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The Economist, which used to be an excellent magazine with fairly transparent biases that did not spill into its reporting, has turned, over the past 10-15 years, into the mouthpiece of the US business right, with an increasingly opaque mix of ideology and facts in its content.

This week, it has yet another column moaning about more distance between Europe and the US, putting the blame squarely on Europe for it, and suggesting ominously that this is a Very Bad Thing.

But the arguments used are rather revealing - although maybe not of what the Economist would want us to focus on.

The main gripes are that (i) the Americans feel Europeans are not doing enough on Afghanistan and Iran, refuse to pay back Obama's multilateralism and (ii) the Europeans are unfairly disappointed by Obama's policies on various topics.

From the American side, there is frustration that the Obama administration's multilateral humility has not been matched with more European help in Afghanistan, or a promise in every European capital to back tougher sanctions on Iran. (Yes, it looks as if they are building a bomb, goes the line in some places that do business in Iran, but if we stop selling things, the Chinese will just take our place.)

Beyond the usual casual accusations of a cowardly Europe dominated by lowly corporate interests (because no, that certainly doesn't happen in the US), and of Europe's lack of gratitude for Obama's change in behavior (we're asking "please" instead of ordering you, so you have no excuse to say 'no' now), it is kind of funny to read this on the same day that one can find, in the WSJ, the following headline: France Plays Unaccustomed Role: Diplomatic Hawk, xith the following lead: Once the world's self-proclaimed international mediator, France is now trying its hand at pit-bull diplomacy with Iran precisely at the time when Obama is trying hard to find new diplomatic routes to get results.

So this is not really about Europe, but about Obama's own policies, which, as we all know, are heavily criticized  by the US right and the neocons as being too naive and wimpy. But by painting Europe as naive, ungrateful  and wimpy, it feeds the narrative on Europe and makes it easy to continue to use "European" as an insult to hurl at Obama.

The Economist does acknowledge that Americans are 'misreading' Europeans on Afghanistan:

American diplomats insist that Europeans see a failed Afghan state as a direct threat to their security. That is not true. "A very small number" of European governments believe Afghanistan is on the front-line of the war on terror, says one senior Brussels man. Most sent troops just to maintain good relations with America. Europe's governments fear there is no strategy for winning the war but "some are afraid to tell the Americans the truth."

While they carefully stay away from stating that this "truth" is actually correct (it's only the claim of a "senior Brussels man," an eminently clueless or suspect category, of course), they do indirectly note the only thing which makes sense about the Afghan war: it's all about European fealty, and Europe's cowardice in confronting the US about a pointless - and lost - war.

More interesting, yet, is the commentary about Europe's unhappiness with the US, as already noted above: the article insists several times that Europeans are ungratefully failing to acknowledge American efforts at preaching multilateralism:

From the American side, there is frustration that the Obama administration's multilateral humility has not been matched with more European help in Afghanistan


In Brussels on September 30th America's assistant secretary of state for European affairs, Philip Gordon, warned the Europeans that the Obama administration needed something in return for its punt on multilateralism. If "in a year from now", Europeans have not decided to offer more help in Afghanistan and tougher sanctions on Iran, he said, "plenty of Americans will say, you know what, let's do it our way."

In other words, as noted above: we're no longer ordering you, just requesting you, to do stuff, so you have no reason not to do it - as if real multilateralism did not mean precisely the willingness to accept no for an answer, along with accepting to be bound by the same rules as others! "Let's do it our way," indeed. Requesting things used to be good enough in the good old days, when the odd "no" would be tolerated, but most of Europe did say "yes" usually. But after Bush, there's probably no going back to this without a rebuilding of trust. Acknowledging that other points of view exist is not enough, if they're still not listened to.

But that's obviously too much for the US right. Going it alone was so much more fun (and so much more effective, right?)...

Then there's a funny broadside that's worth posting in full:

The EU is an elite, supranational project, and only indirectly democratic. This creates a structural problem whenever it talks to the Americans. Eurocrats often get on well with administration officials (another secret is that European bigwigs found the second-term Bush lot congenial to deal with). The bigger problem is usually Congress, which acts as a lightning rod for American popular opinion. In Europe no such partisan democratic body exists (the European Parliament is more remote from voters and less powerful than Congress, and MEPs live in a warm bath of mushy conventional wisdom). Euro-types boast that the EU stands for stirring values like leadership on climate change or opposition to the death penalty. It is less clear that you could win a mandate for such things from European voters, which may be why they are not directly asked.

