THE SPINE MARCH 21, 2010
The Baroness Ashton is a very unhappy woman. You can see it on her face, poor lady.
And even the fact that she is now a “peer”--or should one still say “peeress”?--has not visibly altered her look. She is one of those ugly ducklings who has given her life to social causes, a type we all know. Alas, the outcome of such an existence is very rarely happiness. Take her work as treasurer of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), seen as a front by the Soviets, who secretly supplied as much as 38% of its budget. What satisfaction could it possibly have given her, what with the collapse of Communist Russia and each and every one of its brutal satraps?
So she no longer leads the cheering at pathetic Trafalgar Square protests. In fact, she is now a certified VIP, the “European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy”--the more cumbersome the title, the less substantial the job. But she does travel in limos. And perhaps in private jets, too. After all, she is the EUHRFFAASP. Quite a mouthful.
As it happens, there is great discontent among the Europeans about her incumbency. Some of this is related to dismay with the Union itself. But she has had absolutely no experience of any sort in foreign affairs. As late as nine years ago, in fact, she was the chairlady of the Hertfordshire Health Authority and of the board of her children’s school. Very, very wholesome. Still, if Sarah Palin was unsuited for the American vice presidency, as she certainly was, Lady Ashton is at least as unsuited for the job of Europe’s ersatz foreign minister. On the other hand, she comes equipped with a big bag of demands, virtually all of them addressed to Israel: “do this” and “don’t do that.” She doesn’t ask questions, she instructs (as the Quaker dowager on my civil rights “Boycott Woolworth” picket line instructed). These liberal minded folk turn out to be quite doctrinaire. And earnest. With the sweetness of clenched teeth.
Now, in Moscow last week, the Quartet--made up of the United Nations, Russia, the United States, and the European Union--condemned Israel on account of the East Jerusalem housing crisis, which had been hyped up with grotesque cynicism by the Obama administration. And, with even more grotesque cynicism, the four horsemen (two of them actually women) of the apocalypse also condemned Israel for not allowing certain building materials into the Gaza Strip. Again, their faces said it all: They looked as if they were ushering in the Day of Judgment.
As it happens, not. Within hours of their smug condemnations of the Jewish state, five rockets hailing from Gaza had landed in the Negev. One hit a communal agricultural facility and killed a Thai worker. There is nothing like demanding of a beleaguered people that it supply its enemies with materiel facilitating their continuous offense against it.
There is something faintly comic about the Quartet purporting to broker a peace agreement between Israel and the haplessly divided and hopelessly violent Palestinians. After all, the members of the Quartet don’t agree on anything among themselves but the supposed calumnies of Israel. Moreover, the two collective bodies in the foursome are phantoms--one more than the other, I suppose. So take your pick. I’ll take mine.
The truth is that what keeps the U.N. alive is the General Assembly, which affords governments (imaginary and real) the opportunity to send thousands of pompous officials to New York every fall to dine and wine (and to whine on behalf of the wretched of the earth.) I will not repeat my previous anti-U.N. wraps. (You can read some of my thoughts here and here.) But think of me when the Security Council finally debates sanctions against Iran.
Still, the real comedy belongs to the European Union. Yes, there is an enormous bureaucracy that has saved Brussels, which otherwise has only a bronze boy pissing in the street ... and, of course, some lace dealers--finicky, finicky, finicky. (In Antwerp, there are also many Muslims who contribute mightily to the national well-being--not finicky at all.)
The bureaucracy aspires to replace the democratic ethos of the Union’s member states. Some of these aspirations have already been achieved without many people actually voting in E.U. elections because the Union and the nations themselves are so removed from each other. But, now that at least four member states are on their way to bankruptcy, the E.U. has lost is capacity to do what it was supposed to do best. The eurocurrency was a fiction imposed on governments at such different levels of economic development and such different levels of industrial discipline that it was bound to collapse. The fact is that Germany does not want to support Greece--the most desiccated, most deluded, and most corrupt of European societies--in its illusions. (Greeks retire at age 50 with full pensions.) Neither are Germany and the other productive economies of Europe willing to bolster poor Portugal or pathetic Ireland, for that matter. Let them go their own way. And let the different nations of the continent be what they are and want to be.
But, before Portugal and Ireland go on the dole or to the poorhouse, there is also Spain. Real estate has simply collapsed. There is nowhere in the world (save the “fabulous” emirates) where land and houses are so cheap and still go unbought. There is 20% unemployment (if you don’t count the Arabs, illegal and legal, who would raise the number to God only knows what and still sup off a generous social security system that is in the process of falling apart).
Spain is governed, insofar as it is governed at all, by a socialist regime. One of its obsessions happens also to be Israel, perhaps in deference to its many Muslim constituents. Perhaps in deference, as well, to its historic tick about Jews and pure Catholic blood. It’s ironic that Madrid whines for Palestine and does not grasp the urge and surge for Catalonia, to say nothing about the Basque land.
The European Union is on its last legs. It may survive as ghosts survive in books or in film. It may even survive in the Quartet, whatever survival power that has. But it has no power and no moral authority. So perhaps I understand the baroness’ portentousness. It is made of nothing. But it’s not just her, although members of the Labor Party have begun hammering her as “too dull and too dim.”