There can be no "new deal" between Europe and America as proposed last month by Philip Gordon. The world has changed irrevocablyby David Marquand / August 22, 2004 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2004 issue of Prospect Magazine
Reading the exchange between Philip Gordon and Timothy Garton Ash in last month’s Prospect I was irresistibly reminded of medieval schoolmen desperately trying to reconcile Ptolemaic astronomy with inconvenient facts. Gordon and Garton Ash appear to disagree. Gordon wants to restore transatlantic harmony with a “new deal.” Europeans would accept US leadership, stop trying to constrain US power and send troops to Iraq. In return, they would have a seat at the top table. Garton Ash agrees that a “new deal” would be a good idea, but thinks it would be fatal to try to launch it in Iraq. But these differences are outweighed by a much more fundamental accord. Both take it for granted that the present state of transatlantic relations is abnormal and, above all, dangerous for the future of the west. Both believe it is shocking and dreadful that the world we lived in for the 40-odd years of the cold war – the world of Nato, transatlantic partnership and the free world – has disappeared. Both hope that it can be reinvented.
These beliefs are hopelessly unhistorical. The very language of Nato, the west, transatlantic partnership and the free world was a product of the cold war, when western Europe had no option but to shelter behind the American nuclear umbrella, and the US was anxious to push the Soviet threat as far to the east as possible. But the cold war is now over. There is no Soviet threat. Most of the former Soviet allies in central Europe are EU member states. A diminished Russia is doing its best to embrace market economics and even the outward forms of democracy. It poses no threat to anyone outside its borders. Meanwhile, once-buried differences between Europe and the US are coming to the surface. To take only a couple of examples, the middle east is Europe’s near abroad. Europeans cannot afford to treat it as an adventure playground for moralistic exporters of democracy. Its stability is a vital interest for us. For heartland Europe, at least, a stable Iraq – even under a dictator – was better than the instability that the Americans inevitably brought with them. In a different sphere, the US model of capitalism is culturally and philosophically alien to the European heartland, and even to many on its fringes. Resistance to it does not spring from backwards-looking corporatist nostalgia, as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown seem to think. It is a matter of identity and of history. It springs from the historic compromise between capital and labour that ushered in the longest period of peace and prosperity that Europe has seen since the fall of the Roman empire, from the postwar marriage between Catholic social teaching and European social democracy, and from the coincidence between both of these and French republicanism.