Last night, I ridiculed a comment by Tom Friedman to the effect that President Bush is partly to blame for European hostility towards the U.S. because of his position regarding the Kyoto agreement. Friedman asked Tim Russert how the U.S., having shown so little concern for the world’s environment, can expect other countries to rally around our concerns. He sounded like a Third Grade teacher.
There is, however, some truth in Friedman’s diatribe. The sources of today’s anti-Americanism are not obscure. They are (1) balance of power politics and (2) ideology. If I recall correctly, conventional international relations theory holds that when one nation becomes extremely powerful, other nations will form alliances to curb that power. Thus, France, in building an alliance designed to thwart U.S. goals, is doing pretty much what one would expect. Moreover, at the ideological level, Europe has largely embraced the democratic socialist model, while the U.S. more or less clings to capitalism. The U.S. also resists other cornerstones of European sophistication, such as pacifism and anti-semitism.
The Europeans hold out one, and only one, solution to reducing the serious tensions that arise from balance of power politics and ideology. That solution is “multilaterism.” Through multilateralism, U.S. power can be checked without the overt belligerence of the counter-weight alliance model. And through multilateralism, the U.S. can be brought into line with European ideology through various treaties, protocols, and international institutions that limit U.S. autonomy in dealing with issues such as the environment, trade, human rights, labor relations, the use of military force, and war crimes.
Tom Friedman is correct that President Bush’s unwillingness to embrace the multilateral solution is the major source of anti-Americanism today. But framing the matter this way takes all of the fun out it for Friedman. He is seeking assign to President Bush a measure of blame for the breakdown in relations with France and its cohorts. It is clear, however, that Bush could have avoided the breakdown only by ceding to other countries substantial control over U.S. policy, including U.S. policy regarding national security. Only if one advocates doing so, can one make a principled claim that President Bush is to blame for our problems with Europe. Friedman doesn’t advocate this. Thus, his criticism of the president is not principled.
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