If people in Brussels struggle to understand how troublesome Congress can be to an American administration, they should try this mental aid. Congress is a bit like France: prickly, status-obsessed, ruthless in defending national interests and addicted to subsidies for special interests such as farmers or industrial champions. Both are ambivalent about free trade: as the Copenhagen climate talks near, it is France and certain American senators who want to talk up "green tariffs" in case China and India duck binding limits on carbon.

All the Economist's (and the US corporate right's) bogeymen are there in two short paragraphs:

  • the usual comments about the EU being "elitist" and "undemocratic" - from the smugest and most self-righteous column in the most unabashedly elitist newspaper around, and in the same paragraph as a withering explanation of why "democratic" Congress is hopelessly wrong on everything that 'matters': promoting trade, fighting restrictions on business, pushing back on environmental rules;

  • the traditional proxy of "French" for "evil" - Congress is a little bit like France: arrogant, PITA, and wrong on everything;

  • additinally, "euro-types" fit a profile which is regularly used for liberals - out of touch, with grand but unrealistic ideas, naturally elitist and self-absorbed, and too cowardly to admit they secretly like America, even Bush's;

Add in more than a bit of projection (accusing the MEPs of living in "conventional wisdom" - obviously not the kind that the Economist propagates - and, again, of elitism) and you pretty much have the mission statement of the Economist - and of the Republican Party.

Finally, a few more paragraphs to put Europeans back in their place:

You can overstress biography, but a Kenyan-American raised in Hawaii and Asia could be forgiven for remembering that Europe was a continent of colonial powers before it proclaimed itself a beacon of moral values, and for considering the Pacific to be just as strategic as the Atlantic.


Americans may not realise how horrible their health-care debate looks to outsiders. It is not just that it is blocking other legislation. The partisan nature of today's Congress looks mad to Europeans brought up to value consensus. Europeans also know that "European-style" health care does not include death panels prescribing euthanasia for grannies and are offended by the way such tosh is alleged in America.

Europeans can NEVER claim the moral high ground - remember, they were colonizers, their (centuries old) past limits their future in a way that the invasion of Iraq or the legitimation of torture doesn't, obviously. That's because they're irrelevant - Asia is so much more important (it must be a pain to be the correspondent in charge of writing about Europe, heh). And of course, the only thing wrong with the healthcare debate in the US is the bipartisanship, not the fact that America's power-that-be would seemingly rather let people go bankrupt or die than limit the profits of insurance companies...

But that's me, being elitist, out-of-touch, arrogant and snobbily Frenchy again. But I do have an excuse: I'm actually French.

And the Economist doesn't like what I stand for. And they have a bigger audience than me, sadly.

Originally posted to Jerome a Paris on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 06:53 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

    •  AFAIR, the Economist is too young to have ... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lupin, dancewater, sustainable

      ... taken a stand on the American British Colonial Declaration of Independence ... and as noted, they at one time built their corporatist pandering editorial line with some sharp reality-based reporting ... but as far as the 21st Century version of the Economist, based on their insistence that sovereign nations in Europe to kowtow to US Foreign Policy, I am thinking they would have been "against".

      Supine obedience to the hegemon of the day, would seem to be the current party line at the Economist.

      If you join the twitter #HSrail swarm, find me @BruceMcF

      by BruceMcF on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 08:24:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The European imperial project (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fladem, sustainable

    remains very unpopular to this day.  This is a diary about the American one also being unpopular, so I wonder why you are surprised.

    "Dream for just a second and then do it!" -- Kolmogorov

    by theran on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 06:59:26 AM PDT

  •  European countries waged their colonial wars (8+ / 0-)

    during the 19th century, why should they be expected to contribute to America's in the 21st?

    As for President Obama, whatever happened to his request that Israel freeze settlements in the Occupied Territories?

    But now, that President Obama is sounding more and more like a Bush-Lite on Iran, he'll probably have recourse next to Rumsfeld's "Old Europe" turn of phrase.

