In turn, while Europeans struggle with great difficulty to forge a consensus among themselves, they have been quick to point a finger at the economic mess we all find ourselves having emerged, in part, due to irresponsible fiscal and monetary behavior in the US and the apparent inability of forging a political consensus in Washington to deal with it. Add to that the expectation that nothing will get resolved until after the 2012 elections a year from now, and you have a formula for both fear and fuming on both sides of the Atlantic.
There is nothing new about this advancing web of interdependence but it is becoming that much more tangible to Americans and Europeans, for better and for worse. It can lead to much more elaborate tools of cooperation but also a good deal of backlash among electorates which resent it. As the old expression goes, familiarity can breed contempt.
Events some eighty years ago demonstrated what can happen when governments turn inward and make the wrong decisions in the name of national interests. In the initial phase of the the Great Depression, the decisions made in Washington, London, Berlin, and elsewhere in Europe toward cutting spending and raising taxes resulted in domestic turmoil, and seeded the ground for the war which eventually shook Europe to its core and enveloped the world in a global war.
That same war was to catapult the US into the leader of a new economic system that emerged as the basis of the post war recovery, in large measure based on the US dollar and the dominant role of the US economy. Today that role is in transition and the signatory status of both the US and the dollar is hotly debated. Yet the fact is that there is no replacement candidate for the privileged role which the US has been playing for the past several decades. The uncertainties in Europe, epitomized by the struggle over the future of the euro, remind us that the United States of Europe remains a political goal, not yet a reality. China is intentionally dodging responsibilities in dealing with its own currency and have actually assisted the United States in its course toward debt as far as the eye can see.
All the leading countries engaged in forging a new framework to avoid another world wide depression are being forced to face questions about both the role of governments in responding to the crisis, as well as the challenge of regulating markets while encouraging them to create the most important commodity needed: jobs. Just how to accomplish that without engaging in a zero sum game of winners and losers is supposed to be the lessons we drew from the last century.
The shared vulnerabilities are all on prominent display and extend around the globe. The United States has had two dramatic wake up calls to remind us of that situation: 9/11 and the economic crisis we entered in 2008 and are still in. Europe is right there with us, for better and for worse. To respond to its challenges, Europe is going to need to answer its own wake up calls to remind them that the time to widen its responsibilities, both economically and politically, has come. Right now, the national centrifugal forces operating against that response are serious. We see that in national election battles on both sides of the Atlantic. The euro remains a currency without a state, and the European Union remains an ongoing process, moving sometimes ahead, sideways or occasionally backwards. The danger of the euro imploding is real. Even as the dollar might face increasing pressure generated by the skyrocketing debt, the ability of the euro to step into the global role of the greenback is not there –yet.