The Guest Blog

 

Petr Frish spent half of his life in the USA and half in Europe. He cares about both the US and the EU and wants to share his insights and possibly to foster discussion about this important Atlantic alliance.

After I have moved from the U.S. back to Europe, my friends started to ask me: “What is going on, over there, in America? How come they elected Obama? Aren’t they racists?” And I could only say, ” The U.S racism is like Schrödinger’s cat which is both alive and dead. This strange effect is due to one’s perspective. When viewed from Europe, U.S. looks like a single country. But when you are inside, you are either in the South or coast or North. Differences are still here, as manifested by current arguments about the monument from the era of civil war.

In 1973 I was transferred by my company from Dallas, Texas to the San Francisco Bay area. Differences were apparent in the employee cafeteria: In Dallas, there were tables with African Americans and tables with Caucasians. In California, there were tables with black, white and Asian Americans sitting together. The difference between South and North morphed into red and blue states which alternate in winning the presidential elections. The effect is amplified when seen from Europe which is used to parliamentary system of government The European prime minister must always pay attention to all parties represented in a coalition parliament. The US system tends to favor two-party system since votes for smaller parties do not have a chance to affect the executive power. Despite different personalities, the policies of the US under the Republican presidency, from Reagan to the Bushes to Trump are consistent and steady. When Democrats, like Clinton or Obama, are elected, we see large swings in both internal and foreign policies, which puzzles the Europeans.

Responsibility vs compassion — right to left spectrum
The differences between America’s Red and Blue policies will not vanish anytime soon. They are rooted in the different ways people react in a “fight or flight” dilemma. Such decisions depend on individual experience and analysis of facts, but studies show there is actually an inherited bias which affects the way we perceive the world and infer the facts. Wherever these differences may originate, we see them visible in international politics. An example is the perception of Russia as either a traditional enemy or a competitor on the international scene. Fox News and many Republicans see the persistent aggressive behavior. Both Democrats and Republicans noticed a change when the Soviet Union disintegrated, Communism died, and Gorbachev allowed the East European satellites to return to democracy and even to join NATO. For American neocons, this was a sign of weakness and therefore an opportunity to pursue PNAC – The Project for the New American Century, which would enable the U.S. to lead or control other nations. For Democrats, it signaled the end of the Cold War and the possibility of future cooperation. The issue is: “Does Russia represent a danger for the U.S. and the world, which can be eliminated at an acceptable cost?” As the two American parties alternate control of executive power, the U.S appears to vacillate. European countries are confused by such shifts when the objective situation has not altered. The facts are perceived differently by right-leaning hawks and by left-leaning doves. In international politics, the doves can be as wrong as hawks, of course, as seen in the example of Chamberlain vs Churchill before WWII.

Which party wins the U.S. presidential elections depends on a small percentage of voters. Mitt Romney summarized the Republican position to his supporters and donors in a secretly recorded speech in 2012 when running against Obama. He said: “What I have to do is convince the 5 to 10 percent in the center that is independents. . .” Romney did not get that 5% of independent voters, but his estimate was correct: Obama won 51.1% of the popular vote compared to Romney’s 47.2%. How does this 5% minority of independent “thoughtful” voters decide whom to elect? Is it a careful objective analysis of actual facts, or do they vote by their gut feelings at the time? Despite what we may wish, many politicians rely on the latter.

October Surprises
An October surprise is an unexpected event which changes the mood of the country, determines the outcome of an election. It has a long tradition dating back to 1840. The circumstances of a surprise can become a matter of controversy. One example: Reagan’s win against the incumbent Carter in the 1980 election was influenced by the “hostage crisis.”

Let’s look in more detail at two recent surprises, both in Europe’s backyard and examine both versions of the facts, the Right and the Left. w will Europe react to such a position in the long run?

Georgia’s Ossetia Conflict
During the McCain vs. Obama Before the war started, hawkish McCain had made trips to Georgia (Gruzia), which the U.S. was arming, and made a TV speech as a “friend of Georgian people.” Later, in a televised meeting, Saakashvili, President of Georgia, announced that his country had been attacked by Russia

The European view was voiced in the Guardian in vivid interviews with refugees August 11. It quoted one of the refugees, fleeing Tskhinvali after it had been attacked by the Georgian army shouting). “Where were the Russian troops for the first three days? Now they say on television that Russia defended us, that they saved South Ossetia, but that’s rubbish.”

The EU-commissioned report released in September saying “Saakashvili … started the war with the attack on Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital on the night of 7 August..” The controversy furthered a new Cold War narrative. Did McCain bait Russia into Georgia?. With conflicting Republicans chose not to make Georgia a central issue in the election. Instead of a clear-cut narrative of “Russia invades of Georgia” turning the mood of the country to the right, a domestic event took both parties by surprise. The U.S. economy began to plummet. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 18% in the first week of October. Massive job losses and cascading brokerage bankruptcies shattered an already fragile economy. Obama projected calm and confidence in dealing with the crisis while some felt McCain was panicking. For undecided voters, worrying about their next mortgage payment and retirement savings prevailed over worrying about murky events in an unknown country called Georgia, and Obama swept to victory.