    Meanwhile the US$ keeps on falling compared to the Euro.

    It's enough to make an old critter of my vintage go and listen to his old 78rpm of "Maréchal, nous voilà!"

    We're shocked by a naked nipple, but not by naked aggression.

    by Lepanto on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 07:04:09 AM PDT

    •  America's had plenty of colonial warring already (5+ / 0-)

      Just ask the Cherokee, Sioux, Navajo, Inuit, and all the other tribes.

      Nothing brings people together more than mutual hatred.

      by Hannibal on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 07:17:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Into the mid 20th century, at least (0+ / 0-)

      You may note all of the major European colonial powers save Spain held colonies through mid-century.

      Hasn't been that long. As I recall, Madame/Monsieur, Algeria only gained independance from France in 1960, for example.

      You may also note a French law passed in 2005 mandated teaaching a revisionist "positive" history of colonialism. While this la was overturned in 2006, it suggsts unrepentant attitudes still exist on the Right, which is again in ascent in Europe.

      Ask me about my daughter's future - Ko

      by koNko on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 08:29:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You're quite right, even though the great bulk (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        of European colonial expansion took place during the 19th century, some European countries fought colonial wars of aggression well into the 20th.(Italy, for example, invaded Ethiopia as late as 1935 - a quick victory with overwhelming force, but ingloriously against an underarmed country, that led to disaster, bit like our invasion of Iraq.) All the more reason for European countries not to get involved in our colonial wars now.

        And now I can go and listen to my old 78rpm of "Giovinezza".

        We're shocked by a naked nipple, but not by naked aggression.

        by Lepanto on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 09:26:13 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Spain too, of course (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        There's a reason that when Franco led the fascist coup, he brought his troops BACK from Africa, with colonial African troops with them.
        And both the US and Europe are guilty of certain kinds of de facto colonialism via 'spheres of influence' and special trade agreements (special only to the first-world partners who benefit most, and secondarily so to the corrupt third-world elites who act as their business partners). In both cases much of their colonialism is no longer nationally based, but on the behalf of multinationals. Witness Britain's special investment agency that's supposed to help former colonies and others with much-needed local development, but instead puts its money into building shopping malls or supporting mining interests.

        Political Compass says: -8.88, -8.67
        "We never sold out cos no one would buy."--J Neo Marvin

        by expatyank on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 11:14:34 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Indeed. (0+ / 0-)

          Thanks for the correction. Checking the facts, in 1975 Spain relenquished control of Equatorial Guinea, it's last remaining African colony, but aparently retians a joint administrative role in several Spanish Autonomous Communities with the EU in several African cities and the Canary Islands. Morocco disputes Spanish sovernty of Ceuta, Melilla, and the several plazas de soberanía (six by my map count)including Isla Perejil where they had a (peaceful) confrontation in 2002.

          At least in Moroccan eyes, Spain is still a colonial power.

          Thanks for the tip, I'm always happy to learn.

          Ask me about my daughter's future - Ko

          by koNko on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 07:27:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  another media forum run for business (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jimstaro, Hannibal, JanL

    makes it harder to understand that the multi national corporations and the military determine politics

  •  American Arrogance (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lupin, theran, koNko, sustainable

    Fails to see what it's policies do to it's bottom line, especially the really arrogant way over priced corporate whores!

    We are loosing customers to whatever we still have to offer, and probably even for corporations found anywhere with american connections or majority ownership.

    Nothing but our own failed policies, and now the asinine behavior of the citizens of especially these past months, are quickly bringing down everything this country once stood for, even if we didn't always practice what we preach.

    The past decade has greatly damaged this country and it continues even with a change in leadership, we saw the results yesterday with the way, and comments, the Olympic choices were made. Some may not think that but to me it was clear and a big part of why we lost out and so quickly!

    Look in the mirror America, the fault lies in what you see back, each and everyone of us!!

    And that's our 'Strong National Security' as well, in the toilet as innocents elsewhere will pay for our actions!!

