Does the E.U. Hate You?

By Hockenos, Paul | In These Times, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Does the E.U. Hate You?


Hockenos, Paul, In These Times


Despite popular myth, anti-Americanism in Europe isn't on the rise

IN EUROPE, AS IN nearly everywhere else in the world, the image of the United States has taken a severe battering during the Bush years. Survey after survey shows that negative feelings toward America and U.S. policies have soared. Only 36 percent of Europeans, for example, view U.S. leadership in world affairs as desirable, according to a 2007 German Marshall Fund poll. Markedly lower is their approval of the Bush administration: a dismal 17 percent. In Harris polls since 2003, the majority of Europeans have even cited the United States as the greatest threat to international security-more so than Iran, North Korea or Russia.

But distinguishing between an all-encompassing animus toward the country and its people, and legitimate criticism of U.S. government policies, has proven extremely difficult. Only the former is anti-Americanism-an irrational, deeply embedded cultural aversion to a presumed American "national character." A standard distinction between America-bashing and rational critique is between disapproval of what America is and what America does. Yet they inevitably blur into one another: After all, what one is informs what one does, and vice versa.

The Bush administration attributed the opposition of France and Germany to the Iraq War as a blunt expression of antiAmericanism. Even some left-of-center intellectuals, such as University of Michigan political scientist Andrei Markovits, claim that a virulent anti-Americanism is currently sweeping Europe-worse even than that during the Vietnam War or during the 1980$, when the United States deployed nuclear missiles in Western Europe.

However, the range of European issues with the United States is not wanton America-trashing but conflicting visions of how to organize society and conduct relations in the wider world. In the European Union (E.U.), citizens are voicing a preference for a greater European role in global affairs, with Germans (87 percent) and Spaniards (81 percent) at the top. As Jeremy Rifkin put it in his 2004 book, The European Dream, Europe's vision for the future has replaced that of the American dream.

In the United States, many who backed the Iraq invasion would gladly echo Markovits' conclusions in his 2007 book, Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America, He writes that underlying Europe's hostility to "everything American" is a "massive Europe-wide resentment of the United States that reaches well beyond American policies, American politics and American government."

Markovits contends that the Bush administration's contentious foreign policies have simply shot into overdrive a hatred for America that has long flourished in Europe, and is ultimately linked to anti-Semitism. On the right, European nationalists despise America as the epitome of the modern, a materialistic and hedonistic place run by Jews. The left's anti-Americanism focuses on the United States being an imperialist power-and in league with Zionist Israel.

Markovits is not entirely wrong: AntiAmericanism is alive and well in Europe, and, among hardcore America haters, there is often an anti-Semitic element But Markovits and his like are incorrect about how pervasive this sentiment is and the extent to which it dictates European attitudes about the United States. While some anti-Americanism is embedded in European opinion, it is actually quite thin: In France, Germany, Great Britain and Italy, it hovers around 10 percent (it is strongest in Greece), rising at times of transatlantic political friction, like the present.

Yet more than a quarter of these populations (40 percent in Italy) are consistently sympathetic to the United States. Even at the height of the Cold War's greatest crises, most Western Europeans favored maintaining a strong alliance with the United States. During the mass disarmament protests in the early '8os, only 20 percent of West Germans favored the withdrawal of US.

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