I am not as witty as the feminist essay I am about to recommend by mattsteinglass
July 21, 2008, 2:06 pm
Filed under: Family, United States

This essay is absolutely brilliant. Here is one line:

The debate about mothers and work: it always ends—doesn’t it?—with Sweden.

That is the least interesting and entertaining line in the essay.

Basically, Sandra Ling Loh argues that 1. as Linda Hirshman says, educated women who opt out of serious jobs in favor of lighter and more entertaining homebody stuff are betraying themselves and their gender, but 2. as Neil Gilbert says, most work sucks and is hardly a space for emotional or intellectual flourishing, and 3. societies that try to provide state-supported backup for home caring, like Sweden, basically end up paying women to do the same tasks for non-relatives (like taking care of kids and seniors) which they used to provide to their own relatives for free, and paying punishing tax rates to do it.

I’d respond that this significantly understates the deficit of public services in the US and the value of public services in more social-democratic countries. Sweden, the Netherlands, France, and Germany are raising their kids more safely, more equitably, and to a higher standard of education than America is. Moms are staying at home in the US in part because they’re driven to stay at home by the defunding of the public sphere (coupled with a paranoid hostility towards the public sphere that has left American parents unwilling to let their kids play in the neighborhood or leave the backyard). In Holland kids can go out by themselves on their bicycles at age 6. That creates freedom for women, and it doesn’t happen magically because of greater “ethnic homogeneity” or whatever other sinister euphemisms Americans like to cook up. Nevertheless, Loh’s essay is fantastic and is rendered all the more impressive if, as she says, she wrote in bed with her kids watching a video in the next room.


12 Comments so far
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Those “more social-democratic countries” you talk about are underpinned by an American military empire whose citizens spend 3 to 5 times more per capita on defense (and have been doing so for more than 6 decades). It gets a little nauseating to constantly read this sort of post (or to listen to similar assertions on NPR daily) without any mention of the fact that some countries have their dirty work done by the USA, allowing them to devote more resources to “foreign aid” and social welfare.

Comment by Frank

That “dirty work” is utterly useless and unnecessary, and accomplishes nothing. There is no military threat to Western Europe, with or without American military might. Sweden and Finland, incidentally, are not members of NATO and do not enjoy American military guarantees.

Comment by mattsteinglass

Is that dirty work utterly useless in Bosnia & Kosovo? Rhetorically, many Europeans may say it is useless, but that belies the actions of their government officials who pull the appropriate strings in DC to keep US troops permanently based (over 65 years and no end in sight whatsoever) in Europe. Furthermore, you have liberal stalwarts such as Anne Marie Slaughter and John Ikenberry who see a need to keep US troops permanently based in Europe (even though democracies supposedly never go to war with each other), so there is really no chance for policy change anytime soon.

Sweden – and to a lesser extent Finland – both enjoy implicit NATO guarantees. It’s similar to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Explicitly, there was no government guarantee of a bailout but you and I both know they will be bailed out. Kosovo is not in NATO, yet it currently has guarantees from NATO that it will be defended from external aggression. And Kosovo before 1999 was defended by NATO (from Serbia) even though Kosovo was never a member of NATO.

We shouldn’t be spending a penny to defend Europe from anything. Yet we as a country have decided to do so. This is the unsavory fact: the USA spends 10’s of billions of dollars a year defending Europe from enemies American elites are loathe to talk about. So while you and I may not like this, I think you need to at least acknowledge this fact when you are making judgments about how countries spend their money.

Comment by Frank

You seem to be loath to talk about the enemies we are supposedly defending Europe from as well. Which enemies are we defending Sweden, France, Germany, and the Netherlands from? (These being the countries whose social spending programs are most frequently cited as models for the US?) How much does the US’s deployment in Bosnia and Kosovo cost, as a percentage of total US defense spending? How many carrier battle groups did we need to administer the Dayton accords?

Europe had the military power to dictate a settlement in Bosnia just as much as the US did. What it lacked was the political will to do so. As did the US, until 1995. It little matters whether the Netherlands has 30 F-16s or 100, if it and its fellow European countries are unwilling to use them, or to reach a diplomatic consensus which allows them to do so.

If you’re concerned about another Bosnia, how about we start by slashing US defense spending to 1995 levels. Let’s see what a few hundred billion dollars a year buys us in useful social and infrastructure spending.

Incidentally, have you ever checked what percentage of its GDP, say, Brazil spends on defense? I believe they just boosted it by 50% — to $5 billion in a $1.3 trillion economy, or under 0.5% of GDP. How do they get by without an American security guarantee, implicit or explicit? Perhaps because the threat, as in Europe, is negligible?

