As all those who live outside the US know, those who dwell within the confines of US mentality have little depth of understanding of the ‘outside world’. This makes it unnecessary for US politicians to talk with any degree of intelligence about foreign policy, as they are only required to talk at the level of understanding of their audience. George Bush, many feel has managed this and less, effortlessly, and he has, he believes been ‘misunderestimated’ as a result.
If the Bush years have been characterised by Bush’s misunderestimation by others, the worry for some now seems to be that people are misoverestimating Barack Obama, as he uses rhetorical skill to climb the greasy pole towards the Presidency in November. His every word is analysed to destruction, as his enemies try to trip him up, and as commentators and others try to work out exactly what kind of world an Obama Presidency would bring about.
Obama was asked who he believed America’s three greatest allies were, and his reply has become controversial – primarily because he omitted to mention the State of Israel in the three countries that he gave in his reply, which were, according to Beyond The Beltway Blog as follows –
“the European Union as a whole” and Japan, with a nod to China as a state that is “neither our enemy nor our friend” but requires more “military-to-military contact.”
The omission of Israel was the big news story in the USA, but the European reference was picked also up on by US bloggers, and expanded upon.
Taking the other side of the coin first, Dan Hannan points out in his Telegraph blog HERE, that Republican nominee McCain is far too uncritical of the EU, even getting himself involved in addressing the internal Conservative Party issue of EPP membership, telling us that the EPP stood by us when we were ‘wandering in the wilderness’ – a surprising theory which Hannan ably and convincingly debunks.
With McCain (like Bush) not possessing much depth of understanding, one might say, of the US’ own interests as regards the EU, Obama’s worldview, on the other hand gives a hint of being sufficiently nuanced as to realise that the EU is at best a bit of a curate’s egg – good ‘as a whole’ – which implies ‘not good in parts’.
(The origin of the phrase ‘curate’s egg’ is the George du Maurier cartoon “True Humility”, printed in the British satirical magazine Punch, on 9th November 1895. The cartoon gives fuller insight into its meaning, which relies to some extent on an appreciation of irony.
PIctured – original from Punch magazine titled TRUE HUMILITY.
Right Reverend Host. “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad Egg, Mr. Jones!”
The Curate. “Oh no, my Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellect!”)
Given the demands on Obama not to unsettle any potential constituencies, we are not likely to hear too much more on foreign affairs from him, or any explanation of which parts of the egg are not so good. The US blogs though observe no such limits, and try to complete the picture, which Obama’s briefest of answers begins to reveal. Outside The Beltway tackles the subject first by explaining why Israel cannot be in the list of the US’ top three allies, in a short paragraph. His main interest is taken by the ridiculousness of Obama giving the EU as America’s top ally – as follows –
The irony is that the listing of “the European Union as a whole” as our top ally, rather than the omission of Israel as one of the top three, was Obama’s real gaffe. It’s simply absurd to cast the EU 27-state collective as an ally. As an economic cooperative, it hinders United States imports. As a political entity, it’s virtually worthless and to the extent it works it tends to water down the natural ties between the USA and several of the constituent countries.
Of the 27 states, only the United Kingdom is an unqualified ally. We’ve stood shoulder-to-shoulder in most of the wars of the past century or so, with the other partner usually providing at intelligence and materiel support even when sitting out the actual fighting.
We’re quite friendly with Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Italy, and even Greece most of the time. We’ve fought alongside soldiers from most of those countries over the years, although Fascist Italy was on the wrong side of WWII.
Until the collapse of the Warsaw Pact between 1989-1991, we were on war footing with several of the current Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Romania (or their predecessor states). In many cases, though, our relations with them are now warmer than with some Western European members of the EU that were Cold War allies.
France and Germany have been both enemies and allies in the past, although mostly the latter in post-WWII era. They’re now strategic competitors whose interests often diverge from ours. They’re far from enemies, of course, and our ties are very strong on a whole host of fronts. Certainly, though, they’re a few notches down from the UK, Canada, and Australia on the “best buds” list.
Regardless, the idea that “the EU as a whole” is America’s top ally is rather silly. It will go unnoticed, though, because of the attention given to the perfectly reasonable omission of Israel.
The interesting thing to my mind is that Obama could well share the views expressed here. It would certainly help David Cameron and the UK if the US had a President for once who didn’t misoverestimate the EU.
McCain sounds as if he would do exactly that. From Hannan again –
One of the consistent themes of McCain’s Weltanschauung is his unqualified support for European integration. It sits oddly with the other things he says. His criticism of the United Nations, for example, is spot on; but he seems unable to extend that logic to the world’s second great unaccountable, trans-national bureaucracy.
Nor does he appear to mind that, on almost every diplomatic issue – funding Hamas, appeasing the ayatollahs, selling arms to Beijing, refusing to back anti-Castro dissidents, Iraq – the EU is against him.
When I pointed out these inconsistencies to one of his supporters – a planet-brained Washington think-tanker – she shrugged awkwardly and said, “Yes: the problem is that he has the wrong friends in France and Germany”.