A Conquered Continent: The True Relationship Between Europe and America

The cartoon version America's relationship to Europe – and a cartoon version is of course the only version of foreign relations on offer in the corporate media – goes something like this: Old World and New World are now more estranged from one another than at any time in living memory, due to the Bush Administration's aggressive policies and disdain for international institutions and diplomatic niceties.

In America, those on the Right think this cartoon is a good thing: Europe is weak, crumbling, Godless, on the wrong side of history, on the brink of being devoured by the Islamic caliphate, etc., etc.; who cares what those panty-waist pinkos think? Those on the left regard the cartoon as a calamity: See how Bush has thrown away 60 years of amity and cooperation with our strongest allies, the great civilized democracies, leaving America isolated and feared in the world.

Of course, the truth of the matter is that the cartoon is wrong. There is not now nor has there been at any time during Bush's tenure any significant estrangement between the ruling elites in Europe and the United States. UCLA historian Perry Anderson gives a very detailed analysis of the reality of the situation in a recent edition of the London Review of Books (via a steer from the Angry Arab).

Much of the piece is given over to an examination of how post-Cold War Europe really works (and it has very little to do with the ignorant frothings of Mark Steyn and his knuckle-dragging comrades on the Troglodyte Right). But lower down in the piece, Anderson delves into the specifics of the U.S.-Europe relation today, and finds very little distance but a great deal of continuity – a continuity that helps explain what Anderson rightly calls the "surrender of Europe" to the United States. This is expressed most sharply in the actions (as opposed to rhetoric) of European governments in regard to Bush's Terror War, where they have countenanced the war of aggression in Iraq and played a major role in the vile rendition program of Bush's gulag.

Here are some excerpts:

Why has there been that sense of a general crisis in transatlantic relations? … In the EU, media and public opinion are at one in holding the conduct of the Republican administration outside Nato to be essentially responsible...In this vision, there is a sharp contrast between the Clinton and Bush presidencies, and it is the break in the continuity of American foreign policy – the jettisoning of consensual leadership for an arrogant unilateralism – that has alienated Europeans...But in the orchestrations of America’s Weltpolitik, style is easily mistaken for substance. The brusque manners of the Bush administration, its impatience with the euphemisms of the ‘international community’ and blunt rejection of Kyoto and the [International Criminal Court], offended European sensibilities from the start. Clinton’s emollient gestures were more tactful, if in practice their upshot – neither Kyoto nor the ICC ever risked passage into law while he was in office – was often much the same. More fundamentally, as political operations, a straight line led from the war in the Balkans to the war in Mesopotamia. In both, a casus belli – imminent genocide, imminent nuclear weapons – was trumped up; the Security Council ignored; international law set aside; and an assault unleashed.

United over Yugoslavia, Europe split over Iraq, where the strategic risks were higher. But the extent of European opposition to the march on Baghdad was always something of an illusion. On the streets, in Italy, Spain, Germany, Britain, huge numbers of people demonstrated against the invasion....But once it had occurred, there was little protest against the occupation, let alone support for the resistance to it. Most European governments – Britain, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Denmark, Portugal in the West; all in the East – backed the invasion, and sent troops to bulk up the US forces holding the country down. Out of the 12 member states of the EU in 2003, just three – France, Germany and Belgium – came out against the prospect of war before the event. None condemned the attack when it was launched...

Chirac and Schröder had a domestic interest in countering the invasion. Each judged his electorate well, and gained substantially – Schröder securing re-election – from his stance. On the other hand, American will was not to be trifled with. So each compensated in deeds for what he proclaimed in words, opposing the war in public, while colluding with it sub rosa. Behind closed doors in Washington, France’s ambassador Jean-David Levitte – currently Sarkozy’s diplomatic adviser – gave the White House a green light for the war, provided it was on the basis of the first generic UN Resolution 1441, as Cheney wanted, without returning to the Security Council for the second explicit authorisation to attack that Blair wanted, which would force France to veto it. In ciphers from Baghdad, German intelligence agents provided the Pentagon with targets and co-ordinates for the first US missiles to hit the city, in the downpour of Shock and Awe. Once the ground war began, France provided airspace for USAF missions to Iraq (which Chirac had denied Reagan’s bombing of Libya), and Germany a key transport hub for the campaign. Both countries voted for the UN resolution ratifying the US occupation of Iraq, and lost no time recognising the client regime patched together by Washington.

