One of the most interesting things about hiking in a desert with two friends and a limited water supply is that at a certain point early on, one of the hikers becomes the Watcher of the Water, constantly warning the others about not drinking too much. At some point, however, that person gets sick of the role. Suddenly left without the constant warning and the confidence that somebody’s making sure the water lasts, inevitably one of the other hikers takes on the role as principal water griper. It’s an intuitive response to genuine danger.
Something similar may be happening between the U.S. and Europe.
Emanuele is clearly on to something, and the developments since his post have only made clearer the role-reversal. Today there are reports indicating that the U.S. is actively blocking tough financial sanctions against Iran in the upcoming G8 summit requested by the Europeans.
Americans are unaccustomed to the decline of empire, but we might be seeing signs of a broad-scale correction of a fairly radical distortion that dates to the Cold War — an abandonment of the U.S.’s long-held role as Watcher of the Water. Americans have long bristled at the fact that it is they who provided the muscle to deter the Soviets, while the Europeans benefited from American investment in the problem, and had the luxury to advocate more universalist, passive, and peace-seeking ideologies. But from an American perspective, there was no choice back then: The Soviet nukes where every bit as much a threat to the U.S. as to Europe.
Today, however, Iran is not aiming ICBMs at the U.S., and the Europeans are far more at risk from an Iranian bomb than are the Americans. What the new American administration calls “engagement” may be little more than a form of strategic disengagement, a way of saying that an Iranian bomb is simply not their problem. With the protective big brother nowhere to be seen, many Europeans realize that it may actually be up to them to stop the bomb.
Is this the beginning of a new era, a kind of strategic American isolationism under the guise of peacemaking, a fundamental shifting of the clash of civilizations? Here in Israel, we sure feel that way. (If today’s Israeli naval maneuvers are any indication, Israel may indeed be taking steps to “go it alone.”) Maybe Europeans are starting to sense it as well.