Dec 11, 2013
Learning to Speak Anew in a Tribal World
Posted on Nov 5, 2009
MARRAKECH, Morocco—The international conversation among foreign policymakers and political specialists (on the Western side of the world, at least) has since the Cold War and the Second World War tended to be Anglophone and something of an American monologue.
There has been a perfectly good reason for that, at least on the Western side of the Cold War, since ambitious young politicians, officials and military men from Europe and elsewhere went to the United States to study after 1945, and the U.S. government conscientiously subsidized many scholarships and overseas policy studies centers.
There wasn’t the same traffic the other way across the Atlantic by young and ambitious Americans. This is why, until Gen. Charles de Gaulle came back to power in France in 1958, Western Europe was an Atlanticist and Anglophone bastion. This now is changing.
I use the terms Anglophone or English-speaking rather than the usual French and Continental expression Anglo-Saxon, meaning Anglo-American. That term is still widely used in Europe, but erroneously, as Anglo-Saxon actually means a (German) Saxon in England.
The Saxons and Angles were Germanic tribes who took over England in the fifth century—together with the Jutes; but we won’t go into the Jutes, since they were a Low German tribe. Saxony, today, is High German, and, in any case, all of them, once settled in England, were in 1066 taken over by the French Normans—who, of course, were really Scandinavians.
I’m not aware of any modern Americans who think of themselves as descending from Angles or Jutes—and certainly not from the French, even the Norman French; to do that on the recent American political scene might be considered un-American.
(Barack Obama, on the presidential campaign trail, did not face the accusation of being French, as John Kerry did four years before, even though the Kerrys are presumably Celts, from Ireland, which one would think OK for an American to be. For a hundred years now, all the football players at the University of Notre Dame, wherever their parents happened to come from, have been Fighting Irish.)
It might seem that the world today, in an era of terrorism, would be becoming more rather than less tribal than it was in the early post-Second World War years. Woodrow Wilson, in 1919, had thought it would be good for all the Europeans to have their own nationalistic little countries. This made an enormous amount of trouble and helped bring on the Second World War. Slobodan Milosevic, in tearing apart Wilson’s united Yugoslavia in the late 1980s and the 1990s, was making a start toward a Third World War. Some terrorists have the same thing in mind.
At Marrakech, a new version of the international policy conversation has been taking place. It is called the World Policy Conference. It has been created by France’s (unofficial) Institut Francais des Relations Internationales and is meant to become an annual affair devoted to the proposition that the world has arrived at a point when serious things have to be done to strengthen international institutions of governance.
The principal speakers at last week’s meeting were officials or scholars from Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Turkey, Togo, Bolivia, South Korea, India, Israel, Algeria, Egypt, Senegal, Mexico and Mongolia, with a considerable unofficial Russian presence.
The usual European governments were prominently represented at official or semiofficial levels, as well as the IMF, the Arab League, the International Energy Agency—but curiously enough, not the United States, despite a “high-level” commitment.
The United States today is widely perceived as a large part of the current world problem. Today, the effort is how to cultivate new institutions of international cooperation and “governance.” Washington used to do it all alone, but a major part of the world is restless.
People speak of a “multipolar world,” and the reason that Europeans are leading the effort to develop the new international dialogue is simply that the European Union now is seen globally as the modern model for democratic international institutions.
Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.
© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
Previous item: Scott Ritter on Afghanistan: Don’t Believe the Hype
Next item: Keep the Government Out of the News Business
New and Improved Comments