BRUSSELS More than 100 European intellectuals, political officials and bureaucrats gathered here last month to discuss how to deal with George W. Bush's America. They saw themselves as representatives of the civilized world meeting to determine how to best control, or at least counteract, the influence of the United States "before it is too late."
In their view, almost all the evil in today's world today can be traced directly or indirectly to the United States, or to the system of nation states that make the existence of the United States possible. They dream of a world in which nation-states gradually give way to a world government run by enlightened folks such as themselves. In the interim, though, they would be satisfied if the United States would just behave in ways they deem reasonable.
That would mean, of course, accepting their enlightened advice on nearly everything. Their notion is as follows: We will lead the worldwide effort to make the Kyoto Treaty a reality, join the International Criminal Court and start channeling our resources and wealth into poorer nations because, well, we are just too darned rich.
They feel that the Western world was moving in the right direction under President Clinton but that Bush has thrown a real monkey wrench into the works. They fear that he just doesn’t seem capable of looking "beyond" the "narrow" interests of his own country. Thus, the man poses a real danger to the world or at least to the role in it that they have reserved for themselves.
One participant went so far as to list the dangers facing "Planet Earth." They are, he said, "Terrorism, global warming, HIV/AIDS and George W. Bush." It seemed clear to me that he was listing them in ascending order of importance.
One had the distinct impression that these folks were much happier before the collapse of the Soviet empire because they really like it when the United States is in trouble or tied down. Some of them even seemed almost gleeful that we are still facing armed attack in Iraq, and most don’t seem to mind that we rather than they are going to have to deal with the lunatics currently running North Korea.
A Middle Eastern prince suggested that it is unlikely we will ever do the right thing because CNN actually showed footage of U.S. troops praying before going into battle in Iraq -- something we would not have allowed to be shown if we truly respected the religious beliefs of his part of the world.
Many of the attendees would love to see the United States taken down a peg simply because we are bigger, richer and more influential than the likes of France, Belgium and Luxembourg and because our agenda differs from their own. They see us, as many European intellectuals have since the 18th century, as unsophisticated rubes who escaped Europe and European civilization to set up shop across the Atlantic and then had the impudence to build a successful nation to which they have at times had to look for help.
The motives of American attendees operating essentially as enablers are harder to understand. Their condemnation of their own country was invariably harsher than that of the Europeans. They tended to portray the United States in the worst possible light and shared the European disgust that potentially so great a nation could harbor the likes of Bush and his Republican cohorts, people who, if one were to believe them, apparently spend most of their time plotting wars against everyone else.
In the midst of all that, a Russian attendee managed to make his way to the microphone. He said that he’d grown up under the communists before the collapse of the Soviet Union and was struck by the similarity of the attacks on America he was hearing from these people and the attacks he read day after day in Pravda.
One of the organizers of the conference countered that he was glad the communists at least understood America and was applauded for saying it.
That may have said it all.