Is Europe using Afghanistan as an excuse for a new explosion of anti-Americanism?

Rather than criticize the Biden administration for the Kabul debacle, Europeans are reverting to their misplaced contempt for the United States.

European Union flags in front of the European Commission in Brussels. Credit: Symbiot/Shutterstock.
European Union flags in front of the European Commission in Brussels. Credit: Symbiot/Shutterstock.
Fiamma Nirenstein
Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies.

America’s shameful retreat from Kabul is not characteristic of the United States. It is, rather, an ill-conceived, careless and even cruel move by the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden.

It is crucial to remember this fact, particularly in face of the rampant derogatory comments emanating from Europe about the history, nature—indeed, the very essence—of the giant across the ocean. It’s an attitude that stems from anti-Americanism, pure and simple.

The distortion of America’s character is a pathological phenomenon in Europe. It’s a chronic and recurring disease that afflicts Western culture. Europe tends to forget, after all, how valuable the United States has been and still is, from any possible point of view.

Donald Trump’s presidency brought this form of amnesia to the fore, pushing an already envious and feeble Europe into its previous condition of eternal denial about the history of America’s help for its very survival. The French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville, who predicted that America and Russia would dominate the world, explained that the former would do so under the banner of freedom, and the latter through repression. Exactly.

Contempt and hatred for the United States criminalize the liberal-democratic system in general—both left and right in Europe’s particular case—in the name of confused international and domestic societal demands.

Unfortunately, Europeans fancy their culture as elegant and refined, as compared with America’s “superficial” and “brutal” one. And they view their policies as “humanitarian” and “appeasing,” in contrast to America’s “imperialist” and “muscular” ones.

Anti-Americanism, which always wears new clothes, has historically been associated with anti-Semitism. The U.S. has always been Europe’s cultural antagonist, the supreme moral and spiritual contender. And when the Americans incessantly blame themselves, as they did during the Vietnam War—or today, when movements like Black Lives Matter march through the streets of major U.S. cities accusing the country of systemic racism, and toppling monuments of American greatness—Europeans raise their glasses in a toast.

While certainly concerned for the Afghans, now victims of the brutal Taliban, Europeans have been taking the opportunity of the debacle, pictures of which are splashed across the front pages of newspapers and broadcast repeatedly on TV and in social media, to attack America, rather than the Biden administration, for the horrible outcome of the hasty and incomplete evacuation.

Instead of stressing the failures of the current U.S. government, Europeans are discussing the disaster as the result of decades of failed policies. Statements to this effect abound. They include claimed that the U.S. “armed the Taliban against the Russians during the Cold War;” that the U.S. was “wrong to wage the war on terrorism in those areas;” that it “should not have pursued and then killed Osama bin Laden;” and that it “has voluntarily killed civilians, including women and children.”

In other words, the way Europe is depicting the situation is that the U.S. hadn’t really decided to fight terrorism; it was, rather, asserting its power-hungry imperialism.

Reading the articles of European intellectuals and hearing the banter of European TV pundits, one would imagine that for the 20 years it has been in Afghanistan, the United States has done nothing. This is false, of course.

Though anger and resentment towards Biden is as justified as was that towards the U.S. administration during America’s flight from Saigon in 1975 and in relation to former President Barack Obama’s disastrous Iran policies. Yet anti-Americanism, as the late scholar Paul Hollander puts it, is always only “an overwhelming predisposition to hostility.”

Interestingly, this has been taking the form recently of a renewed discussion about the need for a European army. The E.U. feels that it needs to defend itself from the threat of Islamist terrorists, which the U.S. clearly has not been able to stop.

But the endless internal clashes within Europe are myriad; the French-German rivalry is irreconcilable; and the convenience of throwing military expenses on the United States (while blaming it for the world’s ills) are all part and parcel of the story.

Initially, European hatred for the U.S. stemmed from a pro-communist mindset; since the fall of the Soviet Union, America has become the giant bullseye on which to aim all arrows.

The post-9/11 war, even if supported by some Europeans, exalted the anti-Americanism of European “appeasement,” the very pillar of the E.U. Ironically, that assault on the U.S. was actually a greenhouse for the growth of anti-Americanism, rather than the opposite.

Today, the mistakes are Biden’s. But Europe should cease reverting to its default position and understand that the U.S. is here to stay. It should grasp that, together with America, it must defend the West from the very real danger to what makes it great. It needs to remember that Atlanticism, however flawed, is nevertheless worthy.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi is one figure who appreciates that Atlanticism can inspire Europe’s new military dream. Anyone being honest with himself has to recognize that without the U.S., the Old Continent will do nothing.

The relationship between the European Union and the United States is still the only one that can guarantee well-being and security. Biden will not be in the White House forever; Europe could try to be a little more “American” in the meantime.

Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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