…Sweden, where once a prime minister could take a sharper distance from the war in Vietnam than De Gaulle himself, has a new minister for foreign affairs to match his colleague in Paris: Carl Bildt, a founder member of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, along with Richard Perle, William Kristol, Newt Gingrich and others…

In the wider Middle East, the scene is the same. Europe is joined at the hip with the US, wherever the legacies of imperial control or settler zeal are at stake. Britain and France, original suppliers of heavy water and uranium for the large Israeli nuclear arsenal, which they pretend does not exist, demand along with America that Iran abandon programmes it is allowed even by the Non-Proliferation Treaty, under menace of sanctions and war. In Lebanon, the EU and the US prop up a cabinet that would not last a day if a census were called, while German, French and Italian troops provide border guards for Israel. As for Palestine, the EU showed no more hesitation than the US in plunging the population into misery, cutting off all aid when voters elected the wrong government, on the pretext that it must first recognise the Israeli state, as if Israel had ever recognised a Palestinian state, and renounce terrorism (read: any armed resistance to a military occupation that has lasted forty years without Europe lifting a finger against it). Funds now flow again, to protect a remnant valet in the West Bank.

(More on Europe's role in renditions after the jump.)

….The war on terror knows no frontiers and the crimes committed in its name have stalked freely across the continent, in the full cognisance of its rulers. Originally, the subcontracting of torture – ‘rendition’, or the handing over of a victim to the attentions of the secret police in client states – was, like so much else, an invention of the Clinton administration, which introduced the practice in the mid-1990s. Asked about it a decade later, the CIA official in charge of the programme, Michael Scheuer, simply said: ‘I check my moral qualms at the door.’ As one would expect, it was Britain that collaborated with the first renditions, in the company of Croatia and Albania.

Under the Bush administration, the programme expanded. Three weeks after 9/11, Nato declared that Article V of its charter, mandating collective defence in the event of an attack on one of its members, was activated. By then American plans for the descent on Afghanistan were well advanced, but they did not include European participation in Operation Enduring Freedom; the US high command had found the need for consultation in a joint campaign cumbersome in the Balkan War, and did not want to repeat the experience. Instead, at a meeting in Brussels on 4 October 2001, the allies were called on for other services. The specification of these remains secret, but as the second report to the Council of Europe – released in June this year – by the courageous Swiss investigator Dick Marty, has shown, a stepped-up programme of renditions must have been high on the list. Once Afghanistan was taken, Baghram airbase outside Kabul became both interrogation centre for the CIA and loading-bay for prisoners to Guantánamo. The traffic was soon two-way, and its pivot was Europe. In one direction, captives were transported from Afghan or Pakistani dungeons to Europe, either to be held there in secret CIA jails, or shipped onwards to Cuba. In the other direction, captives were flown from secret locations in Europe for requisite treatment in Afghanistan.

Though Nato initiated this system, the abductions it involved were not confined to members of the North Atlantic Council. Europe was eager to help America, whether or not fine print obliged it to do so. North, south, east and west: no part of the continent failed to join in. New Labour’s contribution occasions no surprise: with up to 650,000 civilians dead from the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, it would have been unreasonable for the Straws, Becketts, Milibands to lose any sleep over the torture of the living. More striking is the role of the neutrals. Under Ahern, Ireland furnished Shannon to the CIA for so many westbound flights that locals dubbed it Guantánamo Express. Social-democratic Sweden, under its portly boss Göran Persson, now a corporate lobbyist, handed over two Egyptians seeking asylum to the CIA, who took them straight to torturers in Cairo. Under Berlusconi, Italy helped a large CIA team to kidnap another Egyptian in Milan, who was flown from the US airbase in Aviano, via Ramstein in Germany, for the same treatment in Cairo. Under Prodi, a government of Catholics and ex-Communists has sought to frustrate the judicial investigation of this kidnapping, while presiding over the expansion of Aviano. Switzerland proffered the overflight that took the victim to Ramstein, and protected the head of the CIA gang that seized him from arrest by the Italian judicial authorities – he now basks in Florida.

Further east, Poland did not transmit captives to their fate in the Middle East, but incarcerated them for treatment on the spot, in torture chambers constructed for ‘high-value detainees’ by the CIA at the Stare Kiejkuty intelligence base, Europe’s own Baghram – facilities unknown in the time of Jaruzelski’s martial law. In Romania, a military base north of Constanza performed the same services, under the superintendence of the country’s current president, the staunchly pro-Western Traian Basescu. In Bosnia, six Algerians were illegally seized at American behest, and flown from Tuzla – beatings in the aircraft en route – to the US base at Incirlik in Turkey, and thence to Guantánamo, where they still crouch in their cages. In Macedonia, scene of Blair’s moving encounters with refugees from Kosovo, there was a combination of the two procedures, as a German of Lebanese descent was kidnapped at the border; held, interrogated and beaten by the CIA in Skopje; then drugged and shipped to Kabul for more extended treatment.

….Almost six years in, we seem no closer to pulling ourselves out of this quagmire.’ Indeed. Not a single European government has conceded any guilt, while all continue imperturbably to hold forth on human rights. We are in the world of Ibsen – Consul Bernick, Judge Brack and their like – updated for postmoderns. Pillars of society, pimping for torture.

What has been delivered in these practices are not just the hooded or chained bodies, but the deliverers themselves: Europe surrendered to the United States. This rendition is the most taboo of all to mention.