THE BLOG

Why Europe Dislikes America

Forty-eight percent of Germans think the United States is more dangerous than Iran while only 31 percent believe the opposite according to a new survey conducted by the respected Forsa Institute for the widely-read magazine Stern. Even more than the German average, young people in particular - 57 percent of 18-to-29-year olds - held this to be the case. This survey merely confirms the findings of others in Germany and Europe that were conducted over the past few years and that demonstrate unmistakably that the United States is massively distrusted and disliked by a majority of (at least West ) European publics. America's legitimacy and attractiveness in the eyes of West Europeans has sunk often below those "enjoyed" by Iran, North Korea and - not surprisingly - Israel. In the words of The New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, America has become "radioactive" to many in the world, West Europe included.

There can be no doubt that many disastrous, irresponsible -- indeed criminal -- policies by the Bush administration, as well as its haughty demeanor and arrogant tone, have contributed massively to this unprecedented vocal animosity on the part of Europeans toward Americans and America. Indeed, they bear responsibility for having created a situation in which anti-Americanism has mutated into a sort of global antinomy, a mutually shared language of opposition to and resistance against the real and perceived ills of modernity that are now inextricably identified with America. I have been traveling back and forth with considerable frequency between the United States and Europe since 1960, and I cannot recall a time like the present, when such a vehement aversion to everything American has been articulated in Europe. No Western European country is exempt from this phenomenon -- not a single social class, no age group or profession, nor either gender. But the aversion reaches much deeper and wider than the frequently evoked "anti-Bushism." I perceive this virulent, Europe-wide, and global "anti-Bushism" as the glaring tip of a massive anti-American iceberg.

Anti-Americanism has been promoted to the status of Western Europe's lingua franca. Even at the height of the Vietnam War, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and during the dispute over NATO's Dual Track decision (to station Pershing and cruise missiles primarily in Germany, but in other Western European countries as well, while negotiating with the Soviet Union over arms reduction), things were different. Each event met with a European public that was divided concerning its position toward America: In addition to those who reacted with opposition and protest, there were strong forces that expressed appreciation and understanding. In France, arguably Europe's leader over the past 15 years in most matters related to antipathy toward America, the prospect of stationing U.S. medium-range missiles, especially if they were on German soil, even met with the massive approval of the left in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

But as of October 2001, weeks after 9/11 and just before the U.S. war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, a massive Europe-wide resentment of America commenced that reached well beyond American policies, American politics, and the American government, proliferating in virtually all segments of Western European publics. From grandmothers who vote for the archconservative Bavarian Christian Social Union to 30-year-old socialist Pasok activists in Greece, from Finnish Social Democrats to French Gaullists, from globalization opponents to business managers -- all are joining in the ever louder chorus of anti-Americanism.

As I argue in my recently published book, Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America, anti-Americanism precedes the misdeeds of the Bush administration and will remain largely intact even when - God willing - we will see this eight-year-long nightmare end on January 20, 2009 with the inauguration of a Democrat as our new president. Anti-Americanism has become a welcome currency in Europe and for Europeans. After all, few things have provided Europeans such a clear sense of common identity than being "non-Americans" (please note the "non" instead of the "anti"). But in the stressing of their common identity in opposition to America, many "antis" will be harnessed in discourse and attitude, perhaps even behavior and action. Just as many surveys make it clear how much America is hated around the world, the very same surveys also demonstrate the great regard that people have for Europe as a whole, and certain European countries in particular, with France leading the way as the ideal "non" America. With Europe mutating into an economic superpower and well on its way to becoming a political player on the global scene as well, any edge that this entity can harness in its competition with its rivals - one of which most clearly is the United States - will serve as an asset that will be honed. The justified disdain for President Bush, his administration and policies will disappear, but the negativity toward many things American will remain.