WORLD MATTERS: Yes, European conservatives agree, U.S. politics and media are in free fall

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By Uwe Siemon-Netto

Pardon an outburst from a fervent friend of the United States: Yes, Secretary of State John Kerry is right! This year’s election campaign is indeed an embarrassment to America!

As Kerry said, America’s friends around the world are shocked. I am a European conservative, and I am shocked. I speak with friends in Europe every day, including senior officials in Germany and seasoned political observers in France. And they are shocked by this country’s descent into abject vulgarity at a time when the world yearns for American leadership displaying wisdom and values.

Kerry was wrong in singling out the crass performance of Republican candidates, though. It is disheartening to hear them discuss their private parts before huge audiences and defame each others’ wives when the topic of their debates should be the perils that threaten our mutual civilization.

Punctuating the Brussels terror attack by dancing the Tango in Buenos Aires.
Punctuating the Brussels terror attack by dancing the Tango in Buenos Aires.

Yet it was even more shocking to watch President Barack Obama doing “the wave” at as baseball game in Cuba and subsequently dancing the tango in Buenos Aires while Europe was reeling after the latest ISIL outrage in Brussels, just as Obama’s and Kerry’s absence at the world leaders’ unity march in Paris after the murderous attack of Islamic terrorists on the Charlie Hebdo editorial offices in January 2015 had been embarrassing.

But conservatives are supposed to have more class. What infantile Pavlovian reflex prompts, of all people, Republican politicians as well as conservative television stars and newspaper commentators to lash out against their country’s European allies in every election season, and especially at a time when these allies are suffering the consequences of America’s irresponsible abandonment of Iraq, which resulted in the growth of the cancerous Islamic State that is by now threatening every continent?

I have covered most U.S. Presidential elections since Goldwater vs. Johnson in 1964 as a foreign correspondent.They were always entertaining, quite different from ours, and that was fine. But lately they have been degraded to a level so base that it seems to confirm John Adams’ dire insight, “There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide,” as former Republican hopeful Mitt Romney reminded us recently.

This is precisely what America’s European friends fear. I hear it every day.

Do Republican politicians and their media minions not realize that conservatives in Britain, France, Germany or Italy – never mind our invariably anti-American liberals and leftists — also watch their gratuitous insults on CNN and Fox and read about them in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times? Does it not occur to them that we European conservatives who are their friends shake our heads in despair when Republican front runner Donald Trump declares NATO “obsolete” and when his supporter, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Cal.), chooses the day of the Brussels bloodbath to assert on Fox, “NATO is not there for radical Islam, NATO is there for Russia”?

What? Whom if not Muslim fanatics were NATO soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, where Germany deployed the third-largest military contingent after the U.S. and the United Kingdom, a fact never mentioned by Republican politicians and pundits, and never discussed in the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, presumably because mentioning this fact might weaken the relentless agitation against us “feckless Europeans”?

Once every so often Fox’ Bill O’Reilly asks the rhetorical question of what President Obama’s anti-ISIL coalition was actually doing. He does not begin his inquiry the way every newsroom intern would have when I started out in this business 60 years ago — by calling for example the press attaché at the German embassy in Washington (202-298-4251) or his French counterpart (202-944-6000), as journalists of my generation would have done.

Nor, God forbid, would he send a reporter with the proper language skills and historical knowledge to Berlin, Paris, Rome or Madrid. Were he to follow standard journalistic procedures he would discover that France, Germany and other European nations are actually busy fighting Islamic terrorism in the Middle East and in Africa.

But no, he calls in his comely experts, one usually brunette, the other a blonde. One never quite finds out if they are as clever as they are pretty for he talks all over them and then concludes that the coalition is a myth. In the name of the mothers and widows of European soldiers killed in action, allow me to comment, “Thanks for sharing.”

Only fools would believe that America can do without friends any more than Europe can do without America. Virtually every day when calling Europe I hear the same response to the irresponsible rhetoric from this side of the Atlantic: “We have lost our friend.”

Donald Trump is right in complaining that we are not doing enough for our own defense. Many European conservatives feel the same way, and changes are underway. In Germany, defense minister Ursula von der Leyen is cautiously working to increase her country’s military capabilities that had been dangerously weakened in the past two decades. But I have yet to see a story about the endeavors of this attractive mother of seven, who might one day succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel, in the American media whose daily slurs against the Old World rather undermine her efforts.

“Western Europe is gone,” said Monica Crowley, the online opinion editor of the Washington Times and a Fox political contributor. Let us take a deep breath: With one sweeping remark before millions of television spectators in the United States this celebrated commentator with a Columbia University Ph.D. verbally liquidates an entire continent with an ancient civilization and half a billion people.

Nobody denies that Europe – like America – is in grave danger. But gone? I posit that this term more accurately describes the state of American journalism, which in turn would support John Adams’ warning about the suicidal properties of democracy.

Uwe Siemon-Netto, the former religious affairs editor of United Press International, has been an international journalist for 58 years, covering North America, Vietnam, the Middle East and Europe for German publications. Dr. Siemon-Netto is the founder and director emeritus of the League of Faithful Masks and Center for Lutheran Theology and Public Life in Capistrano Beach, California. In his latest book, Triumph of the Absurd, he describes his esperiences as a Vietnam War correspondent in the 1960s.