    At AFL/CIO Convention:"We've been fighting for reform for so long that if health reform was a person, it would be eligible for Medicare!"

    by jimstaro on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 07:06:38 AM PDT

  •  On health care, (11+ / 0-)

    our debate looks and is horrible because it is obvious our politicians are willing to sacrifice the lives of our citizens for industry profits.

    Medicare For All.

    by Chi on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 07:11:53 AM PDT

    •  Well, that... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      And the apparent attitude among our elected leaders that Progressives are somewhat of a marginal part of their base -  to whom their "You need us more than we need you" positioning has generally served as a reliable response.

      This seems to be changing. Slowly.

  •  A very interesting dissection of the Economist's (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jerome a Paris, dansmith17

    perspective of the US & Europe from a Gallic point of view.

    no remuneration was received by anyone for the writing of this message

    by ItsSimpleSimon on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 07:19:01 AM PDT

  •  On the positive side (12+ / 0-)

    The USA HCR debate has made nearly all European population rabidly ready to defend their socialized medicines. Even the right wing countries around the continent have had to come to the media and state "We don't want any of the USA health model here" "We love our national Health Care systems".

  •  They really do think (11+ / 0-)

    we've gone bonkers.  The health care debate just amazes my Euro colleagues.  Add in the Palin phenomenon, Orly Taitz, Glen Beck, Obama pulling off the trick of being simultaneously being a socialist and a fascist (in Europe these terms still have meaning), the apparent enabling Israeli deferral of definitive peace talks.  Not to mention a bit of schadenfreude at our economic distress and the placing of some resentment for having caused it.  

    In sum, they have more good reason for keeping a little distance between themselves and the crazy kid across the Atlantic.

    Those who hear not the music-think the dancers mad

    by Eiron on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 07:40:24 AM PDT

  •  It's almost like we're talking about states (4+ / 0-)

    with distinct interests instead of a social club.

    "[R]ather high-minded, if not a bit self-referential"--The Washington Post.

    by Geekesque on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 07:44:24 AM PDT

  •  You French, trying to subvert our ways (0+ / 0-)

    It's "a bigger audience than I" not "a bigger audience than me."


    Get over to the Green Mountain Daily! What are you still reading this sig for?

    by odum on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 07:46:29 AM PDT

  •  Economist article seems practically neocon (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eugene, Detlef

    in its hard sell of the rift meme, despite little evidence for it. Obama and Europe seem to be getting along swimmingly, as best I can tell. Cheers.
    Copy of nouvel observateur july09

    Cheney tortured detainees to elicit false justifications for invading Iraq.

    by ericlewis0 on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 08:05:13 AM PDT

  •  The EU is an elite, supranational project (0+ / 0-)

    and only indirectly democratic.

    That is rather like what the Confederate States argued in the 1860s about the United States.

    States rights? States sovereignty? Ring a bell?

    An argument that for the United States was settled at Gettysburg.

    Governing well shall be the best revenge

    by Bill White on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 08:06:13 AM PDT

    •  One can say the EXACT same thing (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mike101, danmac, koNko, bethyb, dansmith17

      About the United States Senate.

      Elite, supranational (i.e. in thrall to transnational corporations at the expense of the American worker), and only indirectly democratic (1 voter in Wyoming counts the same as  70 Californians for the purposes of Senate representation, and that's before we discuss the cloture rule).

      I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

      by eugene on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 08:38:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Sarkozy is Likud's guy (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Sarkozy's been very open about his politics in the Middle East. I disagree with them, but the voters of France were not misled in any way.

  •  I was a loyal subscriber to THE ECONOMIST... (0+ / 0-)

    ...until 2000. Their supine behavior towards Bush was more than I could take. I've never read an issue since.

    Based on your diary, it seems to me that they're like a Versailles newspaper reporting on the French Court circa 1776. Important in the now, possibly correct, historically irrelevant.


    by Lupin on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 08:51:36 AM PDT

  •  About the Economist (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I lived in London in 1975 and well remember one of their long pieces on the steel industry worldwide. The salient conclusion was that although Britain subsidized its' Scottish steel industry and Brussels refused to acknowledge the protectionist Europe wide steel tariffs
    the US market was so vast that the US steel industry should not complain and you see where that got us.

  •  Their subscriptions must be hurting (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    because they've recently sent me the usual glowing letter, complete with multitudinous bits of shiny coated paper inserted, urging me to subscribe at a VERY reduced rate.

