Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What I Want to Know About Europe

Some of the questions I'm thinking about:

1. Blind Spots. Ten years later, what did I get right? What did I get wrong, and why? I’ll use this part to review the arguments I made in the first book, both as an introduction — that way no one has to read the first book to understand this one — but also to ask, “Why were some of my predictions good, but others quite wrong?” For a sense of which were good and which weren’t, you could read the reviews on the book’s Wikipedia page. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it gives me satisfaction, now, to read the bad reviews. I’d prefer to have been wrong, but the reviewers now sound like such a witless, clueless fools. But pleasing as it always is to say, “I told you so,” it’s more important to ask, “Why did I miss some things that should have been obvious, and were obvious to other people? How do I avoid making the same mistakes in this book?”

2. Alimony Europe. I argued in the first book that there were two Europes: alimony Europe and the place where Europeans lived. To judge from the number of books I’d seen published about the challenges of renovating a farmhouse in Tuscany or Provence, large swathes of Europe were populated by middle-aged American divorcées, living large on the alimony and greatly preoccupied by the tending of their new olive terraces. Alimony Europe was awfully nice. But it wasn’t the whole story.

3. Blackmailed by History. The more important story was the other things I saw. I saw a Continent blackmailed by its own history — one until very recently a story of nearly uninterrupted war and savagery. Ethnic wars, religious wars, wars of ideology and genocide weren’t aberrations in Europe’s history, they were its history. I described the Void of Europe: the consequence of two epochal events that still reverberate in everything people here say, do, and feel, even if they have no idea why: the death of Christianity and the catastrophe of the two World Wars. The nation-state, the arts, music, science, fascism, communism, and even rationality — all of these were substitutes for the ordering role Christianity had played in European life. And all failed. So what was left? No one was quite sure. What Frenchman, after all, can stand before the graveyards of Ypres and Verdun and without choking on the words profess his allegiance to the mission civilatrice?

4. Not Our Problem. That’s what many Americans believed and still believe. I argued then and still this is not so. An unmoored Europe, imploding under the weight of social and economic pressures few politicians in Europe can even forthrightly describe, no less address, poses a threat to American interests and objectives everywhere on the planet. But still. I was right to say that, but it looks awfully out-of-touch to me now, a decade later. Notice what I missed? While I was peering anxiously at Europe, I failed to notice similar historical forces at work in my own country.

5. The Sick Man of the Globe. Disorder is inevitable when a hegemonic power falls into desuetude. To my astonishment, the past decade has reversed the degenerative tide: The central story now is no longer the threat to America posed by these pressures on Europe; it’s the threat to Europe posed by these pressures on America — the country that has until now been the guarantor of the postwar global order. (Walter Russell Mead recently wrote a short and very effective piece in the American Interest about the world’s loss of confidence in the Pax Americana and why this is a big, big problem). Among the things I have to ask myself now is how on earth I failed to see this coming. Why did I think Europe and America were so different that what I was seeing in Europe wouldn’t also be true of America? How much did I misunderstand both Europe and my own native country to have thought this?

6. The New Cold War. One of the first book’s themes was that Europe’s fate, since the Second World War, had been in the hands of the superpowers. The Cold War having ended, I predicted, we would now see the return of the historic forces that were temporarily suppressed by the domination of the Continent by the United States and the Soviet Union. I was, I think, correct to predict this. But this book’s theme will be the enormously consequential development I didn’t foresee: The return of the Cold War.

7. Hybrid Democracies. Admittedly along with much of America, I was entirely wrong to believe the rest of the world would naturally adopt liberal democracy as a form of government at the end of the Cold War. The rise of illiberal democracies, particularly in Russia and Turkey, was to me a great surprise and it is a great threat to Europe, both directly, in that Russian forces now openly threaten European countries, and indirectly, in that the authoritarian contagion has spread to Europe’s southern and eastern flanks.

