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USA Oui! Bush Non! | The Nation

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USA Oui! Bush Non!

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In September, when dismay over a growing rift between America and Europe was rife, the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations published the results of an ambitious transatlantic survey. Americans and the citizens of six European countries (Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland) were asked about Iraq, foreign policy and one another. You'd never know it judging by the policies of their leaders, but the views and priorities of the United States and Continental populations were remarkably similar. Approximately half of both surveyed populations named global warming as a major threat to national security. (Seventy percent of Americans surveyed said the United States should sign the Kyoto Protocol even when a possible negative impact on the domestic economy was cited; and 65 percent supported US participation in the International Criminal Court even when the possibility of trumped-up charges brought against US soldiers was mentioned.) Support to strengthen the UN stood in the high seventies on both sides, and there was majority support for strengthening institutions like the WTO and NATO. Also, the citizens of these European nations think rather well of Americans. They gave America a favorability rating of sixty-four out of a hundred, just six points below that of the EU. And conversely, nearly 80 percent of Americans surveyed supported strong EU leadership in world affairs.

Eric Alterman would like to thank the Investigative Fund of
the Nation Institute and the German Marshall Fund (US) for their
financial support of his research in Europe.

CORRECTION: Alessandro Portelli is
the correct name of the professor of American literature at the
University of Rome. Jürgen Habermas is, of course, a philosopher of
the Frankfurt School (as Alterman originally wrote), who is also
affiliated with Frankfurt University.

About the Author

Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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Where the contrast is greatest between Europeans and Americans is in their views of the US government itself.* (See footnote) As the survey authors note, "In contrast with people in most other countries, a solid majority of Americans surveyed think the United States takes into account the interests of other countries when making international policy." Yet with the exception of Germany, majorities of Europeans believe that George W. Bush makes decisions based entirely on US interests, with no regard for the rest of the world, according to the Pew survey.

Writing in the AEI symposium, Washington pundit Jonathan Rauch views the polling evidence described above and announces, "The real problem is European elites." But he is exactly wrong. If you look at the numbers above, the views of European elites comport quite consistently with those of both their own and the American publics. It is not the European elites who are the problem. It is ours.

Talk of divorce between Europe and the United States was under way when 9/11 hit and served to remind both sides how many things they held in common, compared with the relatively trivial matters--or so it seemed--that tore them apart. The Continent overflowed with spontaneous symbols of what Schröder called "unconditional solidarity." Le Monde ran a banner headline declaring Nous Sommes Tous Americains. Millions held vigils, rallies and prayer services. Fantastic amounts of money were collected. Stars and Stripes hung everywhere. And NATO's invocation of Article 5 of its common defense treaty, as Michael Ignatieff notes, "articulated this sense of a common trans-Atlantic identity under attack."

But the Bush Administration's response quickly dissipated virtually all the sympathy the tragedy inspired. As Jacques Rupnik, a former adviser to both French President Jacques Chirac and Czech President Vaclav Havel, puts it, "Americans are fond of saying, 'The world changed on September 11.' But what has changed is America. The extraordinary moral self-righteousness of this Administration is quite surprising and staggering to Europeans."

Even in those nations like Italy and Spain, where the current conservative governments profess to support the US policies in Iraq, the populations do not. Josep Ramoneda Molins, director of Barcelona's Centre de Cultura Contemporània and a columnist for El País, informs me that opinion polls in that nation continue to demonstrate a 70 percent rate of opposition to Bush's Iraq adventure. Bush, he notes, "has the absolute complicity of the Spanish [prime minister], but the country does not like him."

It should go without saying that such critical views of US political behavior hardly constitute "anti-Americanism." And perhaps I'm a lousy reporter, but aside from the odd bit of graffiti, I couldn't find much evidence of this allegedly new strain of anti-Americanism anywhere. You could even argue that Europeans demonstrate better taste in American culture than Americans do. Everywhere I went--Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, Berlin--I found a surprising embrace of things American. The schedule for the jazz festival I just missed in Madrid would shame any American city save New York. It's not just Springsteen shooting to number one in eleven separate countries. Woody Allen, Michael Moore and Steven Spielberg rule the cinema advertisements. Tony Soprano and Carrie Bradshaw are the talk at office water coolers. Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Safran Foer and Colson Whitehead burn up the bestseller lists. I spied a copy of Michael Dobbs's already-forgotten biography of Madeleine Albright in the window of a Barcelona bookstore, next to Philip Roth's The Human Stain and Joseph Stiglitz's attack on the World Bank and the IMF. Just try finding it on Fifth Avenue.

_________
* Europeans and Americans also differ profoundly in their views of the Israel/Palestine issue at both the elite and popular levels. And this difference, with Americans being far more sympathetic to Israel and the Europeans to the Palestinian cause, has larger implications for other disagreements and misunderstandings. But because the question is so tangled in history, and raises such difficult issues regarding accusations of media bias, traditional European anti-Semitism, anti-Arab racism on both continents, etc., I've chosen to define it as beyond my mandate here, for fear of indefensible oversimplification.  Back to text

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