On the eve of September 11, I was asked to participate on a BBC radio program. Also on the show were Bianca Jagger, the former rock star's wife now described as an "activist," and Terry Waite, the former Anglican Church envoy who was held captive by terrorists in Beirut from 1987 to 1991.The interviewer, Fi Glover, began by asking Mrs. Jagger about her recent visit to Afghanistan.
It was a revelation, Mrs. Jagger said: "Thousands" of innocent Afghanis have been killed by American bombs and to her dismay the Americans have yet to pay "reparations." Mr. Waite's tone was less strident, but his theme was similar. That the Bush administration was threatening violence against Saddam Hussein, he found lamentable. He expressed disappointment at Washington's lack of faith in negotiations and international organizations.
Finally, it was my turn. Ms. Glover asked: Is it not troubling that U.S. authorities are denying the rights of the people being detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?
I was horrified and said so. Where was the recognition that this was the anniversary of the slaughter of 3,000 innocent people? Why not a word by Mrs. Jagger about how the Afghani people had suffered under the Taliban/al Qaeda dictatorship? Why, instead, a slanderous allegation clearly intended to establish moral equivalence between American soldiers and Islamic militant terrorists?
I protested also that Mr. Waite had said not a word about Saddam Hussein's record — his massacres of fellow Iraqis, his attempt to wipe Kuwait off the map, his effort to assassinate an American president, his calls for "suicide martyrs" to attack Americans, his development of weapons of mass destruction.
Both guests assured me that I'd misunderstood them. They were, of course, deeply sympathetic to the victims of September 11. But then they asked if I couldn't comprehend why, in many parts of the world, resentment against the United States is growing. As an example, Mrs. Jagger pointed to the anti-American protests that recently broke out at the U.N. "summit" in South Africa.
At this point, my voice was quavering. I noted that Colin Powell had come to Johannesburg to donate billions of dollars to further the causes of those gathered — and that he had been jeered. The explanation, Mrs. Jagger instructed me, was obvious: The United States has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol. And, added, Mr. Waite, the United States continues to reject the authority of the International Criminal Court and to threaten war against Iraq without the approval of the United Nations.
I was sputtering. Surely, the United States has the right not to sign treaties, I blurted out. And why should Americans be under obligation to submit to judges in The Hague or to ask the United Nations for permission to defend ourselves? The United Nations, I added, has spent years doing nothing about Saddam's violation of more than a dozen U.N. resolutions. Their response came almost in unison: Well, what about Israel's violations?
I could go on, but you get the idea. What might have been a commemoration of September 11th on one of Europe's most distinguished broadcast networks reflexively became instead an opportunity for America-bashing, interrupted only by the occasional delivery of a swift back-of-the-hand to that "sh…y little country," as France's ambassador to the Court of St. James recently — and memorably — characterized Israel.
I convey all this not to vent and not to complain about the BBC. Rather, I fear it may illustrate a larger phenomenon — the widening of the Atlantic Ocean. The nations of Europe are increasingly submerging themselves in a new kind of polity, one that is decreasingly willing to assert military power. By contrast, Americans, in the wake of September 11, are increasingly persuaded that terrorism must be fought and defeated — and that Europe's longstanding approach to terrorism (focusing on "root causes," offering concessions and even appeasement) has been counterproductive.
What's more, when most Americans say that the United States has become "the only superpower," they do so with a sense of both pride and responsibility. When Europeans utter that phrase, their voices often contain an unmistakable note of resentment.
The consequences of this European-American divergence should not be overstated. We remain democratic societies with much history and many shared values and interests. But with the Cold War over and with those perceived as common enemies vanquished, it is not at all certain that America and Europe will in the future remain the kinds of friends we have been in the past. Certainly, Bianca, Terry and I haven't been hitting it off very well.