8. The Arab Winter. Likewise, I didn’t see this coming. In my defense, no one did. The catastrophic breakdown of states and social order in much of the Islamic world — one that has left a quarter of a million dead in Syria alone — is a grave threat to Europe. The United States has been strangely absent. Two terms of the Obama presidency culminated in a deal with Iran poised to bring the Mideast under its hegemonic control at best, plunge it into apocalyptic nuclear chaos at worst. While Obama tours Cuba, Trump the Usurper discusses his admiration for Putin’s deft handling of the media and eagerly proposes to jettison the NATO alliance, even as — for the first time since the Second World War — a European country is invaded, and others explicitly threatened with the use of nuclear weapons. (By the way, Putin’s first-use doctrine was never once articulated by the Soviet Union, nor did it even hint at such a thing, no less do so casually.)

9. Too Young to Write that Book. I missed many other things — maybe because I was just too young to write the book I wrote. My discussion of Islam in Europe was shallow. I fell into the trap of looking at what was happening around me without considering it in the context of the much more significant and wider convulsion in the Islamic world, one that began (more or less) in the 18th century Wahhabi-Salafist restoration, progressed through the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, reached an apogee in the Iranian revolution, and has latterly been expressed in transnational jihadist movements such as al Qaeda and ISIS. I need to correct this.

10. Caught in the Middle. If I failed to foresee the massive Islamic civil war yet to come, I also failed to see the way it would play out in the European theater. While some Europeans believe the campaign is aimed at Europe, this is entirely self-regarding. Europe is mostly irrelevant to the main campaign — a vicious Islamic civil war and a renewed superpower conflict. But Europe is, again, the territory over which this new Cold War is being fought; and its status as a theater of the Islamic civil war will be key to how it ends.

11. Yet, Still … There is a sense in which Europe is at the heart of things. I’d like to look more closely at the European roots of Islamist movements. It may seem an odd thesis to advance, and I’m not yet sure it’s teh right one. But it’s notable to me, for example, that so many of the 20th century’s greatest butchers were educated in Paris. The Chinese communists were educated here, for example, where they were introduced to Marxism-Leninism. Ho Chi Minh became a political radical during his Paris education through his association with the French Socialist Party; he was one of the founding members of the French Communist Party. Le Duan, the founder of the Vietnam Communist Party? Educated in Paris. Pol Pot? Educated in Paris. It’s been clearly documented that he became a communist through involvement with the French Communist Party. Laurent-Désiré Kabila, communist guerrilla, later dictator of Congo? Educated in Paris. Fair to say, I reckon, that something about their encounter with Europe was correlated with, if not the cause of, a subsequent species of murderous radicalism to which an education at Texas A&M just never gives rise. What is it, exactly?

12. Next Stop, Caliphate: Whatever it is, could it be connected to the fact that a massive number of Europeans have joined ISIS? The numbers are astonishing: More are coming from France and Belgium than from many majority-Muslim countries. France is a significantly bigger source of recruits than Lebanon, Libya, Turkey, Uzbekistan, or Pakistan, and on a par with Morocco. What happens to Muslims in Europe — to everyone from abroad educated in Europe, in fact — that makes them more apt to be radical, violent, and murderous than their counterparts in their countries of origin? I don’t know. I’d like to find out.

13. How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Islam. Or like it well enough, anyway. I missed an important part of this story in the first book, namely that Muslims in Europe were more sick in the head than many Muslims in the larger Islamic world. I realized this because after writing that book, I then lived ten years in Turkey and spent quite a bit of time travelling to other parts of the Islamic world, too. The rest of the Muslim world surely has its share of Islamist goons and loons, but in general, the people among whom I lived happily and peacefully for years weren’t remotely interested in millenarian, apocalyptic interpretations of their religion or obsessed with violence as a species of deranged performance art. Something terrible is happening in Europe’s Islamic culture — prefigured by something similar that happened to non-Islamic cultures when their emissaries encountered Europe in the early 20th century. I don’t know why.

14. Why not Ask? The place to start is by talking to Muslims in Europe. I did too little of that in the first book. I was too focused on talking to other Europeans. It shouldn’t be hard (according to the statistics, anyway) to find Muslims here who at least sympathize with jihadi movements. I’d like to ask them why. I’ll listen to what they say, and report it. But I’d like to report much more about normal Muslims, too: The media tends only to be interested in Islamists, so it’s rare to hear from them. This — not their inexistence — leads to the impression many have that Muslims don’t speak out against terrorist atrocities.

