The age of Western decline
Europe should step out of the shadows and define an identity -- strategic and political, economic and cultural -- independent of Washington, writes Gamil Mattar*
Has Nicolas Sarkozy added anything to Europe's stature through his sensational swings from contentiousness to sarcasm and his unconventional performance? The answer to this comes in many forms and from many sources, and can be summed up as follows: the whole of the West -- not just France or Europe -- is slipping in strength and influence. Sarkozy, with his solutions and eyebrow raising way of delivering them, can't stop the decline, just as Blair, with his persistent machinations, couldn't stop it in the final days of his personal decline. Meanwhile, the actions of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi are little more than seat-of-the-pants efforts to cut the losses of their own countries resulting from European passivity and the successive failures of American foreign policy.
Few now deny the increasing weakness of the West. Nor is it a hyperbole to compare the West's declining might with the current weakness of the Arabs or to compare the way the West looks at the Arabs with the way the Arabs look at the West. Most Arabs regard the West as tyrannical and racist, while most people in the West regard the Arabs and Muslims in general as a stealthily advancing army set upon destroying Western culture and civilisation. In both cases, the real source and driving impetus of the fear of the other resides in each side's awareness of its own debilitation.
Two factors have set into motion the decline of the West. The first is that the leading power of the West, the world's sole superpower, has failed far more miserably in Iraq than the media and Western politicians are letting on. The second is that Europe still follows policies that lack independent substance, distinction and constructive force. The stature of Europe has declined largely because of policies that subordinate Europe to the US. Whether inspired by some perceived need for camouflage or protection, or by eagerness to evade assuming its share of responsibility for international security and stability by handing the reigns of world leadership to the US alone, these policies have given rise to the most blindly biased and/or opportunistic tendencies. What is worse for Europe is that these tendencies are not motivated by any sense of collective European interests, let alone the welfare of the international community and world peace.
Europe has made its bias very clear in Palestine, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. Even European analysts acknowledge that Europe has lost much of its moral force and ability to influence events in these sensitive areas because it opted to latch onto America's coattails and, hence, adopt American biases lock, stock and barrel. They suggest that it could have preserved some of its prestige and influence, for the establishment and accumulation of which it paid so much over the centuries, if only it had not followed America's lead so obsequiously; if, for example, it had sided with the US on one issue but not on the next, or if it demonstrated just a little spirit of independence in dealing with issues in this region instead of acting as an American underling and yes-man.
In the eyes of the Arab and Islamic world, at least, Europe and the US are one and the same. They became one and the same when Europe failed to rise to the defence of the Western value system when it came under the battering ram of neo-conservative leadership in Washington. They became one and the same when Europe swung from its commitment to the security of Israel to imitating American knee-jerk approval of every Israeli decision and action, a shift that expressed itself succinctly in European reaction to the systematic campaign of starvation, terror and murder being meted out against the Palestinians of Gaza, to the decision to send Palestinian refugees from Iraq to South America instead of to their original homeland in Palestine, and to the Israeli aerial attack on Syria via Turkish-Cypriot airspace.
Of course one knows why the US and Israel have pitted themselves so relentlessly against the Arabs and the Muslims in general. But it is difficult to understand why European countries should toe the line; especially in view of mounting hatred in this region against the US for identifying its policies with Israeli policy and in view of how much more Europe has had to pay as a consequence of association with these policies. In Lebanon, for example, France's stature, and Europe's by extension, has plummeted to an unprecedented low. One can not help but wonder, too, whether Europe realises the danger in which it has placed its soldiers stationed on those front lines as a result of American foreign policy blunders in Lebanon. One also wonders whether Europe is aware of the consequences it will sustain in the event of an American or Israeli or joint American-Israel attack on Iran. In this case, one suspects it is. If so, one would think it would strive to distance itself from policies with such a resounding record of failure. Regardless of American motives for attacking Iran -- motives that are in large measure Israeli-inspired, as was the case with the invasion of Iraq -- by siding with such a scheme Europe may needlessly risk the lives of its many soldiers in Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iraq and may sustain an even greater toll in the event that Iranian and Islamic vengeance extends to European cities.
Politicians in Europe believe that the international order is still a unipolar one, with the US, alone, at the helm. Prominent political scientists and analysts suggest that the reality is rather different. Timothy Garton Ash, for example, holds that the world is now multipolar, with Europe being one of the poles. Still, he may have been a bit hasty in his judgement. As rapidly as they are soaring towards the summit, China and Russia are taking care not to push too prematurely towards the creation of spheres of influence or disturbing international balances in a way that would provoke an already rash and headstrong Washington to even greater madness.
Others have held that while Europe could be a major pole in a multipolar order, it has refused the honour. Europe is qualified because it produces a quarter of global production, it offers 26 models for pluralistic democratic government, it is the largest aid donor in the world, and to people around the world it is still an unrivalled beacon of contemporary civilisation and moral standards. Apparently this is not how Europe perceives itself. There's a strong quality in Europe that has received no end of encouragement from Bush's mistakes and his disastrous foreign policy. Whenever Europe is charged with remiss or poor performance, European leaders point to Washington. However, it will not be too long now before the Bush administration heads off into the sunset. At that point, Europe will have to come to terms with a painful reality: a world without Bush's lethal errors and a slightly different America, an America that needs a real partner, not a toady.
Europe could already begin to prepare for a new phase in which it pursues policies commensurate with the status for which it is qualified. European governments could coordinate their foreign policies, if not unify them. They could establish a credible defence force, because it is difficult to conceive that anyone in Europe or outside it could feel that it could depend on a European defence force as long as it has to rent military transport planes from the Ukraine whenever it has to send troops to Afghanistan, the Balkans or elsewhere, and as long as Europe remains a consumer of security as opposed to a producer of security. When Europe does create an independent defence force and coordinate its foreign policies, it will then be able to tell Israel that if it does not stop building settlements on occupied Palestinian territories European companies will not supply Israel with essential goods. It will be able to intervene to prevent clashes that various parties are pushing for between the Palestinians themselves and between the Palestinians and other Arabs. It will be able to reinstate its credibility in the eyes of the people on the other side of the Mediterranean who are thirsting for a civilised relationship with European governments.
Europe could halt the decline of the West if it revives confidence in its ability to say "No" to Washington and Israel.