The most profound and widespread challenge is the growing sense that the EU's
common currency, the euro, may not survive in its present form, if at all.
The obvious reason is that, as a matter of economics, the euro project gives surrealism a bad name: A currency without a government was always doomed to fail. Now, there are only two choices: 1) Abandon or dramatically shrink the euro concept, or 2) increase the powers of the European Commission to oversee—and where necessary de termine—national tax and spending decisions.
Default on a major EU sovereign-debt obligation may just be just the thing to wake up the rest of Europe to get its house in order. It wouldn't be a bad lesson for Washington, either. We should worry about President Obama's staggering deficit spending and let Europe worry about its own.
—John Bolton, “It’s Europe’s crisis: Saving the euro is up to them,” New York Post, December 21, 2010
Europe’s financial strains may reduce to a trickle the flow of European pronouncements on the competence of the US—and that, even if it lasts only for a while, ought to be savoured. However, John Bolton’s attempt to reverse the flow—to portray the EU as a sobering example of bad government that should be allowed to sink or swim on its own—is immodest, uncharitable, and self-defeating. Taking pleasure from other people’s pain has never been a characteristic of America’s winning face to the world.
Bolton advertises himself on the dust jacket of his memoirs as one “who held high-level positions in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush.” It’s not uncommon to get attention by being cocky on the way up. But, after an influential career with those three presidents, a little humility on good governance would be an excellent career transition strategy.
Even if America’s staggering deficit was Obama’s fault—which it is not and which won’t be fixed by simply reversing his measures—and even if Bolton and the last Bush presidency guessed right about how to govern Afghanistan and Iraq, Bolton’s pessimism about European governance is no more than one of those unserious cheap shots that frustrated people are wise to keep to themselves.
Of course, putative presidential candidates like John Bolton have to spend time in New York to raise money, even if they want to appeal to more conservative parts of the country. However, out in the heartland it could make people laugh to read a lecture about not bailing out Europeans in a New York newspaper—New York being the biggest bailout city in modern history and still a financial capital wedded to and sustained by trade in money and goods and services with other major markets, including Europe.
Europe may take itself too seriously too. However, Germany exports more manufactured goods to the world than the United States, and the EU 27 nations are still America’s largest market. Certainly, in a crisis, Germany has the financial capacity to keep even Spain solvent. Could we say the same thing about the US government if the bond market turns on California?
Things could go very bad without intelligent leadership on both sides of the Atlantic. However, at this moment, it is Europe’s liberals and conservatives who are actually reforming their tax policies and social entitlements. Rather than wait to be aroused by the next European crisis, Mr. Bolton might consider and speak to some of their ideas about how to solve the West’s collective problems.