Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age

Written by Steven Hill. Posted in Culture, Opinion, Politics

Tagged: ,

Published on May 01, 2009 with 7 Comments

By Steven Hill

Editor’s note: The following article has been excerpted from Mr. Hill’s forthcoming book: Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age (University of California Press), which will be published in November.

May 1, 2009

It seems that the whole world is waiting and watching to see what happens not only with America’s government but also its people, which has accepted torture, kidnappings, Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, gutting of the Geneva Conventions, domestic surveillance, invasions under false pretenses and other violations of international norms of decency and human rights which the United States originally had led in establishing.

In the early years of the Bush administration, Europeans would say to me kindly, “We don’t blame the American people for their lousy government, we know the American people are good.” But there was a shift following Bush’s reelection in 2004. A headline the day after the election from the British tabloid The Daily Mirror seemed to capture the new sentiment: “How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?” the front-page blared in large bold print.

In 2006, while I was in Geneva, Switzerland, an American friend of a high-ranking German embassy official to Switzerland confided a recent conversation in which this official said, “We assume that the Bush crowd stole a million votes in that election. But that still doesn’t explain why 58 million other people voted for such terrible leadership. We [the Germans] are moving on, we are so done with America, we can’t wait any longer for it to get its act together.”

Unfortunately this attitude has become common in Europe, indeed around the world. America’s moral and political leadership in the world has taken a direct hit. The American dream itself has been undermined by images of the black residents of New Orleans drowning in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, even as government spending was being plowed into a military leviathan flouting world opinion and breaking the international rules it had helped establish.

Now the metastasizing of US-made toxic financial products throughout the global financial system, which has brought the world’s economy to the brink of disaster, has further undermined America’s claims to leadership. The shining City on the Hill has suffered a fundamental erosion of the attractiveness of its narrative that once enticed the world.

The election of an appealing, charismatic black president with an unusually non-Anglo-sounding name has restored some of the luster, but still, the signs of slippage are everywhere. Even a new generation of European leaders, led by Germany’s Merkel and France’s Nicholas Sarkozy, who originally were seen as more pro-American than their predecessors, have turned out to be not the start of a new pro-American moment in Europe but a marker of the beginning of the post-American era.

For the American power elite, as well as the American people, being on top of the world has been a way of life for over a half century. Power and global dominance have become a state of mind, a way of being. America’s messianic view of itself as the “indispensable nation” seems to drive American leaders, whether left or right, as if possessed by an imperial spirit. Even President Obama’s rhetoric is tinged with such pretensions; at times the Democrats sound like Republicans, with no alternative conceptual framework for international relations other than one based on force, strategic dominance and an assumption of American preeminence.

So any difference in foreign policy resulting from Bush’s exit may end up being one of degree, not kind. Indeed, after promising more consultation with allies, President Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan with more troops, and widened missile strikes inside Pakistan, all without consultation. This arrogance of prerogative seems to be part of the American Way.

Some Americans take pride in the fact that all the trillions of dollars that have been plowed into the military budget have succeeded in creating the strongest, most powerful military force in history. However, as we have seen, that has not translated into greater national security. Our lone remaining superpower moment has come and gone, and now we are in the red zone of potentially becoming the next hollowed out post-WWII superpower, living through the perils of imperial overstretch and the sunset of the Pax Americana.

The last time anyone buzzed about Washington’s “decline” came during the waning years of the Cold War, in the late 1980s when Yale Professor Paul Kennedy authored The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.

Kennedy warned that the U.S. was falling into a familiar historical pattern where the combination of huge military budgets and ever larger deficits led inevitably to the kind of “imperial overstretch” that weakened once-mighty empires. During the roaring economic boom of the Internet years in the 1990s, with the U.S. astride the world as the world’s lone remaining superpower, Kennedy’s predictions seemed laughable. Now, they may turn out to be prophetic.

With the American Dream looking increasingly frayed, combined with America’s principal role in the global economic meltdown and recent foreign policy failures, the United States has lost a lot of its global credibility. The United States is still a mighty power, but author Parag Khanna in his book Second World has grippingly outlined a global competition in the years ahead between the three most important powers today, the U.S., Europe and China, for influence in the “second world” of aspiring nations. “The world’s most compelling ideology is neither democracy nor capitalism nor any other ‘ism,’ but success,” writes Khanna. “Today the definition of success is up for grabs.”

