The Last Vegetarians


Back in 2013, the UK’s Financial Times published an op-ed on the German election campaign. Frau Merkel handily won that election, before all the Syrian immigration debacle—at that time, neither Germans nor their politicians wanted anything to do with the Mid-East. Arguably, they still don’t.

What they were concerned with was ‘Veggie Day’, a weekly occurrence when no meat would be served in canteens—bye-bye bratwurst. When the chancellor was asked for impressions of her nation, she talked about ‘”well-sealed windows. No other country can make such well-sealed and nice windows.”

That’s what affluence and seventy years of pacifism does for you, and in that sense Germany is unusual as a nation—it appears to be well and truly emasculated by the wars of the past century. England certainly hasn’t changed in the same way—below the veneer of understatement and cucumber sandwiches, the bellicose vibe is always there—you see it in the Brexit bitterness and in any pub or soccer match.

Münkler, a German political scientist, states that ‘if you only take normative positions, if your focus is solely on values, you won’t find success in a world where others are relentlessly pursuing their interests.’

At least in part, this is the story of the European Union. The EU has focused on common values with outstanding success—the four freedoms (goods, services, people, and capital), food and environmental quality, safety and welfare, are all examples of this.

The value set of the EU has proved robust enough to threaten the growth of extreme movements, in a way that Germany, Italy, Spain, and Portugal were unable to combat one hundred years ago.

But when it comes to policy, it’s a different matter. First, the directions diverge: Germany promotes pacifism, Britain aligns with the US, the French exercise regional power, particularly in Africa, Portugal favors its ‘language’ belt, and the Greeks push back against Turkey.

Second, European tools to pursue any interests they do agree on are frail. Most of all, there is no military might. The EU has two nuclear powers (soon to be reduced to one), but it also has Russia on its borders. It would be foolish to underestimate the temptation this poses to the bear.

Next to a large, relatively poor, ravenous, and aggressive beast, there lives the fatted calf. The calf keeps gaining weight, veggie days not withstanding, and looks ever-more tempting to its ragged eastern neighbor.

Since the Second World War, the West put the tools in place to ensure detente. For Russia, or China for that matter, verbal alternatives to physical violence rely on strength. NATO provided that guarantee, but US nationalism is now severely testing detente.

The jury is still out on whether Trump is Putin’s bitch, but from a political perspective it certainly seems that way—whether through deliberation or as a полезный идиот, a useful idiot, the orang-u-tan has contributed significantly to destroying detente and promoting the resurgence of Russian nationalism.

One term of Trump will be bad enough—he has reduced friendship to rubble, identifying Europe as his biggest enemy, ahead of Russia and China. Sigmar Gabriel, the former German foreign minister, says “He has done damage that the Soviets would have dreamed of.”

Trump has shattered European trust in America—in several hundred days, the US president destroyed a relationship of several hundred years, claiming free-loading on defense and trade difficulties. I’m sure if those arguments were unsuitable, others would have been found.

Does weakening the EU’s defense, fragmenting EU nations, encouraging the ‘rise of the nutters’—the Farage, Le Pen, and Pym Fortuijn brigade—help Russia? Most certainly. Does turning a blind eye to fake news and classifying reputable sources as fake help Russia? Most certainly. Does turning the US into a fracture help Russia? Most certainly.

Cartoons abound but this is no laughing matter.

Although I hate all people who generalize, populations can be split into three categories—this applies to families, schools, communities, and countries. A significant proportion is content to drift through life, the next largest group is happiest when it breaks things, and the smallest segment builds.

The middle group has a gradient, from quasi-harmless folks who destroy a little to toxic people who nuke everything they touch. And unfortunately, the first segment is more susceptible to the views of destructors than constructors.

MAGA is a typical example of the destructor approach—to make America great you need destruction—swamps must be drained, nations rejected, people humiliated.

The orange man is the epitome of the worst kind of destructor—the irony is that he is a builder by trade. His whole life has been devoted to tearing stuff down. People, relationships, buildings, and now countries, including his own.

For decades the US played the role of policing the world—stepping back a little under the Democrats, pushing forward under the Republicans. Suddenly (and bizarrely in a red US) the world has been confronted with a haphazard and timid US foreign policy, predicated on lies.

Twitter is fine to fool a base that is both uninformed and uninterested, but it sure ain’t foolin’ the Taliban, Assad, or Xi Jinping. The Afghan diaspora discusses… in Moscow. The  Syrian chaos is orchestrated from… Moscow. Iran, Turkey, Brexit… with a little help from Moscow. Everywhere, if you count US acts, Putin profits.

Forget the words coming out of the White House—look at the deeds.

So now Europe has to face the music. A continent of immense wealth, where the preoccupation over double-glazing, chlorinated chicken, and soccer trumps any broader discussions. Like nature, world power abhors a vacuum. As America retreats, others are eager to fill its shoes. As Rome retreated, so the Vandals and the Moors advanced.

Two-thirds of the European defense budget is paid by the US. Two terms of Trump may well see that off, consigning it to the dank basement where the tatters of the Paris agreement lie. Gabriel put it best.

We are the last vegetarians in a world full of carnivores, and if Britain leaves, we will be vegans.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

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