Magazine article Insight on the News

Euro Elites Resent U.S. Superpower Role; as U.S. Conflict with Iraq Nears, Americans Ask Whether Growing Anti-Americanism in Europe Is the Product of `Old European' Elitism or a New European Confidence. (the World: Diplomatic Fog)

Magazine article Insight on the News

Euro Elites Resent U.S. Superpower Role; as U.S. Conflict with Iraq Nears, Americans Ask Whether Growing Anti-Americanism in Europe Is the Product of `Old European' Elitism or a New European Confidence. (the World: Diplomatic Fog)

Article excerpt

Is it a spat that will blow over, or is it turning into something more hostile and more long term? As the Bush administration contemplates going to war against Iraq, anti-American sentiment in Europe is on the clamorous rise and reaching levels that are prompting the alarm of pro-U.S. Europeans and foreign-policy experts this side of the Atlantic. Not since the 1980s, when the European left marched en masse to protest Ronald Reagan's tough policy toward the former Soviet Union, have relations between Europe and the United States seemed at such a low ebb.

Back in the 1980s, of course, Washington could rely on the support of forthright leaders such as "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom and Germany's then-chancellor Helmut Kohl. But now, with the exception of Britain's Tony Blair, the top flight of European leaders either is opposed to Washington or muted in its backing of military operations to oust Saddam Hussein.

For some foreign-policy veterans in the Bush administration there is a sense of deja vu. They are saying that European protest is more theater and bluster than anything else and will die down when Washington makes plain that it means to act and allies are expected to fall in line. Strong American leadership will bring the Europeans around, as it did in the 1980s, according to Reagan-Bush advisers such as Frank Gaffney, who now heads the influential Center for Security Policy and former White House speechwriter David Frum.

Says Gaffney, "I don't know about Germans, but the French will be there with us on Iraq, and I say that based on what I have heard about Paris sending different signals to Washington. Of course that says much about Gallic cynicism."

Gaffney ascribes some of the opposition to a "tactical miscalculation" by the Bush administration, warning that there has been too much drift and procrastination in Washington when it comes to Iraq. "We have a situation where the president hasn't made up his mind, and this has allowed people overseas to criticize him and try to influence his decision. It has provided a chance for those who want to develop at the expense of the United States a unified European foreign policy to exploit the apprehension of Europeans anxious about going to war."

And some American conservatives, including British-born commentator John O'Sullivan, say the U.S. media are overreporting European opposition and failing to note that the United States is not "universally hated." O'Sullivan recently wrote that the U.S. media are "uninterested in stories that undermine the idea that the world is anti-American" and display an "insatiable appetite" for any criticism they can dig up and magnify. He notes "a worrying sign of cultural self-disgust in the American media that they instinctively prefer anti-American absurdities than pro-American realities."

There are both studies and polling data to support O'Sullivan's contention that not all is as grim as many U.S. newspapers are painting trans-Atlantic relations. In December, a MORI poll in Britain showed that 81 percent of the British "like Americans as people"--the highest figure ever recorded there. And before Christmas the Pew Research Center released the findings of its gargantuan Global Attitudes Project. The ambitious survey, which included interviews with some 38,000 people, found that "a reserve of good will toward the United States still remains." Among other things, the Pew study showed that most people in 35 of the 44 countries surveyed continue to admire American culture and technology and respect American values.

But Pew noted a considerable slippage in pro-American attitudes since the last time the survey was conducted three years ago. In 19 of 27 countries where trends can be measured, favorable opinion of the United States has shown a decline, with Germany's hitherto favorable attitude falling the most at 17 points. That's the case even among the British, the most pro-American of the Europeans. …

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