In the multipolar world, the second world countries are watching closely the behaviors of the world’s three superpowers, the U.S., E.U. and China, to see which offers the best bargain. For each nation, it’s a geopolitical marketplace with options to pursue toward bettering their condition. The second world nations are in effect the world’s swing voters, and their affiliations will determine the shape of the new global order. In this competition between competing visions, the European Way is looking attractive and surprisingly nimble, while the American Way has been looking outdated and — to borrow a word from the Euroskeptics — sclerotic.

In retrospect, then, the clashing at the United Nations over the invasion of Iraq was not merely between two nations, the United States and France, and their own national baggage — it was over the direction of the geopolitical future. The world needs to invent a new security model based more on open, free trading societies that feed from economic and political webs of interconnectedness, and concentric rings of partnership and development, instead of the one that has prevailed in the post-War era, namely the big kid on the block with massive military might policing the smaller kids.

Certainly it would help if Europe could accelerate its process of coalescing, and as its still new military capabilities consolidate, it should think about what more it could do to foster international security and step up its efforts as international peacekeeper in global hotspots. But just as Europe could step up more, America should step down, and follow Europe’s lead more, giving new primacy to multilateralism, diplomacy, patience, human rights, international law and fostering strong ties with moderate nations and with moderates within extreme nations.

Fortunately, allowing others to take the lead on the global front dovetails nicely with America’s increasingly urgent need to take better care of the home front. The U.S. has its work cut out to revamp its obsolete, post-WWII hyper-militarized model, and provide a more balanced, Europe-like workfare system for American families and workers. No doubt the tens of millions of Americans lacking health care and affordable higher education, and suffering from inequality, poverty and declining fortunes, or those who lost their home and/or their job in the recent economic crash, as well as those wanting America to get serious about reducing our disproportionate contributions to global warming, would welcome this change of priorities.

Europe is looking for a respectful partner, not preeminence, in its transatlantic cousin. Compared to what Americans have paid in taxes for their foreign policy, the Europeans have paid pennies on the barrel to achieve some remarkable results. The European Way of foreign policy offers the world a way out of the dog-eat-dog turf wars that we inherited from the Cold War, and that the Bush administration, having taken the bait dangled by the Koran and Talmud fundamentalists of the impoverished Middle East, seemed determined to perpetuate.

Europe has devised methods of foreign policy and velvet diplomacy that reflect its social capitalist and multilateral impulses, which are founded on the deepest of faith in human potential and rationality. The emergence of these peaceful social capitalists is an uplifting event in human evolution that appears to offer the best pathway forward for a planet of over six billion people.

Steven Hill

Steven Hill

Steven Hill is a writer, columnist and political professional based in the Bay area who is a frequent speaker at academic, government, NGO and business events, speaking on a wide range of topics related to political economy, political reform, climate change, global complexity, geo-strategy and trends. Mr. Hill is the author of several books including "Europe's Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope for an Insecure Age (" and "10 Steps to Repair American Democracy, 2012 Election Edition" ( His articles and interviews have appeared in media around the world, including the New York Times, Washington Post, the BBC, National Public Radio, Fox News, C-Span, Democracy Now, International Herald Tribune, Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, The Nation, Washington Monthly, Salon, Slate, Politico, HuffingtonPost, American Prospect, Die Zeit, International Politik (Germany), Project Syndicate, Le Monde Diplomatique, Hürriyet Daily News (Turkey), Courrier Japon, Taiwan News, Korea Herald, Montreal Review, India Times, Burma Digest, Egypt Daily News, Ms., Sierra and many others. His website is

More Posts


Comments for Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age are now closed.

  1. The American model has been repudiated economically, politically and militarily because the consequences of American economics, politics and imperial militarism have been failure when applied and resentment on the part of those sternly lectured by the false prophets.

    The best way for the US to avoid future attack is by taking the air out from under the fundamentalist Moslems by lowering our footprint in that part of the world, first by reducing our dependency on foreign petroleum and second by ending our unilateral support for Israel as it commits crimes against humanity and of war.

    Of course, this would involve our own domestic Christian sharia and Free Trade scriptural inquisitors admitting that they are as wrong in their fundamentalism as the Zionists are as the Taliban is.


  2. Rob you are a gentleman and a scholar. I find many good things about the European style of government, that it is superior to America is a bit hard to take. The cognative dissonance of America’s haters domestic and abroad is a bit weird.