15. Demography and its Discontents. Here’s something else I got wrong: Islamism in Europe has generally been declining, not growing. My demographic predictions were very, very wrong. My assumption about the permanence of the radicalizing trend was also wrong. I obviously misunderstood something about European Islamism in a profoundly erroneous way. I realized this quickly when I came back to France three years ago. Had I been even close to right in my demographic predictions, France would by now look very different. Birth rates among Muslims fell to developed-world norms far faster than I (or many demographers) expected. Simultaneously, native birth rates in France rose. I don’t properly understand why. I need to speak to, and learn more from, demographers who have been tracking these trends to see if anyone — anywhere — had a better predictive record, or if indeed demography is as dismal a science as economics. If the mistakes were owed to my inadequate understanding of demography, I’d like to correct them and make better predictions this time.

16. The Continent Where God Goes to Die. But more importantly, the level of religiosity and religious observance among Muslims in Europe fell, remarkably quickly, to approximately the level of religious observance of the people around them. Muslims in France from North Africa have generally become less religiously observant. About a fifth have become outright atheists, similar to the rate of French Christians. Only about five percent attend a mosque regularly. I was stunningly wrong in my predictions about this, and I need to understand the cognitive mistakes that led me to do what can only be called “lousy research.” Some of my critics were right about that. Chapeau, critics.

17. That Said … I don’t understand why this is happening even as the descendants of Muslim immigrants to Europe (almost never the first generation — always the second generation), along with native European converts, are fueling the jihad overseas. I don’t have a hypothesis at this stage. I need to ask them why, without preconceptions, and listen to what they tell me. Among the vague thoughts that occur to me, though, is that perhaps the European jihad is not so much directed at native Europeans in the Dar al-Harb (the House of War) as it is toward European Muslims? Has the loss of Muslim identity and faith in Europe threatened jihadi leaders in the Dar al-Islam more than one would have expected? Why? I don’t know the answer yet.

18. Ottoman Fantasies, or, things I learned from living in Turkey. This could be a book in itself, but a part of it is relevant here. Among the most important things I learned is that Europeans were largely stunningly uninterested in a country that was obviously of huge strategic significance to them. Lately, we’ve seen exactly why. They were uninterested, even though, according to their bureaucrats, Turkey was a part of Europe — on a path to uniting with it. Certainly it was a part that in the past had been highly significant European theater of war. I don’t yet understand this. But the story I want to understand, and ultimately tell in this book, is the story of a Europe that was so determined to see in Turkey things that simply were not there that it invented them.

19. Vibrant Democracy? Clearly the West — both Europe and the US — decided it would be useful to have in Turkey a model of a thriving, Muslim liberal democracy. They therefore decided that this was what it was, rather than taking any step that might have made it so. No evidence to the contrary was sufficient to shake their belief that it was already true. I was there, and so in an excellent position to distinguish reality from propaganda. When you’re woken at dawn yet again by police sirens because the cops are yet again arresting every journalist in your neighborhood, you’re not in much doubt that the folks in charge are not liberal democrats. So I was flabbergasted by what I read in the Western press and heard from European statesmen during a time when I could see, daily, that what they were saying was flatly untrue.

20. Reputational Bubble. I observed during that decade a phenomenon that for want of a better term, I’ll call a “reputational bubble”—by which I mean that Europe’s collective assessment of Turkey was guided not by observation or by impartial assessment, but by cognitive biases that led to groupthink and herd behavior. (This was just as true in the United States.) It was either the cause or the consequence of an exceptionally poor understanding of Turkey by the European publics and their policy makers, and resulted in the crafting of policies toward Turkey that actively worked against their national interests. If Turkey’s political stock was trading at prices considerably at variance with its intrinsic value, much of the inflation was owed to Europe’s willingness to purchase large volumes of that stock. Turkey failed to benefit from honest and deserved market feedback, particularly in the form of pressure from the United States and Europe to liberalize—to which it might well have been responsive, given the government’s response to the rare cases when it has been applied. Journalists exhibited a guileful and superficial grasp of Turkey and its history and were unwilling to report or explain anything complex; on the diplomatic side, I observed—to put it bluntly—that if my intention were to ensure that my country be loathed and held in contempt by the Turkish public, I would behave precisely as European and American diplomats did. Did the obsession with finding “moderate Muslims” caused otherwise intelligent people to lose their analytic acumen?

