Sunday, May 28, 2017

Falling Apart

After the two most devastating wars in human history started and were largely fought on its soil, Europe began in a few short years after World War II to forestall the possibility of it happening again.  A visionary dream of several centuries, expressed by a character in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man as "the United States of Europe"  began its several decades of coming true, at least as far as the European Union.

The United States of America was an essential partner and even instigator.  The first actual institutional cross-border cooperation--especially between enemies of a few years before, France and Germany--were part of the Marshall Plan directly after World War II, the massive U.S. effort to pull Europe out of imminent starvation and economic collapse.  

These closer relationships and the US involvement were very much in the shadow of the Soviet Union, expanding its empire into eastern Europe and seeking influence if not hegemony in western European countries in crisis.  A few years later the mutual defense pact called NATO was most of all meant as protection from Soviet expansion, while these fragile democracies and alliances could grow stronger.  It was at about this time, in fact, that Winston Churchill called for a United States of Europe.

It must be emphasized that this process of unification was accompanied by growing recognition of universal human rights as well as representative democracies.  At the behest of H.G. Wells and others, those rights were spelled out for the first time in one of the founding documents of the United Nations.  They were part of the vision--the full quote from Joyce's 1916 novel is: "I'll work and act for the social liberty and equality among all classes and sexes in the United States of the Europe of the future."  Today the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Charter of Fundamental Rights are part of the EU charter, as guarantees to all citizens of member nations.

For all its flaws and ongoing difficulties, the European Union stands as a rebuke to those who believe that humanity can't change, that national as well as tribal suspicions and hostilities cannot be overcome by a common ethic that becomes a common culture without erasing other cultural characteristics that don't conflict with it.

Everyone knows that given global dangers like nuclear weapons, and global economic, technological, political, artistic and cultural interrelationships, closer relationships are needed, including universal rights if not common governance.

The significance of the Paris agreements on addressing the climate crisis goes beyond that transcendent danger: it was the first truly global response to a global problem, an agreement to cooperate, because the problems ultimately cannot be overcome separately.

But reactionary forces have made relatively sudden and definitely devastating inroads.  First Brexit, and the British government's stubborn and suicidal policies of separation, with the majority population helpless because of tragically mediocre opposition politicians.

Now our dictator apprentice, failing to support NATO and the "all for one/one for all" clause that has only been invoked once--to defend the US after 9/11; sniping at NATO with his usual inaccurate fulminations, questioning the basis for the EU and failing to join allies in reaffirming the Paris agreement.  Word among his supporters is going around that he will soon withdraw the US from that agreement.
All of this while conspicuously embracing leaders of countries with terrible human rights records, but saying not a word about it.

So it is little wonder that Sunday the German PM Angela Merkel said that Europe can no longer completely rely on "others", a fairly sinister circumlocution, referencing the UK but especially the US.  After meetings with our homemade Hitler, she said that Europe must take its fate into its own hands.

Without a strong and reliable partner in the US, as well as one of the stronger member states in the UK, Europe is weakened, and the already challenged EU is more fragile.

No one could be happier than Russia.  A major foreign policy goal is being achieved.  In his analysis in the Atlantic, David Frum (senior editor and former GW Bush speechwriter) notes the fractures in the alliance over the Bush II disastrous war in Iraq and the continuing difficulties despite some healing in the Obama years.  He also notes the history and cultural differences that make for a complex German and American relationship in the best of times.  But he concludes that this trip was nothing short of catastrophic for US relations with Europe:

Donald Trump is doing damage to the deepest and most broadly agreed foreign-policy interests of the United States. He is doing so while people associated with his campaign are under suspicion of colluding with Vladimir Putin’s spy agencies to bring him to office. The situation is both ugly and dangerous.

What he does not quite say is that a paid agent of the Russian government could not have done more.

Apart from that--which seems both unbelievable and increasingly possible--there is the tragedy of this unraveling.  Not only does it endanger peace and economic stability, victimizing the most vulnerable individuals as well as harming unknown others remote from the cause, it wounds the world's ability to respond sanely to the effects of the climate crisis, as they grow in volume, rapidity and intensity, as well as to address the causes in the only effective way: together.

In other words, precisely when we need global governance and cooperation, supple and capable, with shared resources and skills, we are moving in the opposite direction.  And notably in the countries concerned, there is a relevant crisis of leadership.

President Harry Truman, whose administration began and ran the Marshall Plan, carried in his wallet a piece of paper with part of a poem by Tennyson, first published in 1842. The first lines were: “For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,/Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be...”
The final lines were: “Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer and the battle-flags were furl’d/ In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.”

Instead of coming together to confront planetary challenges--if not as a Federation of the world, in some other form as one planet-- we are falling apart, in every relevant way.

No comments: