An interview with Emmanuel Todd by Maciej Nowicki
European history in recent years could be described as a gradual decline of American influence and a huge increase of the importance of Germany—says Emmanuel Todd interviewed by Maciej Nowicki.
The main task of Barack Obama will be managing the American withdrawal from the world, you said in 2009. Has this prediction been confirmed?
In Europe the American withdrawal has been confirmed, this is absolutely clear. But not in Asia, strengthening of the American position on that continent was Obama’s priority from the very start. He has been successful in that, for China is entering the stage of hubris, blind pride described by ancient Greeks. They are very aggressive. As a result Asia loves America again. Vietnam, the Philippines or Japan now have a common interest: they want the American empire to last eternal.
The world as a whole is now so disorganised that it is easy for Americans to pursue their diplomacy…
Global chaos is helping them?
We live in a completely disorganised world. Probably for the first time in history, we are in a situation where all powers of the developed world are in a deep crisis. Only Germany perceives its position differently but it is an illusion: in a few months, when the crisis gathers momentum, they will bear the main brunt. Moreover, we see the emergence of irresponsible powers such as China—their belligerent attitude towards Japan attests to their irresponsibility. And Germany.
Yes. They seem to be a reasonable, even down-to-earth country, with their obsession about respecting fiscal discipline and their fondness for trade. But these are only appearances. Germany imposed completely new rules on the EU, they turned it into a hierarchical system remindful of a prison. In such a world America, if it remains moderate, has a great future before it.
Despite not having emerged from the crisis?
It may seem paradoxical but its prospects are now much better than before the crisis. And it probably stems from America’s weakness: the world is more ready to accept America when it does not have such an economic advantage as before. Have I surprised you?
Yes, indeed. You have repeatedly predicted a swift decline of America. Quite recently, paraphrasing Vedrine’s famolus formula about the USA as a “hyperpower”, you claimed that the United States have at best preserved a “hyperability to mess things up.”
I have changed my mind. The United States are like democracy, of which it is said that it is the worst of all systems, if you ignore all the others. America is the worst of all empires, if you ignore all the others. Each hegemony is unacceptable but it is easy to imagine a worst hegemony than the American one. Especially when we take into account the Chinese madness and what the Germans do in Europe.
China always tried to pretend to be weaker than it really was. Why have the Chinese turned towards a more aggressive policy?
It is a combination of two things: hubris produced by growing influence and fear. The Chinese economy is deeply imbalanced. The global crisis is starting to get at it. The policy of spending cuts is an absurd solution—this much we know. But there is more to it: the policy of austerity means waging an economic war against China. If followed through to its conclusion, it will bring China to its knees, for it will find no buyers for its products. This explains the growing lunacy of Beijing.
You wrote recently that Americans are looking at Germany with some anxiety. What are the conflicts of interests between these countries?
The growth of German power is perceived in the USA as a problem. The strategy of the United States consist in controlling those areas of the world which are most developed technologically. They want to have two protectorates: Japanese and European. The Japanese do not pose a problem: they do not plan to become an independent power, they put their hopes in an alliance with America, especially when faced with the Chinese threat. But Germans are basking in their recovered power, they are boundlessly egoistic. They chose a strategic partnership with Russia, based on the complementariness of German industry and Russian energy. And they are initiating a similar partnership with China, based on the complementariness of the highly advanced products of German industry and the less developed Chinese products. Zbigniew Brzeziński grasped this very well, as can be seen in his most recent book Strategic Vision. Brzeziński knows that a Russian-German agreement is possible—such was Bismarck’s strategy. And he is also very much aware of what it bodes for the future: a complete marginalisation of America in Europe.
I recently spoke with Brzeziński and asked him about the future of the American-Russian relations. He answered that Russia is now very weak and desires a far-reaching compromise with America.
Brzeziński noticed that in their economic policy and geopolitical considerations, the Germans completely ignore what the Americans say. This is a fundamental change in Europe— its history in recent years could be described as a gradual decline of American influence and a huge increase of the importance of Germany. Brzeziński attempts to prevent it by arguing that it is in Russia’s great interests to become a part of the American system. This proposal stems from fear and I regard it as ridiculous. It is true that Russia is very weak. But because of its history and mental set it will never subordinate itself to America. The prospect of forming an alliance with Germany is much more promising and much more in line with the Russian nationalist-imperial tradition.
Germany also has some experience in colonising Russia, starting in the 17th century…
Exactly. Anyway Europe is now in a different stage. The fall of the Iron Curtain was perceived as a success of the USA, everybody was very excited. Nothing is left from this former fascination with America in Europe.
The loosening of the ties between Europe and the USA is irreversible?
Europe does not exist any more. The former European Union, embodying the idea of equality of nations, is a thing of the past. We have an absolute domination of Germany. European politics may be reduced to the question, “Will the Germans say yes?” The USA is no longer a protector of Europe. It is the Germans who have the decisive say.
When I spoke with Donald Tusk, he told me: “90 percent of our interests is in Europe.” This is the general line in Poland—no one is interested in America. While the Czechs, to give but one example, have a different stance: they want to remain on the sidelines in the EU but they treat the issue of rebuilding the transatlantic relations very seriously.
In the case of the Czechs, it is a complete illusion. They have long been in the German sphere of influence. These musings about America can only be treated as denying reality.
As for Poland, I have been predicting for many years that you would become disenchanted with America. The truth is that Americans have never done anything to defend Poland. You have always lived between Russia and Germany and Germany is the dominant power now. You must answer for yourselves one fundamental question: do you want to live under the German mandate? Will not this dependence start to bother you?
The biggest problem for the USA now is leaving the crisis behind. Obama still has not managed to achieve it. Why? What has he been doing wrong?
It results from the current globalised economic system. Fiscal stimulation in an economy open to the entire world simply does not work. You print money, you try to create jobs but the only result is helping the Chinese economy. All plans of overcoming the crisis in Western Europe have only led to lower salaries, more rapid delocalisation of production to Asia and growth of unemployment. It does not look as bad as that in the USA . If America rebuilt its industry at least in some degree, strengthened its social security system instead of destroying it and slightly reduced its trade deficit, it would be fantastically positioned in the coming world. This is not certain, but possible.
Obama has no successes in the Middle East to speak of. The Arab Spring on the whole resulted in an intensification of anti-American feelings.
It is an effect of a paradox we have been often observing in this region: the more democratic these societies are turning, the worse it is for America. For in the Middle East, becoming independent from America is a mark of democratisation.
Has the victory of François Hollande in the presidential elections changed the balance of power in the EU?
France has only one sensible solution: it has to leave the eurozone. Otherwise it will crash. But I do not know if Hollande will find the courage to do it.
Before the elections you said you believed that Hollande would play a role similar to that of Roosevelt during the Great Depression.
It is too early to say if I was right. But if Hollande does not take any decisive steps, the whole country will be paralysed. Instead of Roosevelt we will have Hollandreou. We will see in two years. For the time being we are heading towards a pre-programmed recession—the crisis will deepen. It will become apparent to everyone that the euro is not working. And we will see what will Hollande do—does he go for a total confrontation with Germany, abandoning the euro, or does he choose destroying the French society. We have a situation found in old literature— a guy appears from nowhere and he has to take extraordinary decisions among general confusion. No one, including himself, knows if he will be capable of that.
Hollande’s situation does not look too good. The French are turning away from him quickly.
The opinion of the French is not interesting for one very simple reason—they do not understand at all what is going on. No one understands monetary issues. The people who created the euro also did not know what they were making, it is evident today. Let us assume that the French say, “We want the euro.” Would it be reason enough for France to choose self-destruction? There is only one interesting question here: will Hollande be able to tell the French the truth, namely that the euro is not working and needs to be disconnected from the respirator.
What will leaving the euro mean?
A return to normality. The governments will recover their ability to make autonomic decisions. Today you cannot, for example, monetise debt, you cannot conduct any meaningful economic policy. It is a system of overall paralysis. Under normal circumstances, you do everything you can to support economic activity. And now the only aim of governments is saving the euro. It has become a new, cruel god; successive victims are sacrificed on the altar of the euro. We have to leave the euro, just as we once left the stage of imperial wars. For me the debate about the virtues and the vices of the euro makes no sense. I am a historian and I see clearly that since the euro appeared, everything started to break down. Those who claim that we have to consider the pros and cons are either cowardly, or corrupted, or they should see a shrink as soon as possible. Let us bury the euro-zombie!
Germany has been calling for European federalism. How do you understand that?
The Germans want the euro to survive five more years. They are the only ones who benefit from it and above all, they will kill Italian and French industry in that time. In five years, so little will remain from the old industrial system in Europe that the Germans will be the masters of the situation. Thanks to the unification the Germans were the first to understand that Europe was faced with a return of national policies and national interests. And today they pursue a national policy.
And what should the Poles do in such a situation?
Poland is managing quite well and must live its own life. The French are in the euro trap, while the Poles remain outside this crumbling system. You are free, you can freely manipulate the value of your currency. Make use of this advantage while you can and never enter the eurozone, this economic coffin.
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