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Daniel W. Drezner

DEFENDING OLD EUROPE

I know I’ve had some fun at “Old Europe’s” expense, but there’s a meme making its way across the Blogosphere about these countries that crosses the line. The most recent version I’ve seen is this Steve Dunleavy op-ed in the New York Post that Glenn Reynolds linked to yesterday. Here’s the final sentence of that ...

I know I’ve had some fun at “Old Europe’s” expense, but there’s a meme making its way across the Blogosphere about these countries that crosses the line. The most recent version I’ve seen is this Steve Dunleavy op-ed in the New York Post that Glenn Reynolds linked to yesterday. Here’s the final sentence of that article: “It chills the bone when the French government and so many of its citizens steadfastly try to undermine Bush, even sneer at him, when so many of them were saved by the nation he leads – with the greatest band of brothers on earth.” Now, this boils down to the notion of indebtedness — that because the U.S. sacrificed to liberate France during two World Wars, they owe us some gratitude now. The same could be said of Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, etc. Let’s be blunt — this is a bullshit argument. First of all, what’s the statute of limitations on such gratitude? Surely we Americans owe a debt to France for their invaluable assistance during the Revolutionary War — not to mention the Louisiana Purchase. How much does this place us in France’s debt? [But that was more than 200 years ago–ed. World War Two was more than a half-century ago, and an overwhelming majority of Americans and French have no personal memory of that time period. History is history.] Second, how does one weigh the relative weight of such sacrifices? Yes, many Americans of the Greatest Generation gave their lives, but a hell of a lot more Russians shed their blood in the same conflict. Does this mean France owes a greater debt to Russia than the United States? [But Russia just stood by when Hitler overran France–ed. So did we. So, for that matter, did most French]. Finally, exactly why did we liberate France — and Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, etc. — in the first place? The simplest, noblest answer you can give is that we were fighting tyranny in the name of democracy. One can carp about the inconsistent, hypocritical attitudes of Old Europe, but it’s impossible to deny that their governments’ positions genuinely reflect public sentiments in those countries. In other words, they are repaying the debt they owe to us — by governing themselves in a democratic manner. It’s a crying shame they don’t want to give the Iraqis the same option, but sometimes democracies make wrong decisions. Don’t tell me a country owes us anything for what we did more than a half-century ago — it’s a stupid, emotive argument that is devoid of any genuine substance. UPDATE: I just received the following e-mail from a World War Two ETO vet, who puts it more succinctly than I: “Those crosses on the front page of the NY Post mark the graves of more guys from my old squadron than I care to remember. They would roll in their graves if they knew that Dunleavy claims they died for France. Good work.”

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies. His latest book is The Toddler in Chief. Twitter: @dandrezner

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