America and the West

Four years ago— at the beginning of a new century and a new millennium— relations between the United States and its traditional European allies could be described in familiar and comfortable ways. Together, the Western allies had achieved victory in the Second World War, and together the NATO allies had won the Cold War. In 2000, both the United States and Western Europe were at the historical peak of their peace and prosperity, and they were united around a shared ideology of liberal democracy, market economy, and the open society. Both NATO and the EU were preparing for a great and historical expansion, the admission of a large number of nations of Eastern Europe and from the old Soviet bloc. They were also united around a new security policy focused on humanitarian intervention, which had been exemplified in the successful NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999.

Of course, this all changed with 9/11. Suddenly the central challenge of security policy became transnational networks of Islamic terrorists. But Western nations’ initial response was to reaffirm their unity around the United States’ leadership, and this was exemplified in their support of the U.S. war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and by closer cooperation among the security services of NATO members. Indeed, in late 2001, it appeared that sixty years of cooperation between the United States and its European allies, in the Second World War and in the Cold War, had reached its culmination in the new war against Islamic terrorism.

Now, in late 2004 and only three years later, the picture looks very different. The U.S.-led war against Iraq certainly produced deep divisions between the United States and its European allies. Even the European governments that supported the United States in Iraq in 2003 were opposed in this by much of their publics. But the divisions between the United States and Europe soon spread beyond Iraq to other issues as well. There was a growing consciousness that the Iraq war had not so much caused these divisions, but rather that it had revealed divisions that had been developing for quite some time. This understanding was expressed most lucidly by Robert Kagan in his much-discussed book, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order (2002); he has been followed by many other writers analyzing the current state of U.S.-European relations.

This issue of Orbis examines the deep cultural and political transformations that have developed in the West, and especially in Western Europe, over the course of the last two or three decades. Today’s postmodern Europe is very unlike the old, high-modern Europe that lasted well into the 1960s, which was embodied by statesmen such as Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer, as well as in political organizations as different as the Christian Democratic parties and the communist parties of the mid-century era. But today’s America is also different from any older America. Not only is there now a postmodern American elite that is different from the modern-American elite of the past century, but also there is the Bush administration, which in important ways is different from them both. Together, these changes in Europe and in America have combined to completely redefine the relations between the two halves of what was once the Western alliance. They have also completely redefined the meaning of “the West”—to the point that there may be hardly any common meaning left to the term at all.

J. C. D. Clark, a distinguished British historian teaching in America, is well situated to provide an account of the idea of the West, or “the Allied scheme of history,” and of its rise and decline in the twentieth century through the two world wars and the Cold War. He concludes that the concept of the West was always unstable and that it will not survive as a viable basis for U.S.-European relations in the future. The United States may still try to promote the idea of the West, but it now means little to Europeans.

Rather, as Stanley Michalak shows, what Europeans (or at least European elites) now wish to promote is a new kind of universalism, in particular an ideology centered upon the ideas of humanitarianism and cosmopolitanism. But as Michalak also shows, this is an ideology advanced by many American elites as well. In this sense, there is still a high degree of unity between Europe and America-or at least between their professional, academic, and cultural elites. It is, however, a unity that rejects the earlier notions of the West. It is also a unity whose ideology has no obvious answer to the new security challenges of today-particularly those posed by transnational networks of Islamic terrorists, who have their own notion of what it means to be cosmopolitan.

The new political ideology of humanitarianism and cosmopolitanism comes with its own distinctive political practice, one that oddly claims to be postpolitical. Daniel Mahoney argues that the origin of this distinctive political ideology and practice lies in the social and cultural revolution of the 1960s. By now, what many Europeans call “the generation of ’68” has completed its “long march through the institutions” and come to power in most Western European countries. Mahoney analyzes this cultural revolution and resulting political transformation with particular reference to France, while Uwe Siemon-Netto offers a parallel exposition with a focus on Germany.

The new European ideology and practice not only required the overthrow of old conservative ideas and values-particularly Christian, national, and Western ones-but, as Paul Gottfried demonstrates, it also required the overthrow of the old Marxist ideology and practice. The old Marxism was too bound up with the industrial working-class, hierarchical organizations, and collectivist values to fit the new Leftism-it was too modern, rather than postmodern. Gottfried discusses this transformation on the Left, especially as it has developed in France and Germany.

Discussions of the West normally and naturally focus on the United States and Europe. But there is a third region-Latin America-that in some senses lies between the two, and in other senses outside them both. Insofar as it is Latin, it is an extension of the Southern-European version of the West; insofar as it is American, it is in the sphere of influence of the U.S. version of the West; and insofar as it is Amerindian, it is grounded in a culture very different from any traditional definition of the West at all. Darrin McMahon’s account of the complex identity of this particular and peculiar version of the West, the “Hispanosphere,” is innovative and comprehensive

Whereas the last two or three decades have seen a cultural revolution and resulting political transformation within Europe, the next two decades will see a demographic revolution there, based upon extraordinarily low birth rates. This will probably result in political transformation as well. Nicholas Eberstadt documents the surprising demographic changes occurring in Europe and elsewhere that, in combination, will amount to a global demographic revolution.

Most of the recent discussion about the transformation in U.S.-European relations has focused not upon changes in Europe but upon those in the United States, particularly as reflected in the Bush administration’s approach to foreign policy and military strategy. Neta Crawford’s analysis of the Bush administration’s global conceptions and strategic logic illuminates how the administration’s foreign policy both continues from the policies of previous administrations and also represents a radical departure from them.

This tension between the old and new, between the traditional and the radical, has generated intense debate within the U.S. military about its future direction and development, with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld advocating a radical program of military “transformation.” Laurent Guy assesses the competing visions of what the U.S. military should become.

The transformations in U.S.-European relations and in U.S. strategic logic have stimulated a substantial number of serious books. Our two review essays, by Leslie Lebl and Charles Hill, discuss some of the most important of these recent works. In doing so, they join our other authors in analyzing the basic issues and themes that now shape U.S.- European relations.

Overall, then, this issue of Orbis looks at America’s relations with its Western allies from a number of perspectives. The spirit of that relationship today is very different from the spirit of the alliance when it was formed more than sixty years ago, in the crucible of World War II. But our perspective on the current state of the Western alliance can be enriched if we remember the noble spirit of that alliance at the time of its origin and during its heroic age. And so, in our concluding section, devoted to reminiscences and reflections, David Eisenhower takes us back to D-Day-now so long ago and far away-and to how his grandfather, Dwight Eisenhower, thought America should provide leadership for an alliance that was then truly grand.

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