, plummeting poll ratings for the war in our one serious military ally, and a fifty-year-old alliance structure in the middle of cracking up, I really can't think of anything else that a foreign affairs columnist could use to fill the space? If you can't tell, I won't say. It's just evidence of my superior intellect. I have a Pulitzer, and you don't. Neener neener neener.

I confess I'm being unfair to Friedman in one respect --- I did add the "neener neener" graf. (I felt the need for the silly lingerie shop anecdote to lead somewhere. Friedman didn't). But it is accurate that Friedman doesn't even state, much less respond to, even one European argument against the war, say, from the smorgasbord available in his own paper --- say, that Pakistan is a lot more likely to give weapons of mass destruction to Islamist terrorists than Iraq (since they give conventional weapons to Islamist terrorists all the time). He really does believe that the might puissance of America's huge... army makes it unnecessary to even cite them, much less offer a refutation.

Besides, that would be work, and he's got some important skiing to do.

(via Brad DeLong).

By the way, to followers of Friedman, the only surprise here is his complete ignorance of the case against genetically modified food, which many object to for reasons which have nothing at all to do with the personal health of the people consuming it (the risk of hybridization with native plants producing metabolically souped-up, pesticide resistant weeds for starters). And if you haven't yet read Kagan's actual argument, don't let Friedman scare you off; if you actually read the thing, Kagan's sober consideration of Europe's actual interests will teach you far more than Friedman's sneering contempt.


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