Comment by mattsteinglass

1) If you really believed what you said above, “That “dirty work” is utterly useless and unnecessary, and accomplishes nothing. There is no military threat to Western Europe, with or without American military might.”
then why isn’t the fact that the USA is spending (or throwing down a rat hole) something like $100 billion a year upholding European security one of your blog headlines? I don’t think I have ever once seen in your blog this unpleasant fact. In fact, I doubt you really believe what you posted above as you apparently favored the American/NATO bombings of Bosnia and Kosovo.

2) OK, let’s see where you stand on US defense spending. I will tell you what I favor. I favor a complete withdrawal of ALL American troops from Europe (including Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and the Czech Republic) as soon as possible. I favor the complete withdrawal of ALL American bases from Japan within the next 5 years. I favor the withdrawal of ALL American troops from the Korean peninsula within 5 years of the North Korean nuclear issue being fully resolved. Furthermore, I favor a 75% reduction over the next 25 years (in current $). Where do you stand?

3) I don’t think there are any enemies we need to be defending Europe from. Furthermore, since I don’t believe that we should have 1 troop in Europe and that we shouldn’t be spending $100 billion a year defending them, it is up to people like you and Anne Marie Slaughter who believe that we should maintain troops in Europe to lay out exactly who the enemies are.

4) How many carrier battle groups did we need to implement the Dayton accords? I’m not sure, but I think it was 0 as we were able to use permanent bases in nearby Italy to bomb.

5) I have no idea what Brazil spends on defense spending. Nor do I know how much Bosnia and Kosovo cost as a percentage of US defense spending. I do know the USA spends more on defense (read: Global Security) than all the countries in the world combined – and at least 3 to 5 times (per capita) of what Europeans pay, which why you were comparing apples and oranges in your original post.

6) Right, Europe could have taken care of the Bosnia problem on their own, but they didn’t, so they goaded the US into doing it. So should the US have done it? Yes or No? My answer is no. You seem to be saying yes, which contradicts the fact that you said there are no threats to Europe.

The bottom line is whether or not you believe there is a threat to Europe, the US believes there is one, period. These are the facts leading to the permanent basing of something like 100,000 American troops on European soil. And these threats are supposedly so great that things like social welfare, alternative energy, global poverty, etc. take a back seat.

Comment by Frank

It looks like we actually basically agree, which I would have been able to figure out if you had a blog; your initial comment threw me off because of the phrase “dirty work”. Since I don’t think the “dirty work” of “defending Europe” actually exists, I assumed you were saying Europeans were freeloading off the US, when what I think we both believe is that the US is throwing away money on expensive guns and then claiming “we’re doing it to protect you guys, you should be grateful!” I disagree with most of what Anne-Marie Slaughter writes. I think that in the case of Bosnia, given the circumstances at the time, the US did the right thing, and that, being now party to an agreement on that area, we shouldn’t pull out. I think European countries should take responsibility for the next Bosnia rather than leaving it up to the US, but I also doubt there will be a next Bosnia in Europe; the situations in Darfur, Congo etc. actually are the next Bosnia, and effectively no one is solving them.

The ultra-thorn is Afghanistan. We have casus belli or however you say that. It’s a legit place for US troops to be, perhaps more than for German or Dutch troops to be. But being in Afghanistan sort of implies being in Germany and Japan — if you didn’t have this oversized military with global infrastructure, you wouldn’t be able to be in Afghanistan. And it’s increasingly seeming likely that the intervention in Afghanistan will fail. I find that a dismal prospect and am not sure what I think the response should be.

Comment by mattsteinglass

Do you or do you not favor a complete withdrawal of American troops from European soil?

Comment by Frank

You confirmed my belief that liberals don’t really want to deal with the fact as to why the US feels it needs to maintain thousands of troops in Europe. They prefer the issue would just go away. And, by the way, yes, the dirty work of defending Europe does exist. The two easiest examples of this are Bosnia and Kosovo – and this doesn’t even touch the whole issue of the US providing security guarantees for Eastern Europe with respect to Russia.

Comment by Frank

Our interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo cannot be called “defending Europe”. The US led the suppression of two ethnic-religious conflicts inside Europe (or rather two aspects of the Yugoslav conflict). The US didn’t “defend Europe”. You’re using a concept from the Cold War in a situation where it no longer applies and makes no sense. As I’ve said before, European countries did not need to spend a penny more on defense to suppress the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo; they had all the military power they needed. What they lacked was political will, which they cannot get by boosting their defense spending by 50%.

The countries in Eastern Europe that feel threatened by Russia are NATO and EU members. Lower US defense spending would mean they would need to push within NATO and the EU for more explicit European guarantees, and they would get them. This would mean less US political hegemony in Eastern Europe and more German/French/British political hegemony in Eastern Europe. Big whoop.

I do not think the US should immediately withdraw all its troops from Germany because US deployments in places like Afghanistan require foreign bases. US airbases in Germany are not “defending Europe”, and the idea that German social spending would be significantly lower if the US didn’t have bases there is ludicrous. The US has no bases in France.

