This is a guest post from Andrew Zvirzdin. Originally from upstate New York, Andrew is currently finishing his second year of grad school at the Maxwell School in Syracuse.
Exciting things have been happening in Europe this fall, and indeed for much of this year. Federal elections in Germany, the Lisbon referendum in Ireland, and the intense public debate on Afghanistan in the UK and Germany are all events that have significant repercussions for the United States. Yet many Americans do not seem to have noticed all that much.
To be sure, some discussion of Europe continues to pop up during the American health care debate, but the caricatures painted are grossly distorted and nearly unrecognizable. (Who knew that the UK hated senior citizens so much?) According to Anne Applebaum at Slate.com, Europe is really only good for photo-ops and speech-making. Considering the intense transatlantic soul-searching after the Iraq War and the prominent roll Europe played in last year's presidential campaign, the American ennui with Europe is somewhat surprising.
My suspicion is that the lack of interest in Europe is only a reflection of America's decreasing attention span. Particularly as the economic crisis leads leaders and citizens to focus inwards, public interest is best captured by flashy slogans and polarizing phrases. Complex discussions about strengthening stable partnerships quickly lose public appeal in the Twitter era. America's relationship with European countries does not fit well in an era of resurging partisan politics and cable television.
Failing to capture the public attention is fine as long as public officials continue to engage with each other. Important discussions concerning the future of NATO, the Open Skies Initiative, and international financial regulation are all currently taking place, with significant consequences for both Europe and the US. Sometimes the most fruitful discussions occur under the radar of public interest. But the danger is that public officials will lose interest themselves; they are after all beholden to the people. For now at least, the important discussions are ongoing.
The paradox is similar to what the European Union faces with its members. Slow, steady, and boring progress has benefitted EU citizens without anyone really noticing, and that is the problem. Citizens of EU countries do not realize how valuable the Union is to economic growth and international competitiveness; likewise, Americans do not recognize how valuable its European allies are in promoting stability and security around the world. Unfortunately, until transatlantic leaders learn to distill the value and importance of Europe in 140 characters or less, many Americans will continue to yawn at the "Old Continent."