Sunday, May 05, 2002

If the aftermath of the Jenin pseudo-massacre has demonstrated anything, it's the absurdity of European opinion makers' claims to a more "nuanced" and "complex" view of foreign affairs than that of their brashly "simplistic" black-and-white-thinking American counterparts. The parade of EU politicians and journalists visiting Jenin, calling for war crimes investigations of the Israelis and condemning--with what has sounded remarkably like resounding moral clarity--the destruction and suffering visited upon the Palestinian people, has made George W. Bush's language about Islamic terrorism sound downright diplomatic by comparison. And at least the US president had most of his facts right.

Not that anyone should be surprised; in a world of imperfect souls, it is natural for both people and nations to appreciate the "complexities" of their friends' faults and misdeeds, while passionately decrying the myriad sins of their enemies. In fact, throughout the Cold War, the US demonstrated exactly such a "double standard" with respect to pro-Western and pro-Soviet tyrannies in the Third World, forgiving or excusing (if not actually defending) human rights abusers lined up on the American side, while excoriating Soviet-leaning regimes for their cruelty. European leftists, of course, did the same--only in the opposite direction. This time around, it's Israel getting the breaks from its American friends, while Europe sides with the Arabs in general, and the Palestinian Authority in particular.

A good example is German author Peter Schneider's column in (where else?) Sunday's New York Times. Schneider claims to want "to get past these destructive clich├ęs" of America's "Manichean world view and simplistic solutions", and Europe's "weaklings and cowards". But his column is really all about how the US should join him in cutting (only) the Palestinians a break. Take Israeli settlements in the occupied territories: "When American commentators mention this problem," Schneider writes, "they treat it as inappropriate behavior, but hardly justifying any kind of strong response." They don't mention the settlements much, he suggests, because "to do so might present a motive for the suicide bombings." Schneider never mentions what "might present a motive" for building settlements; Israeli wrongdoing, in his view, need not be probed for possible mitigating justifications. As for those suicide bombings, "nothing has hurt the Palestinian cause more than its strategy of terror". Schneider never even bothers to mention those other victims of the bombings; but then, I suppose it is only natural to worry about harm to one's friends first.

Now, Peter Schneider (who, we should not forget, speaks, in the end, only for Peter Schneider) is free to choose his allies as he pleases, as are his fellow European intellectuals--or, for that matter, Americans of all stripes. (As he puts it, "European skepticism about American views of the Middle East arises from the very strong alliance between the United States and Israel." Well, it would, wouldn't it?) But perhaps Schneider and his friends might wish to pause and consider what happened scarcely a decade ago, when, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. those fond of giving Moscow, rather than Washington, the benefit of the doubt in international disputes found themselves sporting world-historical-scale volumes of egg on their faces. Defending corrupt, ambitiously irredentist autocracies in their efforts to destroy vibrant pro-Western democracies has not always proven, in retrospect, to be a wise choice.

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