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Poodles and Other American "Vassals"

No Briton should worry about his or her country serving as "a foreign policy satellite of the United States". Whenever I hear the nonsense about London being the poodle of the American democracy, I think back to the early days of World War II: when most of Europe was, willingly or not (admittedly, a very important distinction), sucking up to the Nazi dictatorship, the British bulldog was virtually alone in its resistance to becoming the lapdog of what was Hitler's view of European integration.

Neither Britain as a whole, nor Tony Blair in particular, follows America in policies with which there is disagreement, be it the missile defense system, the international court of justice, the Kyoto Protocol, or the death penalty. So on occasions when a prime minister does side with Washington, we may surmise that maybe, just maybe, he (or she) may simply have concluded, rightly or wrongly, that at least in that particular case, the path the U.S. has chosen happens to be the best one to follow.

It should be noted that when any country falls behind the EU's position, the idea is that they are somehow proving themselves the incarnation of wisdom, progress, humaneness, common sense, and brave resistance. No further debate needed. Follow in Uncle Sam's footsteps, goes the underlying message, and you are proving yourself the gutless vassal of an arrogant and myopic superpower. Follow in the EU's footsteps (as defined by France and, to a lesser extent, Germany), and you are proving yourself the valiant participant in the grand buildup of a fraternal community speaking "with a single voice" (to quote French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin) and standing up to American pressure.

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Ironically, for people used to villify and mock Americans as incapable of seeing the world other than in black and white, these preconceptions create a political climate in which the United States, its society, and its allies are depicted as agents to be feared and resisted — i.e., as the bad guys — while virtually anyone opposed to Washington is depicted as a noble hero having joined a growing resistance movement of vital importance, i.e., as one of the good guys. And this rockset (and self-serving) piece of prejudice is repeated so relentlessly that it is taken as a given by many EU politicians, journalists, and citizens (not to mention countless people in Arab countries, the third world, and, yes, America itself).

In other words, it is ridiculous to claim that Europeans see things in gray rather than black and white when the very fact that they are more cynical becomes "evidence" in their minds of their own moral rectitude. Indeed, it is an inescapable feature of life in Europe that most people there feel naturally more wise to the ways of the world — i.e., morally superior — than Americans.

As we can see, the truth behind the lapdog charge is that, although veiled in more subtle language perhaps, it presents a world of good and evil no less stereotypical than the image of the planet its adherents claim exists in America. Fundamentally, the poodle charge amounts, consciously or unconsciously, to little more than mud-slinging that fits a self-serving agenda and serves to stifle meaningful debate.

© Erik Svane

Straight from the horse's mouth
The two constants in mainstream media articles about Tony Blair
A shorter version of this column was published in the International Herald Tribune