Friday, March 30, 2007

German Ideologies

Spiegel Online's Claus Christian Malzahn may be on to something when he says that there's a certain hypocritical element involved when you say Bush is Hitler, tickets to America! People opposed to fascism in the 1930s presumably weren't honoring Berlin with their physical and monetary involvement. On the other hand, there's not much to like about this article. The author performs a bizarre rhetorical sleight-of-hand whereby Germans are made to look foolish about everything, ergo they're wrong about America (more specifically, President Bush). Many straw men and appeals to authority are dragged in along the way. (E.g. "There are some Germans who will never forgive the Americans for VE Day, when they defeated Hitler" [??], and insinuating that anyone criticizing America's plan for a missile shield in Europe has "an almost unbelievable lack of knowledge." Cuz a NATO general said so!)

The author's starting point is a poll conducted by Stern magazine which found that 48 percent of Germans think that "the US is more dangerous than Iran." The author also construes this result as saying that the US is "a greater threat to world peace," but considering the fact that world peace doesn't currently exist, this is a forward-looking assessment, whereas the claim that the US is "more dangerous" is a present-day assessment. I'm not sure which the poll actually asked for, but in terms of present-day circumstances it's an undeniable fact that the U.S. is more dangerous than Iran. Even if we factor in the support by Iran for Hezbollah during last summer's war, the damage and killing inflicted by Hezbollah do not come close to matching the deaths in Iraq. That is an empirical fact, and (I would hope) not subject to ideological debate. Even if someone wants to dress Iraq up in the language of a "noble but tragic" enterprise, that doesn't mean doodly to those who have effectively seen America invade another nation, occupy it, and preside over what can only be called a humanitarian crisis (one that has a lot to do with sectarian violence within Iraq, obviously, but, I think, would not exist today otherwise).

Here's the thing: If Germans are actually saying that they believe, in the long run and outside of the fact of the Bush presidency, that the United States, one of the world's oldest, stablest democracies in its over 200 years of existence, is inherently a greater threat to "world peace" than the mullahcracy of Iran, then they are, indeed, a bit loopy. But pace Mr. Malzahn, I don't think this is what's being asked, or said. People are instead assessing the situation as it actually exists, and finding, rather obviously, that America is currently the more "dangerous" of the two. Is this so surprising? We are, after all, as Mr. Kagan says, a "dangerous nation." We just happen to be on the Side of the Good, usually.

Anti-Americanism qua "ugly Americans" is a stupid pasttime and deserves all the abuse it can get, just as the slandering of the French as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" and of Muslims as "inherently violent people" is a practice of the dumb. I accept wholeheartedly the idea that much of such thinking is "envy" of one sort or another on the part of "Old Europe." However, if anti-Americanism is opposition to the Bush presidency, then many people in the U.S. itself are as anti-American as they come. That's what Mr. Malzahn, and many in Europe who see America as a homogeneous block, and not as a nation that might actually (gasp) differ in its policies from one president to another, don't seem to understand. Bush is verging on being "objectively" (insofar as it is accepted by almost all with the exclusion of a few extreme ideologues) a "bad president," if he's not there already. The sooner Mr. Malzahn and others realize that opposition to Bush is an almost global phenomenon, encompassing a majority within the U.S. itself, the sooner they will drop their rah-rah'ing of Bush & co. as the Only Way of defeating terrorism, if, of course, they are capable of critical thinking. I happen to believe that Iran is in many ways "dangerous" and should be dealt with, but I don't trust this President to carry out the task. Nor should anyone else with a speck of sense, if you ask me.

Everything I'm saying is decidedly marked off from a certain strand of thinking that views all American actions as inveterately dangerous, simply by virtue of their being actions of an "imperialist" nation that works in the interests of its capitalist ruling class. I don't doubt for a second that certain, if not most, foreign policy decisions of the United States can be predicted by the very nature of the "regime" in America. Here we get more or less into the realm of social and political science and predictability for all states in the context of their particular power and resources. Analysis at this level is largely uninteresting, though, because the general trends are accepted by everyone; the difference is that some approve of the trends while some disapprove. I find the case of the current administration unique in that a number of prominent voices from both sides of the debate consider the Bush presidency "deviant" in some way. This suggests that the problem is identifiable at a non-ideological level and is something that more or less "everyone" can be opposed to (in a principled, hands-across-the-water Andrew Sullivan kind of way).


Blogger Sebonde said...

A point of clarification: What is the non-ideological level?

11:10 PM  
Blogger Scantron said...

Heh, good point. (That is, if you were trying to make one.) I suppose a better rendering would have been "a broadbased, ecumenical level." By "non-ideological" I didn't mean "there is no 'ideology' present in this agreement", but rather "ideologies don't seem to get in the way of this agreement."

12:02 AM  

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