Comment by mattsteinglass

We were defending Europe from degenerating into chaos by intervening in the Balkans. I could dig up quote after quote for you to prove this point if you would like.

I agree, the Europeans could have handled the Balkans by themselves militarily, but as you yourself said, they couldn’t get it done politically. So they needed to call in the US to do their dirty work.

We don’t need any more bases in Europe; we need them in the Middle East. All of the forces in Europe could be redeployed to the Middle East or back to the USA – if the concern were only with the Middle East. But no. We need to defend Europe from rogues like Slobodan Milosevic, from self-destructing like it did prior to WWII and from Russia. The bottom line here is that the USA is providing a service; if it didn’t provide this service, then Europe would be less secure or they would have to bump up their own defense spending. I have no idea (nor do I really care) what they would choose. But I do know that the USA would be able to spend less on its defense.

Welfare states need to stand or fall on their own. If a place like Kosovo could bring them down without calling in a foreign power, then this needs to be thrown into the equation. Sorry.

Comment by Frank

We don’t need or want more bases in the Middle East. Bases in the Middle East create the problems we’re supposedly trying to solve in the Middle East. We were attacked on Sept. 11 because we had too many bases in the Middle East, because the populations of Middle Eastern countries are opposed to the presence of US forces in their countries and have no way to express that opposition in a peaceful political manner. The situation in Afghanistan is somewhat more complicated, but closing Rammstein and replacing it with a big airbase in…where? Kuwait?…would lead to more anti-American terrorism, not less.

Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo could not have “brought down” any government but Serbia’s. German, French, Dutch and British social spending would be exactly the same today no matter what had happened in Kosovo.

The more general point is this. The governments of Germany, France etc. have their own interests. Those interests do not include much higher defense spending, because they cannot see any conceivable international threat to themselves that would justify much higher defense spending. That will not change if the US military shrinks dramatically. The question of whether US military spending used to subsidize higher European social spending in the 1970s and ’80s is a historical one. Now that there is no military threat to Western Europe, it no longer makes any sense at all to phrase things this way. The US may be doing dirty work, but it is not Europe’s dirty work.

Comment by mattsteinglass

Wrong. The more general point is that you haven’t given one example of any country in the world that has the European welfare state level of spending + the American level of defense spending (in per capita GDP Dollars), which goes to your original blog post. Again, if the United States isn’t needed to do Europe’s dirty work in the Balkans, then why is the United States there today?

The United States has spent 10’s of billions of dollars in the Balkans over the past two decades, most – or all – of which should have been done by the Europeans. This alone lays waste to your argument that the Europeans would not have to “spend a penny more to suppress the conflicts” in the Balkans. Those billions would have needed to come from somewhere, either from increased taxes or lower social spending.

Well, it’s nice to say that, “We don’t need or want more bases in the Middle East”, but its sort of laughable after Iraq – and the fact that the United States is the guarantor of the free flow of oil from the Middle East – to make this assertion. We will have bases there for decades – and yes, this does include Kuwait – with 10’s of thousands or 100’s of thousands of Americans troops & contractors so we might as well close down bases we supposedly don’t need Europe and re-deploy them where they are needed. With our massive military presence in the Middle East, doing Afghanistan right does not imply bases in Japan and Germany.

“Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo could not have “brought down” any government but Serbia’s.” Really? “There is no military threat to Europe.” Really? “Our interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo cannot be called ‘defending Europe’” Unfortunately, the elites in the Clinton Administration did not agree with you:

“President Clinton and his top aides frequently invoke American interests in discussing the possibility of a wider Balkan war. Appearing before a House Committee in March, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said a Serbian move toward Kosovo or Macedonia could even set off a world war.”
“So the stakes for the United States, are to prevent the broadening of that conflict to bring in our NATO allies, and to bring vast sections of Europe, and perhaps as happened before, broadening into a world war.”

The New York Times, April 25, 1993

“That ‘dirty work’ is utterly useless and unnecessary, and accomplishes nothing.” Wrong again:

…even with action from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, “still the only real leader at this stage is the United States, in terms of global power.”

Georgian President President Mikheil Saakashvili, Wall Street Journal, October 16, 2008

“Many nations, from Japan to Israel to European allies, continue to rely on Washington’s power to guarantee regional stability.”

Wall Street Journal, October 17, 2008

“Gates said U.S. participation in the NATO force in Kosovo was important to European allies…”

Reuters, October 7, 2008

“…and the old Soviet states who specifically want to be defended by American military might funded by US taxpayers.”

Washington Post, September 20, 2008

As the above quotes prove, I sort of doubt countries like Georgia, Poland and the Czech Republic would be saying, “Big Whoop. We’ll just call in the Brits, Germans and French if the USA wants to withdraw its security guarantees”

Comment by Frank

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