We haven’t been in touch for a while, and a lot has happened. Predictable, perhaps. But neither you nor I predicted any of it. Many people here in Europe think you are being unreasonable and aggressive. Many of you believe we are irritatingly spineless. You and I have been around enough to know things aren’t like that. Still, it’s good to get it all out in the open.
For if Saddam manages to disunite us, he’ll have won even if he loses. Are we going to let him get away with that? Before asking you to search your soul – don’t worry, we’re coming to that – let me search mine. Like many Italians, French, Germans, British, and Spaniards, I am embarrassed to note that Europe has arrived at this moment of truth in disarray. It pains me to see the communist banners that flew over some of history’s worst massacres fluttering alongside the peace flags. It upsets me that the sinister Tariq Aziz is welcomed as if he were a statesman and peacemaker, when he’s merely a butcher’s assistant.
However, thoughts like these don’t mean that I have committed to this war. And that’s what you in America don’t seem to understand. The reason for the confusion was pointed out by Paul Krugman in a New York Times article. You are insufficiently informed. Obviously, American newspapers do their job, even if the Wall Street Journal is a bit over-emotional and – I’m tempted to say – "Italian". But how many people in the United States read newspapers? What counts in the US is television, and American TV has opted to prepare its viewers for war, not debate the rights and wrongs.
In Europe, we’re all wondering: why pick on Saddam, with so many other rogues around? Not many people are asking that question in America. One reason could be that most people here think the 9/11 terrorists were Iraqis (they were Saudis), and that’s not just my impression. It’s confirmed by the opinion polls, as has been reported in the New York Times. To quote Krugman again, "We have different views partly because we have different news", or as we Italians might say, "abbiamo idee diverse anche perché abbiamo informazioni diverse". Admittedly, it sounds snappier in English.
In this situation, my dear American Friend, it’s hard to be rational, yet reason is needed. We Europeans are your friends, your allies, and in many cases your ancestors. We are not your subjects. It is our duty, not just our right, to criticize you. Would you believe me if I told you that I have recently begun to appreciate what it must have felt like to be an Indian under the British Raj? The feeling is not a pleasant one, I assure you.
Mind you, I’m one of those who believe that the emergence of a post-Cold War "democratic superpower" is a good thing. Better that than an undemocratic superpower (the Soviet Union, if it had won), or a superimpotent democracy (Europe, for the time being). The world is not the magic garden some pixilated pacifists imagine it to be. Instead, it’s a sort of overcrowded schoolyard that needs a supervisor to keep some semblance of discipline. If necessary, by physical restraint. The supervisor has to be cautious, wise, and morally justified, and must be seen to be all three. Otherwise, there’s trouble. It angers me to hear people in Europe comparing Bush to Hitler. Yet I am also convinced that your President has put America’s reputation on the line, and I don’t think he realizes it. A few days ago, someone who knows the President well said to me, "George W. Bush is not like his father, who is a New Englander.
George is from Texas. He sees things in terms of good and evil. He likes clear-cut decisions. And he doesn’t know much about Europe." That’s fine. We’ll be happy to explain.
We’ll point out to President Bush that caution is not the same thing as cowardice, nor is doubt tantamount to treason. At times, doubt and caution are signs of wisdom (we live next door to the Arab world. We know some of these characters only too well). We’ll explain to him that a bit of self-criticism can help you get your ideas across. He should admit that we westerners have supported Saddam (the "secular Arab"!). He should explain – as a friend of Big Oil – that Iraq’s reserves have little to do with current events. Many people in Europe would believe him, and accept that the reason for the war is the one stated: the Bush administration is worried that there might be another 9/11, this time with chemical, bacteriological, or nuclear weapons.
We’ll explain to George W. Bush that impressing our leaders with a tour of Camp David is not enough. He has to win our hearts, as John F. Kennedy did in Berlin. Respect and trust cannot be delivered to order; they have to be earned. Any parent, friend, lover, or colleague will tell you this. So why shouldn’t the world’s most advised, informed, and influential man be able to grasp the point?
(traduzione di Giles Watson)