European Affairs

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Reginald Dale

Dialogue of the Deaf

Too often in these days of Transatlantic tension we hear complaints that the other side is just not listening. Worse yet, instead of listening, Europeans and Americans are rushing to form their views of each other on the basis of stereotypical caricatures that have precious little to do with reality.

Just as a previous generation of Europeans arrogantly dismissed President Ronald Reagan as a brainless B-movie actor, so today it is considered smart by many Europeans who should know better to sneer at President George Bush as an ignorant cowboy leading the United States in the style of the Lone Ranger.

Americans who should know better have been falsely caricaturing Europeans as anti-Semites and appeasers. Such barbs are frequently taking the place of serious policy analysis.

As various writers point out in this issue of the magazine, Europeans summarily reject U.S. explanations of its positions on the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, or on the International Criminal Court, without even bothering to understand them. Whenever Europeans dislike a U.S. policy they are tempted simply to dismiss it as another example of "dangerous unilateralism."

Americans, for their part, show little understanding of the historic developments unfolding in Europe as the European Union follows its own "manifest destiny" and expands to become a continental-scale economic and political power. Many Americans do not even seem to want to understand, despite the intriguing parallels with some of their own history.

Diplomats, who on the European side seem particularly prone to testiness these days, are partly to blame. But much is also the fault of the media on both sides of Atlantic.

A correspondent of one major European national TV network recently explained that his reports from Washington portray Mr. Bush as a dumb cowboy "because that is what they want back home." Even some usually serious European newspapers and broadcast media are failing to analyze Mr. Bush's policies seriously or fairly, and falling down on their job of reporting the United States.

It is rare indeed to find in the European media a rational analysis of the pros and cons of the U.S. position on Kyoto or on the International Criminal Court, rather than a glib and deprecatory two-paragraph summary. Few American journalists, on the other hand, have ever really understood the historical and cultural forces and the emotions behind Europe's post-war drive for unification.

One who did was Flora Lewis, long of the New York Times, whose death this summer sadly deprives the American media of one of its great Europeanists, a rare reporter who instinctively understood the historic and moral significance of European unification.

In this issue we try to look at some of these issues in a more detached manner. A European journalist based in Washington, Gerard Baker of the Financial Times, asks whether the recent §urry of Transatlantic clashes are all Mr. Bush's fault. An American journalist based in Europe, Brian M. Carney of the Wall Street Journal Europe, looks at how Europeans see the United States and asks whether the recent electoral success of center-right parties in Europe will make a difference.

Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, argues that it is high time the two sides stop questioning each other's motives, the destructive tendency that is making this latest round of Transatlantic tension more worrying than many in the past.

It is time to stop the un-edifying spats that have marked Transatlantic relations in recent months. At a time when the West is under threat from an aggressor with which it does not yet really know how to come to grips, Europeans and Americans should be giving each other the benefit of the doubt and seeking to draw closer together, not dismissing each other's arguments without even listening to them.

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number III, Issue number III in the Summer of 2002.

 

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