Shadow Government

The Dutch throw democracy under the bus

The "democratic deficit" of the European Union as currently constructed is well understood.  The treaty under which the EU operates was rejected in its prior ghost as a European constitution by French and Dutch voters. Recast by German lawyers in deliberately incomprehensible language, it was rejected by the Irish before Brussels and its beholden Dublin minions told the benighted sons and daughters of St. Patrick to go back to the voting booths and get it right, or else there would be yet another round of voting. So we have a "president of Europe" who sits in an office established by elitist non-democratic means, and who was personally selected for said office through a backroom process that would make early 20th century Chicago and New York politicians blush. Should we be surprised by anything that emerges from the same people who gave Europe this, ah, system?

But even by the standards of what we've come to expect from European elites, the Sept. 8 Financial Times op-ed by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager is a head-spinner. These Dutchmen propose a solution to the Euro-crisis that would involve three stages of supervision by a new European commissioner over the profligate states that threaten the Euro itself. Such states would first be put under the "independent supervision" of a new EU commissioner with powers "at least comparable to those of the competition commissioner." This functionary would be "given clear powers to set requirements for the budgetary policy of countries that run excessive deficits." That may not be enough: "If the results are insufficient, the commissioner can force a country to take measures to put its finances in order, for example by raising tax revenue.  At this stage, sanctions can be imposed..." But that still may not be enough: "...in the final stage" of failure on the part of Eurozone miscreants, the offending nation's budget will "have to be approved by the commissioner before it can be presented to parliament."

Wandering the terribly orderly streets of Amsterdam or Berlin or Copenhagen, one can well appreciate how the austere, decent northern Europeans would loath the intemperate habits of their formerly Catholic southern cousins. But what is the right name for the Dutch remedy? An EU commissioner who is a tutor? Empowered advisor? Mentor? Life coach?

Actually, the name for what M. Rutte and M. de Jager propose is "despot." These gentlemen see the failure of democratically elected governments in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, to a different degree Ireland, and soon France. They see no hope for democratically elected governments to fix their fiscal problems absent an iron fist from a central authority. They are bold.  They are authoritarian in their defense of a common currency. They have concluded that such a currency, the Euro, is much more important than the beliefs and ideas of the union the currency was meant to solidify. Their view of European integration is technocratic, power-centralizing, and uniquely anti-democratic. They have no apparent memory of European integration as envisioned by Adenauer, Schuman, and de Gasperi.  

There is an alternative.  Many Europeans, including the entrepreneur and financier Declan Ganley, have put forward a vision of an integrated Europe with fiscal and monetary discipline, as part of real integration within European democratic institutions. That will be a big step beyond Lisbon. But it will be a much better step than the materialist-grounded view of Rutte and de Jager, who seem to believe that a currency is more important than democratically accountable leaders and the freedom of citizens. The economic component of the Euro crisis is very serious. The larger crisis of Europe is even more serious. Rutte and de Jager are right to be anxious for a big solution. But they should not throw European democracy out to assuage their anger over southern European irresponsibility. Europe gave the world democratic values. The Dutch should lead the integration of Europe according to those values, not toss them over the side of a false life raft in another plush Brussels office.

LEX VAN LIESHOUT/AFP/Getty Images

Shadow Government

What our enemies should have learned

America's entry into the European theater of World War II was a military disaster at Kasserine Pass. We suffered heavy casualties and were pushed back over fifty miles. Taking the measure of this force, the Axis powers were smug -- the Americans might be fresh to the fight and have enormous resources, but there was little reason to believe any of their advantages would make a difference.

But after his initial successes against the U.S. military, Rommel wrote worriedly to his wife that although the Americans made mistakes, they were learning from them. And indeed, after our losses in the Tobruk campaign, the American military replaced ineffectual commanders, reorganized units to improve operational control and coordination, trained better fundamental soldiering skills.

Looking back across the decade of America's response to the al Qaeda threat that resulted in the attacks of September 11th, both our government and our military made assessments and improvements of similar magnitude: revamping our intelligence collection and assessment, developing strategies for countering insurgencies, building intellectual capital on the nature of the threats and means for disrupting and destroying them, finding ways to balance liberties and security in ways our public will support and sustain.

We have made grievous and well-documented mistakes: circumventing legislative and judicial oversight of executive authority, underestimating the difficulty of successful regime change and its associated costs, isolated instances of brutality, misreading what we look like to friends and enemies. We responded to the attacks in ways expensive to ourselves and others.

Yet it is also important to note that our response has for the most part defanged the narrative of our enemies. We have fought our wars with an extraordinary care for being a positive force in shaping those societies. We have had domestic debate about the wars, as every society should, but still demonstrated the determination to prosecute those wars and bear the losses they imposed on us -- something our enemies believed we were too dissolute to do. We have demonstrated the resilience to question our own choices and find better solutions with time. We are not the brittle and overbearing leviathan they thought.

Forecasting America's decline has become a mainstay of punditry, yet the analyses almost always overlook the fact that our political culture and our political system are attuned to solving problems. Granted, it is difficult to see up close, amidst the dust and noise of our messy domestic debates; and our mistakes are many. But we are an impatient culture, one that demands solutions and excels at building better mousetraps.

In other words, America is a society that often doesn't have it right, but given a little time, generally gets it right. Fortunately, because of our prosperity and strength, our country has a wide margin of error that generally leaves us time to adapt. Whether future conditions will sustain that margin is an important question, but a question for another day. For now, it is enough to be thankful we have had the space to find solutions that have kept our country remarkably safe despite the threats to us.

On this sad anniversary for our country, let us mourn the people, the freedom, and the innocence we lost on September 11th, 2001. But let us also be proud of the vitality of our people and the institutions of our government. For all our mistakes, we have done passably well. And to America's enemies -- al Qaeda and others -- that should be as worrying as what Rommel observed in the aftermath of the battle at Kasserine Pass.

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images