Friday, October 9, 2009

Paging the American President? Where are you?

To understand why Obama received the Nobel Peace prize you have to understand the differences between Europe and the USA when it comes to war, peace and government

Europe had two brutal wars in two generations fought on their soil - they were under siege in their cities, millions were killed in their countryside. After the destruction and violence of WWI, the orphaned sons of the millions who died in that war went off to die in WWII. Peace is not some abstract ideal to Europeans.

This is very different from the American perspective during those two wars - we flew our troops over, did what was needed and got out when we were done. There was more bravado to it versus the desperation in Europe. Beyond Pearl Harbor our cities weren’t attacked and devastated by these two wars.

When it comes to the role of government, Europe subscribes in the power of institutions, not that of the individual. Walk down the street in Geneva or Brussels and you will see an alphabet soup of international institutions designed mostly to keep the peace and harmony and avoid another world conflict fought in the European countryside.

Here are some examples – Council of Europe, European Court of Human Rights, European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines, European Audiovisual Observatory, Eurocorps , The European Parliament , European Ombudsman of the European Union. Those 8 organizations are just the ones located in one city - Strasburg, France. I didn’t go thru Geneva, Oslo, Paris, Rome, etc…

In contrast, the US was founded by people who said "I don’t need some institution (King) to tell me what I can do, we are out of here, buhbye!". For the next few hundred years, when people found themselves oppressed or without work, they got on a boat, plane, or hidden path thru the dessert to come live here because they weren’t the kinds people who meekly accepted their fates. Built from this individualism and action – we evolved into a very different country and culture from Europe.

(If you don’t believe me, then go to Italy or France or Spain and ask one of the 25 year olds sitting in a cafĂ© during the middle of the day without a job what its like to still live at home and spend the last 7 years looking for a job. I spent 2 weeks in a small village in Italy with my relatives last summer – I was struck by the complete utter lack of desire or will to even attempt to better oneself by all the young people. Why bother? – the government checks come and its enough to eat, pay for a car, buy clothes and even go on some vacations – what’s better than this? Who needs a job and an education?)

Europe didn’t understand why we went to war twice after Sept 11th. It is not European to go on the offensive. They would have had meetings in Geneva and Oslo and Paris and talked about sanctions and decrees etc...(It didn’t seem to bother Europe very much when we mobilized our soldiers to France and Germany in 1917 and 1941 without too much debate.)

This is why a European Institution gave Obama the Nobel Peace Prize - because he acts like a European and Europe wants to reward and encourage this behavior. He gives flowery speeches and speaks of ideals but hasn’t followed-up with decisive action. I am sure France will give him citizenship in a few years if he asked nicely and he can go be the President of Europe if he wants to. He is much more suited for that job.

The problem is - if our leader is going to act European and we are going to become more like Europe with more government and more talk than action – well, then who is going to play the part of the US and be the decisive leader who will go on the offensive to make things right next time the world needs fixing?

Er, did I say next time? I mean NOW – send more troops to Afghanistan, Mr. Peace Prize, our soldiers are in far more danger from the fact we don’t go to war at 100% anymore for political reasons than from the Taliban. War is bad and peace is good but when you are already in a war the point is to work towards an honorable end that leaves our country and the country we invaded better off, and not do it halfway. It’s not popular, but its what an American leader would do.

(yes, I'm aware some of this post was based on broad generalizations about our cross-Atlantic neighbors, but its my blog, start your own if you don't like it)

(*your hero, the author, was an idealistic 19-year old college student studying in Europe and visited most of these institutions – the highlight being having a martini in the NATO headquarters officer’s club)

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