[This is the second in a series of blog posts on anti-American sentiment in Europe, based in part on a mini-series produced by the Finnish Broadcasting Company, and continuing our wider inspection of Dumb Europeans.]
George W. Bush’s extraordinary rendition program has been back in the news lately, against the backdrop of a new effort to rehabilitate the former president and of liberals inexplicably celebrating the CIA as an enlightened organization for its hostility towards the new regime. Thanks to the efforts of the very same Trump administration, a CIA agent facing jail time in Italy was recently let off the hook for her role in the CIA’s torture program, in the kidnapping of a terror suspect in Milan. Trump is following longstanding policy, inherited from Bush and Obama, of “looking forward” and ensuring that similar crimes can be committed with impunity by US personnel in the future.
Equally unsurprising is that agent Sabrina De Sousa’s skin was saved through a presidential decree from Sergio Mattarella. For all the official criticism of US policies and the widespread, popular anti-American sentiment, there is little daylight between Europe and the US. From recent memory, think of the attack on Libya, inhumane refugee policies, corporate-authored secret trade deals, and the imposition of brutal austerity measures coupled with channeling public money into private banks. Not only is it ineffectual to rail against “the damn Yankee” — it is, in most cases, a sign of either ignorance or rank hypocrisy, or both.
In my previous blog post, I wrote about this permanent state of European cognitive dissonance — between our fervent criticism of American misdeeds on the one hand, and willful blindness to European culpability on the other — and of becoming aware of it only after I settled down in the US. Beyond public discourse and private prejudices, this attitude affects major policy decisions and the reporting on them.
In 2013, my native Finland was drawn into the international scandal over European collaboration in the CIA’s rendition flights. Knowing how pervasive our collective myopia is, I was fairly confident I could find more evidence of Finnish collusion if I gave it a shot. At the time, I was fresh out of grad school, eking out a living in New York as a freelance musician with an adjunct faculty gig, but pored through Wikileaks cables and interviewed people in my free time. As it turned out, representatives of the Finnish government, facing pressure from the public and from human rights organizations, had asked Americans for “assistance in helping to ‘bury’ ” the scandal, while Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen personally assured the US ambassador that his government didn’t want to “challenge” the US on the torture flight issue, but to “limit the damage for both sides” caused by these “embarrassing” news reports.
This was the first story I broke as an investigative journalist, solely based on a hunch that whatever is going on, the public and media will ultimately rather concentrate on American culpability than our own. (Getting anyone in the mainstream media to publish it, and preventing the news conglomerate I finally sold the pitch to from totally watering it down in favor of the government, was a battle in its own right.) Of course, initial indications of Finland’s complicity in these crimes hadn’t been unearthed by some muckraking Finnish reporter to begin with, but by the New York-based Open Society Institute. On a few occasions, I had the chance to talk with the lead author of their Globalizing Torture report, Amrit Singh, who was baffled that the diplomatic cables I showed her hadn’t been discovered earlier: “It sounds like they’re burying a corpse!”
American leftists like to think of Finland as an enlightened Nordic utopia, and Finns are equally invested in holding on to this increasingly fanciful image. This makes Finnish hypocrisy a particularly good case study. Our prime minister groveling in front of the Americans behind closed doors was not an isolated incident. A year later, I wrote about the country’s leading role in secret top-level negotiations between the EU and the US concerning a “joint framework” for extraordinary renditions. This had been reported abroad, but not in Finland — my piece was published in a small leftist periodical and, outside activist circles, mostly ignored. In 2006, a six-member delegation from the EU’s side, including Finnish Interior Minister Kari Rajamäki and Justice Minister Leena Luhtanen, had met with some of the worst assholes of the Bush regime, headed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. According to an EUobserver report, Condoleezza Rice’s closest advisor, John Bellinger, had ranted about “human rights lobbyists” and the importance of “reducing the level of hysteria” in Europe.
Of course, when I asked them, neither of these former Finnish ministers had any recollection of such talks, nor could they explain why the meeting minutes were classified.
Similarly, my brother and I are the only ones in Finland to have written about the country’s unique history in the decades-long US-led aggression against Iraq. Not only was our tiny nation a member of the Security Council when the unprecedented sanctions regime was put in place, but headed the sanctions committee, with Finnish UN Ambassador Marjatta Rasi serving as its chairwoman — a fact that almost no one in the country is aware of to this day. The embargo caused unimaginable suffering, the deaths of around 500,000 children, and merely strengthened Saddam’s hold on power.
When we interviewed her, Mrs. Rasi oscillated between justifying the sanctions on the one hand, even praising the consensus that was struck between the parties, and on the other, denying that a small country could have any real influence anyway. A uniquely Finnish term comes to mind, one we were taught in school history lessons: ajopuuteoria, “the driftwood theory”. It states that we didn’t really opt to fight alongside the Nazis in World War II, we were just a small nation drifting about against our own will.
