It’s open season on the Europeans at the moment. Following the lead of
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who delivered a stiff warning to NATO
the other day, everyone has been piling on. The latest was an article in
The Washington Post by Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, under the provocative headline “Europe no longer matters.”
Nothing like kicking a man when he’s down. It must be said, the Europeans are an easy target. The other day in Washington, I heard Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) pointing out that the U.S. was subsidizing European social programs through its predominant financial contribution to NATO, as European military budgets declined. But here’s what I’m hearing in Europe at the moment: that America is weak.
Ask Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu whether he would agree with that conclusion, or King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, or even President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. You can bet that they would all line up behind the European view.
In Paris, once conversations move on from the unavoidable topic of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, it’s obvious that people are still smarting from the American export of its toxic debt, which rippled through Europe. Nothing has changed in the U.S., they complain; for the banks it’s pretty much business as usual.
Right now, Europe is in dire straits. There is a question mark over the future of the euro, tax rates for the middle classes hover around 40 percent and the unemployment rate in Spain, the highest in Europe, stands at 20 percent (with youth unemployment at 45). Governments are falling all over the place.
But Americans, carrying record levels of debt, are in no position to lecture Europeans. We are all in this together. The French banks are perilously exposed to the Greek debt and the cycle looks poised to go global like the bad loans did.
So how about a little sympathy, folks? This Europe-bashing might provide a little psychological comfort, but a trans-Atlantic blame game is not going to do any of us any good. Who stands to benefit most from the current crisis? The Chinese, of course.