Home/Daniel Larison/Remembering Rumsfeld’s Foolish “Old Europe” Insult

Remembering Rumsfeld’s Foolish “Old Europe” Insult

Victor Davis Hanson writes some more revisionist history:

Nearly ten years ago, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld provoked outrage by referring to “Old Europe.” How dare he, snapped the French and Germans, call us “old” when the utopian European Union was all the rage, the new euro was soaring in value, and the United States was increasingly isolated under the Bush administration.

The outrage that Rumsfeld’s dismissive remark caused really had nothing to do with any of these things. It’s impressive that Hanson starts his column with this episode without providing any real historical context for it. The “old Europe” jibe was intended as an insult to the French and Germans because they had not signed on in one way or another to support the invasion of Iraq. A report from January 2003 recorded Rumsfeld’s exact remarks:

“Germany has been a problem and France has been a problem,” Mr Rumsfeld told Washington’s foreign press corps on Wednesday.

“But you look at vast numbers of other countries in Europe, they’re not with France and Germany… they’re with the US.”

“You’re thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don’t,” he said. “I think that’s old Europe.”

This was one of the more foolish things Rumsfeld said when he was Secretary of Defense. The two “problem” countries not only had the strong backing of their respective publics, but represented the view of most Europeans, including the people of so-called “new” Europe whose governments aligned themselves with the Iraq war for reasons of misguided solidarity and desire to please their patron. The French and German governments had their own reasons for doing so, but they were attempting to prevent a major U.S. blunder. The U.S. would have been better advised to heed the warnings of the “problem” countries that were trying to block the invasion. In short, “old Europe” did represent Europe in 2003, and it was right in its opposition to the Iraq war. It didn’t bother the French and Germans much that they were being described as “old.” What rankled them was that they were being treated as “problems” when they were trying to stop the U.S. from plunging into an unwise and unnecessary war. Almost nine years later, the Iraq war has formally been brought to a close after enormous costs in lives and wealth, Rumsfeld’s “old Europe” crack looks even worse and more foolish than it did at the time. It is fitting that Hanson should use it to launch into a series of banal or misleading generalizations about European history.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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