Conflict in Ukraine, 2014
The U.S. was providing support, weapons, and money, to the protesters demonstrating in Maidan square against Yanukovych’s Russian-leaning administration. The Russian foreign ministry asserted that U.S. mercenaries were operating disguised as Ukrainian law enforcement.

While there is a controversy about who is to blame, we know that [e U.S. was heavily involved] in the overthrow of an elected president, who had promised to put the issue of joining the E.U. to a vote in the next election. He was not impeached, he was chased away by the mob, which threatened to kill him. We may never know the behind-the-scenes manipulation of Georgian or Ukrainian politics, and each of us can judge the credibility of conflicting reports, according to his or her “gut feelings” favoring the Left or Right preference in the fight or flight dilemma. The fact we can agree on is that U.S. neocons today are using events in both Georgia and Ukraine as a proof that contemporary Russia is still the same aggressor as the Soviet Union was under Stalin.

President Trump expressed the right-wing evaluation of this recent history:

“Ukraine and Georgia, the two countries Russia has invaded “The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense, and if not, the US must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves,” The position that countries must pay for protection may be fair, but it was not seen as reassuring in Europe.

Will the U.S. Protectorate Last?
After WWII, the U.S. established what was essentially a European protectorate. The European countries were exhausted by war, not united, and were not able to face the aggressive policies of Stalin. NATO, the original alliance of 10 European countries plus the U.S. and Canada, was created after the Soviet Union took control of Czechoslovakia in a coup d’etat in 1948. The creation of NATO was appropriate and those who remember or know those times are still grateful. But the situation has changed. Today we do not have separate countries, exhausted by the war. We have 28 members of the European Union, most with booming economies, low unemployment, and technology and science comparable to the U.S. In most of these countries. public sentiment and reality differ from the picture of Europe promoted by the right-wing U.S. press.

How will the European countries react to the assertion of American neocons, that military bases, troops, and missile defense sites need to be built in Eastern Europe?

President Trump probably was assuming that, as it is now, U.S. foreign policy will continue to be NATO’s policy. Washington will decide what is needed for the defense of Europe, and the E.U. will pay the cost. Currently, the U.S. contributes 22% of NATO’s budget, as set by NATO’s budget agreement. However, it contributes far more indirectly in the costs of “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; air-to-air refueling; ballistic missile defense; and airborne electronic warfare” upon which NATO relies. However, if the EU realizes it has outgrown the old paradigm and accepts responsibility for European defense, how will the European Parliament and Brussels decide what this defense will be?

Many people will recall the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 which was precipitated when the United States deployed fifteen nuclear-tipped Jupiter missiles on Turkey’s border with the Soviet Union. Would the currently proposed encirclement of Russia with bases and missiles be a deterrent or would it start a Second Cold War and make WWIII more likely? Who will decide that? The 5% of U.S. voters or the European parliament?

Europe may adopt its own version of the Monroe doctrine and exclude non-European powers from placing military assets on their continent. The current American “deals” with individual EU states about placing bases and nuclear missiles on their borders with Russia would become as absurd as having the EU commission negotiate with Texas to build a military base on the border with Mexico. Would it simply make it more likely for Mexico to pay for a “border wall”? Or would it tempt Mexico to allow Russia to put some missiles on their border with the U.S.?

The EU, of course, would remain the major U.S. ally and a member of NATO. However, some aspects of the treaty would have to be clarified. Currently, an attack on one member state is considered an attack on all members The treaty does not discuss the situation where a member state attacks a non-member country. If, for example, President Trump were to press his Big Button in a preventive strike against Korea, would Korean retaliation be considered a NATO problem? Similar questions could arise with Syria, where the U.S. and Russia are currently engaged in a proxy war. That ongoing conflict is flooding Europe with a tidal wave of refugees. What would happen if the Syrian government, with Russian help, would follow the example of North Korea, and threaten the U.S. with nuclear retaliation? Would that become a NATO issue, binding the E.U. to also attack Syria?

It is likely that Trump administration will be followed by the Democratic presidency. However, it will not be able to completely stop or erase what the neocons have begun. Another Republican administration would likely continue the same agenda as president Trump. In either case, the problem for Europe will not go away.

This neocon pressure may push Europe to assert its own views and take its own actions. This need to solve the differences between the Republican agenda and the European view may end up actually diminishing the influence of U.S. in the world. It certainly would not be the first instance when an attempt to be “great,” to dominate the world, would backfire. This time, the known world encompasses the whole planet. Does the U.S. have a better chance to succeed than the Napoleons of the past? The issue is on the table. Should Europe’s voice be heard?

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