:: Bite The Wax Tadpole ::

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:: Saturday, March 29, 2003 ::

Another kind of Ugly American

The Radical warns against entering political discussions with Expat Americans, on the grounds that you might get a stream of anti-American vitriol in response. He points to a real problem, but one that exists even in New York. I'd say you just have to choose your conversation partners carefully. Sound them out with a few softball comments before you really discuss anything significant.

There's a certain category of expat (quite common in Amsterdam) with whom political conversation should be avoided. They're in Europe because they essentially hate America (though they'll pay lip service to American ideals) and if they were still stateside they'd be holding naked barf-in's and carrying "Bush == Hitler" signs. They aren't stateside, though, so they have even less contact with or understanding of America and they're railing against an imagined dystopia that has little to do with contemporary America; in particular, they have absolutely no comprehension of how 9/11 affected many Americans.

The expats who left in the sixties and seventies are the worst - they literally can't imagine that anything has changed in the past 30 years and their rants have almost no point of contact with reality.

You do encounter the occasional pro-American/anti-European Expat who is just as obnoxious and out-of-touch, but they don't seem to last very long before they repatriate.
:: Erik | 3/29/2003 03:00:00 PM | | ::

:: Thursday, March 27, 2003 ::
Girding for Battle

In the comments section of this post, Jaed from Bitter Sanity asks about a Times article which predicts the death of NATO and a slide into irrelevance for the UN Security council. Nothing new to Americans but, as she notes, somewhat startling to see in the UK press.

Blair was also very careful in his choice of words in this press conference:

Secondly in relation to the UN, there are two issues here. The first is in respect of humanitarian assistance we need a resolution through on that and I am confident that we should be able to secure that. There is going to be a debate about the UN resolution that then governs the post-Saddam civil administration in Iraq. We are quite clear that any such administration has to be endorsed by the United Nations, it is important, and that is exactly what we said at the summit in the Azores. Now the details of that we will discuss with allies within the UN and with others. There may be certain diplomatic difficulties but I think in the end people will come together and realise that it is important that any post-Saddam Iraqi government has the broadest possible representation, is respectful of human rights, is careful to preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq, and the important thing after all the diplomatic divisions that there have been is that the international community comes back together, and I hope that it will.

In contrast, Colin Powell has bluntly stated that the coalition won't be handing the keys over to the UN any time soon.

Taken together, this indicates that both the US & UK recognize the danger and are girding for battle - both at the UN and for public opinion at home. They'll try to delay the confrontation at the UN for as long as possible, but they know it is inevitable and are laying the groundwork for when it comes. At first glance, it looks like a good cop-bad cop scenario in which Powell plays the heavy and Blair passionately defends the "international order" but it could evolve into a struggle between Blair and De Villepin for the "soul" of the UN, with the US at arms length.

Blair's defense of the UN is and will be genuine, but his careful choice of words above suggests that he doesn't expect to win the next round. Articles like the Times editorials cited above can start softening public opinion for that possibility now.

Update: Another surprising editorial, this time in the Telegraph.

:: Erik | 3/27/2003 04:19:00 AM | | ::
:: Wednesday, March 26, 2003 ::
Call me contrarian but I don't object so much to allowing France to occupy part of Iraq - say, Tikrit. One lesson from postwar Germany is that few things make people appreciate America more than being occupied by the French.

Don't let them near anything vital, of course, but France could play a valuable role as a counter-example.
:: Erik | 3/26/2003 11:25:00 AM | | ::

:: Tuesday, March 25, 2003 ::
The Red-Green coalition has given up on the transatlantic relationship, if Joschka Fischer's latest interview with der Spiegel is any indication. He pays lip service to rebuilding the relationship, but his attention is clearly focused on manuvering to block and/or punish the US and bring wayward Europeans back into line. It's not quite as bad as this EU Observer summary suggests, but it's not good -- Fischer was the last German official to make any attempt to salvage the relationship. Schr´┐Żder may have blundered into this conflict unaware, but his government now seems to be willfully widening the rift.

