Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Politics at Breakfast

I was having breakfast today at my customary hotel in Zurich where I happened to sit by a fellow who was reading the International Herald Tribune. We exchanged plesantries and he asked where I was from. I told him New York and he said "Oh I thought you were from the West Coast." [Meant as a compliment so I took no umbrage.] He asked after New York and I remarked that it was much improved in the last 10-15 years thanks in large part to Mayor Giuliani and the quality of life improvements that he initiated. He agreed and made a good analogy in that if you live in a filthy place you are much less inclined to try to be neat and clean. He remarked then that he'd like to visit New York but not for a while. "I don't like the people running things there. [the U.S.]"

I couldn't quite tell his nationality from his accent but his English was quite decent. It seemed Germanic but unusual so perhaps the French speaking region of Switzerland. He was a businessman and said he had traveled widely in the Middle East, particularly Lebanon. He opined how the Americans had completely lost the soft power that we once wielded with great effect due to the Iraq war. I replied that the vaunted 'soft' power may work well in Western Europe but certainly doesn't work in other parts of the world, especially, well, say in Lebanon. [There's really no riposte for that but other examples are Iran and North Korea!]

The dislike of America is now so strong, he further commented, that people are avoiding American culture - like the wearing of blue jeans. He admitted he himself is doing a bit of that.

He also made an outrageous statement that the only true democracy in the Middle East was Iran. [Israel?!? But more on that later.] That is prima facie preposterous and I told him as much given the fact that the mullahs banned hundreds of candidates from running in elections.

He was also concerned that Iraq is 'burning' and could 'burn' for 20 years. My comment to that was it's burning because its in the interest of none of the current regimes in the Middle East for Iraq to succeed.

Then he closed with this eye-opener:

"You know what the U.S could do to solve their problems? Stop supporting Israel."

Perhaps in reaction to my eyebrows arching off the top of my head, he quickly added, "Well not Israel, but the fascists."

To which my response was:
"If that's the 'price' for peace, we will not pay it."

This was a casual conversation with just one fellow who seemed to be reasonably traveled and informed (Ok, IHT is just NYT-lite) but I think it sheds some light on what a lot of Old Europe is thinking. They buy foolishly into the 'soft power' fallacy which works well exactly where you don't need it. This fellow also admitting to liking Clinton who, well, played nicely with Europe and displayed foibles like screwing his intern but did precious little about terrorism and proactively enhancing our geopolitical position. He feels that the U.S. has squandered its goodwill. I am not sure there was that much goodwill in the first place that wasn't driven by the Red Menace and if the price of their goodwill is the sublimation of our national interest, frankly they can keep it.

The worst fallacy of all was the proposition that if only we would stop supporting Israel that it would solve the bulk of our problems. I think that is emblematic of the deep anti-Semitism that afflicts many in Europe who choose to indulge in this fantasy. The militants hate us because we represent a liberal, secular democracy that is the living antithesis of the sharia run global caliphate that they dream of establishing.

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