21. By the way. I don’t believe the most significant change in Turkey over the past decade is owed to the Islamic character of the AKP. Sunni majoritarian politics are clearly one, visible part of this problem—and the part most easily understood by the Western public. But this element of the AKP’s nature has been overstated compared to much more significant changes: to wit, the AKP’s assumption of control over the entire Turkish state apparatus. Turkey under the AKP became dangerously different, but only to some degree because it became more Islamic. More importantly, it was Putinized.

22. Putinization. What happened, in short, was that the flavor of Turkey’s authoritarianism changed. Once it was served as state-worship centered around Atatürk’s cult of personality; now it was served as Sunni majoritarianism centered around Erdoğan’s cult of personality. Turkey enjoyed a long period of economic growth under the AKP—normal growth, but by no means the reported “miraculous” growth. This, in tandem with the incompetence of Turkey’s opposition parties, enabled Erdoğan to stay in power long enough to systematically to neuter the forces that served or might one day serve as a counterweight to the Party’s power. He acquired near-complete control over the media, the judiciary, and the military—and again, the swallowing by the executive of the latter two power centers was hailed by Europe as a democratic miracle; while the first was largely ignored. The part of this story I don’t understand is this: Why did Europe go along with this? Why did no one in Europe ask, “Is this in our long-term strategic interest? Why are we facilitating this, through our massive investment in Turkey and through the EU accession process?”

23. The Bear Emerges from Hibernation. I also failed to predict in my first book that an almost identical process would transpire in Russia. Indeed, I failed to predict the whole phenomenon of hybrid regimes and managed democracies. I assumed, along with many Americans. that liberal democracies were the inevitable post-Cold War geopolitical trend. Russia’s Putinization — the ur-Putinization — was to have even more ominous implications. I wrote almost nothing about this in Menace in Europe, save to say that Russia might in the future prove a threat. I was blind to the signs that it would be the threat, and that the West’s focus on Islam and terrorism would make it uncommonly vulnerable to Russia’s brand of psychological and hybrid war on Europe and NATO. Much of this book will be about the way this new Cold War is playing out across Europe and the way Europe is failing spectacularly to respond effectively to a threat that it could easily contain, if only it recognized it. Russia would be no match for a determined, united Europe. But Russia’s unconventional warfare skills, central command, and overwhelming superiority in propaganda have left Europe (and NATO) disunited and vulnerable. Putin is ever-so-skillfully exploiting entirely predictable unease about the EU’s bureaucratic expansion, the entirely predictable explosion of populist and nationalist sentiment in the wake of the Eurozone crisis, and the entirely predictable wave of fear and resentment about the consequences of the refugee influx — this in turn the direct consequence of the Islamic civil war and the superpower conflict in Syria, which Putin has been predictably worsening.

24. Cui Bono? Who benefits from ISIS’s attacks? Not ISIS: The attacks serve only to hasten its demise. Conventional military power still matters. ISIS will be crushed. But Russia is poised to benefit. Having long cultivated Europe’s fringe movements and anti-immigration parties, it is now magnifying, through its impressive propaganda organs, the effects of the refugee crisis and the divisions among European nations about how best to manage it. The parties least welcoming to refugees are the ones most eager to enter a closer alliance with Russia, and end the sanctions Russia faces as punishment for its annexation of Crimea and invasion of the Donbass. Through this route, the established democracies of Europe may well find themselves corrupted and managed by the powerful hybrid democracies on their periphery — Turkey and Russia — until they, too, are hybrid and managed democracies. It’s happening already in Hungary and Poland. There are signs of it in Germany.

25. Look East. To understand this, I need to spend time in the post-Soviet space and the more conventionally-contested theaters — the Caucasus, Ukraine, the Balkans. I’ve also got to spend more time looking at the means by which Russians are bending Western European countries to their will.