Back in 2002, around 10,000 people demonstrated at the US Embassy in Helsinki against the pending occupation of Iraq. Only years later did it become apparent to me that we were protesting in the wrong place all along. Oblivious to Finland’s disgraceful history as one of the prime actors in the sanctions regime, we still saw ourselves as a nation on the right side of history. But even as President Tarja Halonen was scoring political points for “bravely” criticizing George W. Bush, her fellow Social Democratic Party member, Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, was secretly pledging the government’s support for the looming war, international law be damned.
France was the worst. As much as the European media reported on various embarrassing facts about the US government’s previously warm relationship with Saddam Hussein, not much attention was drawn to the history of a man who had once assured the dictator of his “respect, affection” and “personal friendship,” while selling Iraq a nuclear reactor and securing lucrative deals on the country’s oil reserves. This was, of course, President Jacques Chirac, another leader who turned the Iraq war into a chance to play the hero for a domestic audience.
Our own leaders can get away with murder so long as the brunt of the blame can be placed on the US. Why were we not protesting against our multiple European neighbors who eagerly joined “the coalition of the willing”? Why is barely an eyebrow raised when a European head of state continues to clean up the mess left by our jointly-operated torture infrastructure?
Cynical realpolitik is to be expected from governments — including obediently following the lead of more powerful players when that’s convenient. The real damage happens when the public at large, including many self-identified political activists, buy into the narrative of European decency in the face of American barbarism, diverting our attention from what’s going on in our own backyards.
There’s even a term for this type of geopolitical subservience: Finlandization.
Dumb Europeans—Part 1: Will Trump Make Us Love America Again?
Dumb Europeans—Part 3: Where Hogs Dwindle and Dogs Go Mute]
4 thoughts on “Dumb Europeans—Part 2: The Bully Made Me Do It”
American leftists can still look to Finland as enlightened compared to the US purely based on your ability to realise that education should be a priority, and if you make kids like it and let it be free with well paid teachers you will have much better results. As well as your realisation that health care shouldn’t be a for profit experience… I could go on. That doesn’t mean that we are oblivious to the fact that there are costs for European countries that don’t agree to be poodles to American Imperialism. After all, it certainly isn’t beyond Uncle Sam to crush left governments for no other reason than them being left. Even in Europe. http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/39159-noam-chomsky-on-the-long-history-of-us-meddling-in-foreign-elections Which isn’t to say that you don’t deserve critisism though.
Besides military adventurism American leftists are still able to criticise european countries while admitting it would be leaps and bounds better than living in this shit hole of an oligarchy that activly tries to kill it’s poor. For instance, joining the currency union was just about the stupidest thing you could have done. It has put you on an inevitable collision course with Germany that won’t end well. You tied your hands on a government’s most basic duty; ensuring that everyone who wants a job should be able to get one. You signed up to ultra right wing German economics who are totally clueless thanks to their full scale adoption of neoliberalism. There has never been a more irrelevant number than the national debt for a country that has the exclusive rights to print it’s own money. More info on that:
Click to access Lerner%20Functional%20Finance.pdf
Click to access Kalecki_1943.pdf
If it weren’t for the currency union and the fact that I will be a debt slave for the rest of my life I’d be doing my best to find a job in Europe right now.
Also, you have the flexibility of starting new parties when the legacy ones get too far off course. We are stuck with one party that has two different names and there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it except begin work on worker owned cooperatives to manufacture Guillotines.
Besides that though I’d say the rest of the piece is well put.
I agree with a lot of what you just wrote, so I must have been unclear somewhere. This is primarily an attempt at drawing attention to a very specific lack of perspective in Europe, not in the US. As I put it in the first part of the series (in the form of a joke): What’s the difference between an American liberal and a European liberal? An American liberal is harshly critical of the United States’ role in world affairs and of the flaws in American society, whereas a European liberal is harshly critical of the United States’ role in world affairs and of the flaws in American society.
As for this bit:
This is not to say that American leftists shouldn’t hope to emulate the Nordic welfare state model, on the contrary. I’m simply pointing out how attached we all are to this image of Finland — which is understandable in the US, baffling in Finland where anyone paying any attention should be aware that the influence is being transmitted in the exact opposite direction. We are building a US-style neoliberal order, and the development is radical, rapid, and probably irreversible.
You mention, for instance, free healthcare — that’s being privatized as we speak. Free higher education is going out the window, coupled with a dubious school reform that seems to aim at creating more low-skill labor. (And even in its hay days, the Finnish school system was never the amazing phenomenon it’s depicted as in Atlantic Magazine articles — I’ve been through it, and it sucks. But to its credit, it’s well funded and gives about the same mediocre quality to all kids regardless of their background.) Like you, I could go on. In fact, we have a very depressing article on the topic coming up in this same series.
I would agree with you that the state of Finnish democracy is still a lot better than that of the US, which is nowadays pretty close to Russia (both are plutocracies). But the neoliberal project in Finland is rolling out like a juggernaut, and despite our viable multiparty system, we’re past the point where elections are the answer — it seems, as you described, that “there’s not a damn thing we can do.” But the trend will definitely be impossible to resist if people are in denial about it, which is one of the points I tried to make.
More context here: