Alongside the debate among foreign-policy analysts about a “post-Western world” that I discussed in a recent post, there has also been another, oddly disconnected debate about the future of the West as a normative project that, particularly since 9/11, has been dominated by two opposing groups. On one side of the argument are anti-imperialists, who see the relationship between the West and the rest of the world predominantly in terms of the concept of empire and are therefore critical of Western policy and even of the concept of the West. On the other side of the argument are what might be called “Enlightenment fundamentalists” (the term comes from Timothy Garton Ash, who, in an article in the New York Review of Books in 2006, described the Dutch-Somali writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali as a “brave, outspoken, slightly simplistic Enlightenment fundamentalist”), who attempt to defend the values of the West, which they see as being under threat.
I’ve been in Berlin for a few days now in the run-up to the general election that takes place on Sunday. One of the remarkable things about the campaign, which has been lacklustre even by German standards, is the way that the two leading candidates, the Christian Democrat chancellor Angela Merkel and the Social Democrat foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who have shared power in a grand coalition for the last four years, have carefully avoided discussing the key issues facing Germany. Case in point: the war in Afghanistan.
The Europeans love Obama, and all of the Europeans, the Germans love him the most. That is one of the not altogether surprising but nevertheless interesting findings of the 2009 edition of Transatlantic Trends, an annual survey by the German Marshall Fund that tracks attitudes to the transatlantic relationship in Europe and the United States. According to the poll, 92% of Germans approved of President Obama, compared to only 12% who approved of President Bush this time last year – in other words, a whopping 80-point “Obama bounce”, as the authors of the report call it. (In Britain, by contrast, support for the US president jumped from 17% to 82% – a mere 65-point difference.)