26. The Death of the EU. I seem to have been right to predict, in Menace in Europe, that the EU had no hope of survival. Unifying Europe was an ancient fantasy, I wrote, and one that had always failed. Europe is not a country. It’s a continent. Whatever the EU architects say to the contrary, Europe remains a hybrid entity comprising states united by no shared language, culture, or history; just trade treaties and toothless courts. Some of its states are unhappily yoked together by an albatross of a currency. Each wants full sovereignty when it suits its national interests; none wants it when it doesn’t. Indeed, Europe’s a fiction: a series of planned economic entanglements, without any true common foreign and defense policy.

27. Hang Together or Hang Separately. But absent the development of such a policy — and quickly — the collective states of Europe face a dim future, for the nature of the threats it now confronts are not the inter-European rivalries the EU was designed to mitigate, but global threats that the EU was not designed to counter at all. Can a collection of nation-states whose populations in fact loathe each other hang together? I don’t know, but it’s that or hang separately. What prevents them from hanging together is the European nations’ still-powerful and entirely understandable attachment to their individual sovereignty. The EU worked well enough when times were good. It didn’t, after all, prevent Europe from enjoying the most peaceful and prosperous half-century in its history. But it’s far from clear that it works when times are bad, and they are bad. Of much greater immediate concern than Europe’s looming Islamization — a threat that seems to consume Americans with worry, even though I suspect this trend has peaked — is that Europe has no common policy for immigration and border control, still less for involving itself constructively in resolving the conflicts that are producing these refugees.

28. Houses Divided Cannot Stand. If the Middle East continues in its current trajectory, Europe could wind up with not a million but tens of millions of refugees. If Europe has no common foreign policy toward Russia, Putin will cheerfully exploit its divisions to bring state after state under Russian influence or control. And if Europe continues to pursue a policy of monetary integration without ceding sovereignty to some form of federal government, we’ll see more reiterations of Greece punished and alienated by Germany, of Hungary and Poland descending into authoritarianism even as they keep their hands extended for aid from the EU, and of no one able to halt the process. Hungary and Greece are Europe’s borders. You can’t secure Europe from a rapacious Russia to the east and failed states and terror armies to the south unless countries like these are fully committed to the European project. With America is in its imperial dotage, Europe can’t even hope literally to wall itself off and hope that someone else sorts it all out. Even were Europe to build a new Berlin Wall around its entire periphery, twice as high and guarded by savage Dobermans, telling all those who can’t breach the walls to go drown in the Mediterranean, it would still be threatened by the chaos to its south. Now consider the entirely plausible idea of a terrorist army able to purchase a nuclear arsenal from North Korea, for example. Think Belgium or Slovenia can address these threats on their own? I don’t.

29. Constitutional Crisis. To sum up, Europe is now facing history’s biggest constitutional crisis. It must either develop real federal political institutions or break into its component parts. In the latter eventuality, countries like Slovakia would be poor, weak, and quickly gobbled up by stronger countries. It may be natural for Slovaks to dislike being told what to do by outsiders, but what choice do they have? It may also be perfectly natural for Germans to say, “If you want to be a country with your own immigration policy, that’s darling. Be our guest. Just don’t expect your next subsidy of 10 billion euros from the EU.” But in the end, this will not solve Europe’s security problems. The anxiety about Islam and immigrants is causing enormous damage to European social trust. Terrorist attacks will always occasion demagogic grandstanding, which works because the public can’t easily distinguish useful security policy from theater. But there’s no getting around it: effective counterterrorism demands more unity among European nations, not less. Counterterrorism requires the centralization of power, people, and money. It requires specialist teams and specialist equipment, particularly for surveillance, data management, and intelligence-gathering. It involves sharing information quickly and effectively across national borders. It is highly unlikely that any European country can do this alone, and highly unlikely anyone else can or will do it for Europe—“it” being the ability to maintain and defend effective borders: real borders, not hastily erected fences to keep out refugees but borders sufficient to keep out armies.

30. The Only Hope. Europe’s only hope is to create common institutions capable of devising and implementing a strategy to manage the influx of migrants and refugees; the even greater challenge is to create institutions that can address the instability and violence in Europe’s neighborhood. Unlike the European External Action Service and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, these institutions must exist for a reason beyond merely existing. At bottom, the only way forward is a single foreign and defense policy. This means strengthening the union. It may be impossible to do—but really, what choice is there? Can Europe do it? 

That’s what I’ll try to find out. And report.

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