They walk the walk. They talk the talk. But they don't think the think. In the wake of the huge support given to US President George W. Bush two weeks ago, it's time we realized how different America's majority culture is, and changed our policies accordingly.
What Americans share with Europeans are not values, but institutions. The distinction is crucial. Like us, they have a separation of powers between executive and legislature, an independent judiciary, and the rule of law. But the American majority's social and moral values differ enormously from those which guide most Europeans.
Its dangerous ignorance of the world, a mixture of intellectual isolationism and imperial intervention abroad, is equally alien. In the US more people have guns than have passports. Is there one European nation of which the same is true?
Of course, millions of US citizens do share "European" values. But to believe that this minority amounts to 48 percent and that America is deeply polarized is incorrect. It encourages the illusion that things may improve when Bush is gone. In fact, most voters for Senator John Kerry are as conservative as the Bush majority on the issues which worry Europeans. Kerry never came out for US even-handedness on the Israel- Palestine conflict, or for a withdrawal from Iraq.
Many commentators now argue for Europe to distance itself. But vague pleas for greater European coherence or for British Prime Minister Tony Blair to end his close links with the White House are not enough. The call should not be for "more" independence. Europe needs full independence.
We must go all the way, up to the termination of NATO. An alliance which should have wound up when the Soviet Union collapsed now serves almost entirely as a device for giving the US an unfair and unreciprocated droit de regard over European foreign policy.
As long as we are officially embedded as America's allies, the default option is that we have to support America and respect its "leadership." This makes it harder for European governments to break ranks, for fear of being attacked as disloyal. The default option should be that we, like they, have our interests. Sometimes they will coincide. Sometimes they will differ. But that is normal.
In other parts of the world, a handful of countries have bilateral defense treaties with the US. Some in Europe might want the same if NATO didn't exist. In contrast, a few members of the EU who chose to take the considerable risk of staying neutral during the cold war -- such as Austria, Finland, Ireland and Sweden -- see no need to join NATO in the much safer world we live in today.
So it makes no sense that the largest and most powerful European states, those who are most able to defend themselves, should cling to outdated anxiety and the notion that their ultimate security depends on the US. Do we really need American nuclear weapons to protect us against terrorists or so-called rogue states? The last time Europe was in dire straits, as Nazi tanks swept across the continent in 1939 and 1940, the US stayed on the sidelines until Pearl Harbor.
There is a school of thought which says that NATO is virtually defunct, so there is no need to worry about it. That view is sometimes heard even in Russia, where the so-called "realists" argue that Russia cannot oppose its old enemy, in spite of Washington's undisguised efforts to encircle it with bases in the Caucasus and central Asia. The more Moscow tries, they say, the more it seems to justify US claims that Russia is expansionist -- however odd that sounds, coming from a far more expansionist Washington.