Good WSWS Piece on US-Europe Tensions

Paul Flewers hatchet.job at
Sat Jan 25 15:03:04 MST 2003

The following short article (slightly trimmed) from the World Socialist site
more-or-less coincides with my views on the subject.

Paul F


David North, How to deal with America? The European dilemma

There comes a point in the development of every major political crisis when
the essential underlying motivations and issues, long hidden from view, come
to the surface. We have now arrived at that point in the crisis produced by
the decision of the Bush administration to invade Iraq. It is Iraq that is
the immediate target of America's military arsenal. But what is being
foreshadowed in the increasingly bitter diplomatic dispute over the fate of
Iraq is a direct and open conflict, potentially violent, between the major
imperialist powers.

Much of the discussion of American war aims has focused on the Bush
administration's determination to seize control of Iraq's oil wealth. This
is, of course, a major factor in the calculations of the US government. But
that objective, however important, is only part of a far broader and more
ambitious goal. The United States seeks world hegemony, which means the
political and economic reorganization of the entire world in the interests
of the American ruling elite. This requires the subordination to its will of
not only weak and underdeveloped countries such as Iraq, but also, and above
all, its powerful imperialist rivals in Western Europe and Japan.

US War Minister Donald Rumsfeld's contemptuous dismissal of the opposition
of Germany and France to America's war plans has brought into the open the
long-simmering conflict between the United States and Europe. When asked by
a reporter about European criticism of the Bush administration's drive
toward war, Rumsfeld replied, "You're thinking of Europe as Germany and
France. I don't. I think that's old Europe. You look at the vast numbers of
other countries in Europe. They're not with France and Germany on this. They
're with the United States."

Never before has the United States so openly attacked its long-time allies,
called into question the unity of bourgeois Europe, and expressed so
explicitly its goal of creating its own special sphere of influence on that
continent, in direct opposition to France and Germany. In his typically
artless manner, Rumsfeld left no doubt that the United States has promoted
the expansion of NATO-with the inclusion of weak former Warsaw Pact states
that are easily manipulated by the United States-as a means of undercutting
French and German influence in Europe.

The far-reaching implications of America's hostility to Europe have not been
lost on France, and this is the reason for its decision to drop its stance
of studied equivocation and state its opposition to a war against Iraq more
directly. It is not a humanitarian concern for the fate of Iraq's people
that accounts for the French shift, but rather the belated recognition that
America's drive for hegemony poses a threat to core political, economic and
geo-strategic interests of the European bourgeoisie.

Throughout the 1990s the European ruling elites have lived in a state of
semi-denial, pretending that their relationship with the United States would
not be substantially affected by the demise of the USSR and that their own
continental and global interests were in the long term compatible with those
of the United States. This exercise in wishful thinking ignored the fact
that America's postwar relationship with Europe between 1945 and 1991 was
determined fundamentally by its appraisal of its own essential economic and
geopolitical interests within the specific context of the Cold War. America'
s attitude toward Europe was determined by the overriding need to (1)
enforce the isolation of the Soviet Union and minimize its influence in
Western Europe ("containment") and (2) prevent social revolution at a time
when the European working class was extremely militant and highly

The United States' emphasis during that period on its alliance with Western
Europe was, in fact, a departure from the historical norm. The more basic
tendency of American capitalism, rooted in its somewhat belated emergence as
a major imperialist power, had been to augment its world position at the
expense of Europe.

The preconditions for the maturation of the United States as a major
capitalist power during the nineteenth century was its persistent
undercutting of European influence in the Americas, from the promulgation of
the Monroe Doctrine in the 1820s to the expulsion of Spain from Cuba in the
late 1890s. In the first half of the twentieth century, the United States
expanded its global influence by undermining the colonial empires of the
European imperialist powers. This was done not in the interest of democracy,
but to open up world markets restricted by the colonial system.

To the extent that generally favorable economic conditions and its own
immense wealth made it possible, the United States masked its predatory
imperialistic appetites with a pose of altruistic benevolence. But despite
its humanitarian posturing-as the defender of "four freedoms" and as the
"arsenal of democracy"-the United States never for a moment forgot its own
self-interest. Nothing better illustrates the ruthless core of American
diplomatic philanthropy than the bone-crunching terms laid out by Roosevelt
to Churchill in 1940-41 as a precondition for American financial and
military assistance during the height of Nazi Germany's bombardment of
Britain. Yes, Roosevelt agreed to "save" Britain, but it would cost a pretty
penny. By the time the United States was finished with Britain, the old
roaring imperial lion had been turned into America's pussy cat-a
transformation exemplified in the person of Britain's present prime

The exigencies of the post-World War II situation compelled the United
States to nourish its alliance with the old imperialist powers of Europe and
hold its own aggressive tendencies somewhat in check. Moreover, the general
recovery and expansion of the world economy worked in favor of a mitigation
of inter-imperialist rivalries. But the tendency toward the unilateral
assertion of American interests, regardless of European concerns, remained
active beneath the veneer of multilateralism. Indeed, a deterioration of
world economic conditions generally had the effect of bringing latent
conflicts into the open.

For example, in August 1971, when the American dollar came under attack in
financial markets, President Richard Nixon abrogated the system of
dollar-gold convertibility that had been the foundation of the international
capitalist monetary system for a quarter century without bothering to
consult with European leaders in advance. They were informed only that Nixon
would have some interesting things to say about the world economy and that
they could stay up late and watch his speech on American television. When
asked whether the British, French and Germans might object to the American
measures, US Treasury Secretary John Connolly replied, in his own distinct
fashion, "F-k them."

The collapse of the Soviet Union fundamentally altered the international
framework upon which postwar diplomatic relations were based. There was no
longer any need for the United States to prop up the Western European
bourgeoisie as a line of defense against the Soviet Union. Moreover, the
demise of the USSR created a vacuum of power that the United States was
determined to exploit to its own advantage. But the most important reason
for the now unbridled aggressiveness of American foreign policy is to be
found in the protracted and accelerating deterioration of the American
economy. The use of military power is seen by significant sections of the
ruling elite as a means of counteracting the long-term consequences of the
decline in the world position of American capitalism and the threat posed by
international competitors.

Officials in the Bush administration have become increasingly blunt in
laying out the consequences of a European refusal to fall into line behind
the United States. As one official told the New York Times on Thursday, "Our
goal is to rub their nose in reality, and then proceed to discuss what we do
about it." And what is this reality? The Bush administration has indicated
not all too subtly that French and German companies will be excluded from
participating in the carve-up of Iraq's oil industry in the aftermath of
war. Even more serious, there have been suggestions that the United States,
after occupying Iraq, will exert pressure on Iran, which is a critical
supplier of oil to Western Europe.

>From the standpoint of France and Germany, the behavior of the United States
is utterly reckless and raises the danger of a complete breakdown of
whatever remains of the entire legal and institutional framework that
regulated the affairs of world capitalism. For the Western Europeans to
submit to the diktats of the United States would mean to accept their
relegation, in the words of the conservative French daily Le Figaro, "into a
simple protectorate of the United States." But to openly resist would raise
the risk of a potentially catastrophic military confrontation with the
United States. Either alternative, or even some middle road between the two,
would profoundly destabilize relations among European countries. Moreover,
the social consequences of conflict between the US and the "old" Europe
would inevitably intensify internal class tensions.

This is the dilemma that confronts the Western European bourgeoisie.

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