    But I don't subscribe to anything in their general orbit. So where did they buy my info? Harper's or The Nation? Neither one is exactly on the Economist wavelength these days.

    If they're going that far afield for revenue, maybe things are not so good in Winglandia.

    Well-behaved women seldom make history--Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

    by Mnemosyne on Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 10:20:15 AM PDT

  •  Priceless quote (0+ / 0-)

    If "in a year from now", Europeans have not decided to offer more help in Afghanistan and tougher sanctions on Iran, he said, "plenty of Americans will say, you know what, let's do it our way."

    Plenty of Americans on the inner Beltway cocktail party circuit maybe. The rest of us have no say in what these maniacs decide to do and we know it. Sure, they can round up the usual suspects in the media and "manufacture consent" for whatever the latest imperial war project is, but most Americans care more about their jobs or credit card payments or healthcare premiums than anything that the American and European elites may be having a spat about.

    You wonder if these idiots actually believe the nonsense they spout.

  •  The way to understand The Economist (4+ / 0-)

    is to look at the job advertisements in it-- lots of code there to interpret.  That tells you who the essential readers are.  It's the Murdoch sector- the nontransparent neocolonial bloodsucking corporations, the foundations and companies run by Third World kleptocrats (Middle Eastern, Latin American, East Asian, Russian), and the shady London and New York and Toronto and Munich corporate chieftains and their children who do business with them.  And all the clever, ruthless, careerist, but mostly disposable minions who come from nowhere (and almost invariably fade back into nothingness soon enough) that serve them.  It's the colonial overlord class in its contemporary form.  (Without going into details, I have a couple of acquaintances who went into that world.  One is an editor of The Economist.)  

    The Bush/Blair/Putin era was great for these people- they got everything they wanted.  The showed their world their grandiose narcissism and cleverness, and the contempt they have for middle class and working class people (which oozes out between the lines everywhere in The Economist, though their editors remove as much of the evidence of it as possible.)  It also showed that if/when the world really becomes their playground, when there are not enough adults- academics and intelligent powerful leaders dedicated to at least a minimum of social decency- to rein them in, their boundless greed, narcissism, and nepotism leads to an hideous mess of things pretty quickly.

    Okay, having said that...I think "Charlemagne"'s editorial is fairly superficial.  On the whole serious Obama(/Clinton) foreign policy looks subtly and carefully aligned with the one the EU has constructed recently in Europe east and southeast of Poland, the Caucasus and northern Middle East, and Central Asia.  To the careful observer, the EU, the U.S., and Israel are playing fairly complementary roles in those regions, working to push out Russian hegemony and antidemocratic (usually pro-Moscow or Moscow-allied) problem leadership.

    The EU does the groundwork- it studies the countries closely and then sends carefully targeted money, experts, and policy/politics suggestions.  The US drops the big chunks of money, when necessary, and plays the power political chess against Moscow that gives regional governments and peoples enough freedom of action to keep the internal progress in political maturation going.  The U.S. plays that chess match  imperfectly, but perfection isn't necessary-- stalemating the threats is enough.  And Israel quietly arms the favored groups and governments.

    Yes, it's not a perfectly coordinated game between the EU and Washington.  There are disagreements about particulars, about interpretations- Saakashvili's utility or anti-utility, what the reality is with Iran, priorities and ambitions in Afghanistan.  But I just don't see "Charlemagne"'s proposed depth of disagreement.  It's a moment of cultural differences coming to the fore, unimportant differences in net political and economic development.

    I myself agree with the current Washington choice of backing Saakashvili as unwanted but warranted for the time being.  Washington hasn't completed its thinking through on Iran and wrongly thinks it has to do much; I think the EU is right about keeping sanctions and confrontation of Iran limited.  On Afghanistan I think both sides are in error- the right answer lies in the middle, in a small American force staying with European political cover.

    The deep politics of global warming seem to me not much about environment.  It seems in essence about making industrial to post-industrial economic transitions and, beyond all rationalizations and predictions and hopeful measures taken, best coping with whatever the climate becomes.  That's not to subscribe to pessimism but to realistic uncertainty.

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