Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mars and Venus

Sarkozy's rush to take the lead in promoting European intervention in Libya has already had one unintended consequence: American doubts about European military capabilities and the wisdom of multilateral military operations have been revived with a vengeance. Lawrence Kaplan's piece no doubt overstates the case in terms reminiscent of Robert Kagan's famous "Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus" around the time of the war in Iraq, but it does capture the (rather despairing) mood of the moment:


If it reveals anything, the war in Libya shows that Obama’s predecessors didn’t spin their proclivities for unilateral action out of whole cloth. “The Libyan crisis has strikingly exposed the lack of a European defense policy: no ability to achieve a common political vision and no capacity to take on an operation of this kind,” said French defense analyst Bruno Tertrais, while a European diplomat predicted to the German news agency Deutsche Press Agentur that a common European defense policy “died in Libya—we just have to pick a sand dune under which we can bury it.” Indeed, the Germans have remained strenuously neutral during the conflict, other than to snipe at the French and the British, while the latter, according to The Washington Post, have nearly run out of bombs to drop.

Far from caviling about the American hyperpuissance, the Europeans have been reduced to pleading for an escalation of U.S. involvement (such as it is). To which the American response has been swift, unequivocal, and wholly beside the point: “Unilateral, open-ended military action to pursue regime change isn’t good strategy, and wouldn’t advance American credibility anywhere,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor insisted, even though what was on the table was a request for multilateral, limited action to pursue a humanitarian end. Perhaps sensing that if America wills the ends, America really ought to will the means, the administration has now dispatched Predator drones to the skies above Libya. Animate pilots, according to the Beltway buzz, may soon follow.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Maybe... but articles like that are going to appear pretty much whatever happens. People are always throwing up their hands and declaring something is finished when life doesn't go entirely smoothly (suggesting that they've never opened a single history book). Taking a dramatic view is pleasurable, whether the drama is in dismissing the capabilities of your allies, or of your own country, or questioning the motives and strategies of politicians from the position of omniscience which most journalists, and those who add comments to journalist's writings, seem to inhabit.

Arthur Goldhammer said...

Do I detect an ever so slightly critical edge in that comment? Ars longa, vita breva est, etc. The problem with the long view is that so much of life passes by while one is taking it. I got into blogging in order to shed the marmoreal serenity of the historian, who really does inhabit the world of passionless omniscience. Being wrong daily tends, I find, to induce a little humility and bring one back to the limited horizon of the quotidian where politicians and other ordinary mortals move. To dramatize is human, and even those realists whom you seem to admire, the politicians, indulge in it from time to time. To go to war to prevent a "bloodbath," for example, is to employ a very dramatic trope. So is remaining silent about bloodbaths nearby that one prefers to avoid preventing (a drama now playing in Syria).

Tacitus said...

Although I think Kaplan overdoes it a bit, it does point to a real problem with European military credibility. I'm reminded of quote I read a while ago that Europe is an economic giant, a political dwarf, and a military worm.