At a moment when the governments of the EU's three leading powers are on the ropes politically, French President Emmanuel Macron has boldly stepped forward to prescribe more of the same medicine that has caused the EU's growing dysfunction: An overreaching post-nationalism.
In the space of just one week Macron delivered two of the most remarkable speeches heard from a European statesman in many a year.
The first--delivered before a host of world leaders gathered in Paris to commemorate the centennial of the end of World War I--was a strident attack on nationalism, which he defined as "the opposite of patriotism" and a dangerous relic from the past which threatened progress toward a better "post-national world."
The speech generated international headlines and wide praise from establishment elites, who view globalism as the hope of the future and see Macron as a vigorous and articulate successor to Angela Merkel as the paramount leader of the West.
To others, however, the speech was a gross misreading of both history and the current direction of World affairs. Writing in the Wall Street Journal (“Macron's Faux Pas on Nationalism"), Walter Russell Mead--senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations--declared that nationalism remains "an important force in global affairs that world leaders should respect."
"Post-nationalism is a Western fantasy, not a global trend," Mead added, and warned that "the longer mainstream leaders remain blind to nationalism's importance, the more chaotic the world is likely to become."
Seven days after his Paris speech, Macron journeyed to Berlin, where he delivered a major address before the Lower House of Germany's Parliament—calling for "European strategic autonomy from the U.S." and a "true European army," while insisting that "we must protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia, and even the United States."
Lest anyone think Macron was totally alone regarding these striking proposals, later the same day German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she and Macron would discuss "the defense of Europe and a possible European army."
Across Europe, veteran defense officials--safely retired, thus allowing them to speak candidly--expressed shocked dismay at Macron's ideas. Calling the French proposals "wholly unrealistic,” German General Heinrich Brauss--a longtime NATO official--said that such a force would minimally require "an independent nuclear deterrent, and a credible capacity not just to defend Europe, but also provide military crisis intervention worldwide.
Admiral Gianpaolo diPaola—Italy’s former defense minister and chairman of NATO's military committee—concurred, noting that "for a true European army we'd need a European government, and currently that's not in the realm of the possible.”
General Bruno Kasdorf- former commander of the German army- insisted that "this idea is a total over-reaction to the American's utterly reasonable demand that Europeans pay their long agreed share of our own defense." He also posed the question, "If we can't even pay for NATO, how does Macron think we can pay for this new force?"
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, "A True European Army? Dream On" (November 19th), highly respected British defense expert Dr. Elizabeth Braw from the Royal Institute for Defense and Security Studies warned that "the danger of loose talk about strategic autonomy is that it becomes a botched self-fulfilling prophecy. The U.S. might take Europe at its word and disengage."
Braw concluded: "Unless European politicians are willing to ask their voters to fund troops and weapons currently provided by the U.S., they should stop daydreaming about going solo."
Post- (or supra-) nationalism is a failed concept that can only sow confusion and disunity throughout the West. As the Guardian noted in an article about the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), "Nationalism is as strong in these countries and many others today as it was in Europe in 1914".
Added Der Spiegel: "Talk of a European army is fatuous when we can't even handle the bad actors in our own backyard,” citing Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Turkey’s Recep Erdogan, robust nationalists both of them.
Macron's demonization of nationalism while pursuing the mirage of an unrealistic post-nationalism has led his own people--once so hopeful of his leadership--to turn against him.
Mocked daily in the French press, left and right as an out-of-touch “President of the Rich," with an approval rating of 22%, Macron is emblematic of a class of European leaders who condescended to their own people and are suddenly surprised to find their credibility in tatters.
‘Protect Europe from the US’ indeed. Pensez encore, M. le President.
Bill Moloney's columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post and Human Events.