As someone with deep ties to both countries, this makes me very sad.
:: Erik | 3/25/2003 12:55:00 PM | | ::

:: Sunday, March 23, 2003 ::
A couple of dangerously false assumptions seem to underlie most of responses to my warning that the UN is not dead and that French manuvering at the UN poses a serious risk to US-UK relations if left unchecked. At the risk of generalization, most of that feedback is from Americans and the common thread throughout these assumptions is that they project American attitudes and world view onto Europeans in general and Tony Blair in particular. Therefore, I'd particularly welcome feedback from European readers as to my perception of the "European" mindset.

  • Bad Assumption #1: Video of happy Iraqi's and other revelations from Iraq will quickly turn opinion in favor of the war

    This might be true for the "American street" but it just isn't going to happen among Europeans (or activist Americans). Best case, you'll see a swing of ten percent or so - possibly significant but far from decisive. Even ordinary Europeans "have their blood up" now and are likely to resist the notion that the war was justified. Worse yet, accepting the war, even after the fact, clashes with fundamental pillars of the European world view ("War bad, UN good"). Finally, the fact that every picture of happy liberated Iraqi's will be matched in the press by a picture of dead or injured children means the upside for the pro-war view is pretty limited. That's not to say that opinions can't be changed over time, but it will take years of patient and careful work rather than one big PR "shock and awe" assault.

  • Bad Assumption #2: Tony Blair has had an epiphany and is ready to give up on the UN completely

    Tony Blair is frustrated, disappointed and angry at the UN Security Council and especially at France. Despite that frustration, he is deeply committed to the concept of the international law and institutions and is not ready to give up the UN as a whole. He will likely try to reform the UN, but he won't throw it overboard. Blair might be persuaded to switch horses if France continues to wield the UN as a political instrument and an acceptable alternative gains some kind of political momentum, but that's about as far as he (or British voters) will go.

  • Bad Assumption #3: Revelations from Iraq will cause Europeans in general to share Tony Blair's epiphany and abandon the UN completely. Soon.
    This non-starter just compounds the two other bad assumptions into something even more disastrously off-base. The concept of the UN and other international institutions is fundamental to European views of a peaceful world, and they're deeply suspicions of an activist America especially one that's led by the idiot cowboy Bush. Nothing will galvanize European and world opinion against the US faster than a perceived attempt by the superpower to destroy the UN, and no politician in Europe could stand against that. Not that even the most stalwart ally would even try (see bad assumption 2).

  • Bush can probably get away with just ignoring the UN, but Blair simply cannot. France is pushing the issue at the UN now to force Blair to choose between backing the US (which would be political suicide) or backing the UN (which would damage US-UK relations). Chirac may have overplayed his hand by being so trigger happy with the veto threat -- his belligerence allows Blair to treat the whole question as a dispute with Chirac rather than a dispute with the UN. The reprieve is temporary, though -- Chirac will tune his message and if Russia and China join in it will get harder for Blair to avoid the issue.

    Update: In the comments on the original thread, Rob Robertson points to another danger. France is reported to be mediating an attempt to get Iraq to "surrender" to the UN, which would also put Blair in a tough position.

    :: Erik | 3/23/2003 11:24:00 PM | | ::
    An Iranian friend still living in Europe has this to say about the war:

    Right now the only thing people here are talking about is the war. Almost everybody here in Europe is against the war. I for myself try not to get involved in the discussions but sometimes I lose it and tell them my opinion. I have the dreadful experience of living in a dictatorship for some years and Saddam is the reason why I was separated from my parents, not to mention all the people he killed in the war. Unfortunately it's hard to make the people here to understand what I have seen and experienced. Most of them had an easy life and are so naive. I sometimes get the impression that form them the evil exists only in movies and novels. Don't get me wrong, I'm not for war but if it's the only way to get of this guy then let it be. I just hope the war will be over soon, with minimal casualties. Maybe this war will also change something in Iran.

    :: Erik | 3/23/2003 11:58:00 AM | | ::
    When you read things like this ("Slow Aid and Other Concerns Fuel Iraqi Discontent Toward United States"), try to remember the context.
    :: Erik | 3/23/2003 09:29:00 AM | | ::

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