    As it is insisted by many on the the left that America can do no right, some say that we celebrate international woman’s day in the same breath that we end the “occupation of Afghanistan.” I would sing like a “progressive” when it comes to Iraq and the antics of Bush, but Afghanistan, a whole other story.

    The European and domestic “multicultutralists” are not to be taken seriously, the crazed rhetoric of Buchanan and cultural suicide ignored, multiculturalism is where you allow the most idiotic of cultures to get a pass, such as our local Muslims protesting gay marriage, while howling about born againers and Muslims.

  3. And then there’s the Europe that was essentially AWOL during the Balkan wars of the last decade until the US came in and did the heavy lifting for it. And the Europe that’s shirking its responsibilities to keep Afghanistan from being taken over again by the Taliban. And there’s the Europe that smugly talks about multiculturalism while Moslem immigrants bully their women and indulge in “honor” killings and homophobia.

  4. Someone described the U.S. as a country that ascribes hubristic”exceptionalism” to itself. Too many Americans believe themselves superior to other countries and thus, anything we do to protect our country’s national interests, including torture, extra judicial rendition, etc., is somehow justifiable.

  5. “Europe has devised methods of foreign policy and velvet diplomacy that reflect its social capitalist and multilateral impulses, which are founded on the deepest of faith in human potential and rationality.”

    Keep this in mind every time a bomb goes off in a rail station or subway in Europe. Keep this in mind when Sharia law takes root and a hand is lopped off or woman is stoned to death by her peers for infidelity.

    France has chosen to ignore the sweeping changes taking place under their noses. Their “velvet diplomacy” has done nothing to make the average European citizen safer.

    The author chooses to ignore the potential global repercussions of what is taking place in Pakistan and the potential of nuclear terrorism….. “Certainly it would help if Europe could accelerate its process of coalescing, and as its still new military capabilities consolidate, it should think about what more it could do to foster international security and step up its efforts as international peacekeeper in global hotspots.” This policy of “HOPE” is not the policy that has kept another 9/11 from happening in the US. While Europe sits on it’s hands and ruminates the world moves closer to a nuclear global disaster the likes we have never before witnessed. The worlds terrorist are not waiting to see how Europe coalesces. They are plotting, planing and moving forward everyday with their plans to over throw our way of life. By ignoring their intent and actions does not make them go away. Obfuscation of reality brings the U.S. closer to “European think” and another potential “man made” disaster on our soil.

    The U.S.A. for all it’s warts and pimples is still the greatest nation on earth. I wake up everyday and feel blessed that I was lucky enough to be born into a nation based on freedom and liberty. I thank all that have come before me and sacrificed their life for the benefits of freedom that I and my family hold true and enjoy today. Nothing can shake those values from my core beliefs. We are not perfect, but we believe in the core principles of liberty and freedom for all nations, two thirds of the world does not. That’s reality.

    Our world is a fragile and unpredictable place. I have hope that this new world the Democrats are proposing holds promise. I am skeptical and know that all it takes to topple this dream is another 9/11. I am more fearful now than ever before that the policies being put in place to protect Americans by the Obama administration is doomed for failure.

    I suggest that the author continue to live in Europe and take his chances going shopping and riding their public transit everyday thinking about when and where the next bomb is going to go off.

    We are about to follow Europe down that road and I for one am moving my family to a small town away from large population centers and wait to see how CNN…NBC…and the rest of main stream media spins the next attack on America.

    Go ahead and think and hope that our new foreign policy and “velvet diplomacy” will deter the coming attacks of those that continue to hate us for our freedom and liberty.

    Saying that the world is safe and terrorism does not exist does not make it so. Actions speak louder than words.

    Holding up a straw man and continuing to sling arrows will not make us a safer nation. But if it makes you feel better keep beating Bush to death. The real responsibility for our children safety now lays with our new administration not the past one. I live in the real world not the spin world of the media. Caveat emperor……..

  6. Europe should stop dumping its toxic waste in Africa, , and end its ongoing, de fact colonization.

  7. If you liked this excerpt, than I highly suggest you read Hill’s “Fixing Elections: The Failure of America’s Winner Takes All Politics”. It basically lays out how to establish a REAL democracy in which people like Bush will be incapable of being elected President ever again.