Published on Monday, October 7, 2002 by the International Herald Tribune
Anti-Americanism in Europe:
The Bush Response Only Aggravates the Problem
by William Pfaff
PARIS -- A good deal of printer's ink has been spent debating anti-Americanism during the last year, both in and out of the United States. The latest instance followed Germany's parliamentary election at the end of September, when Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's party coalition won a narrow victory, credited by analysts to his stand against German participation in any American attack on Iraq.
The German chancellor's lèse-majesté provoked outrage in the Bush administration and warnings in American neoconservative circles that it will be 50 years before Germany will have recovered the trust of the United States, and thereby once again become an important state.
In fact, from the European side of the Atlantic, it seemed that Schröder's stand added to Germany's international authority. Germany previously having tended to be seen as a satellite of Washington's rather than a nation with convictions of its own.
Since a majority in German public opinion already opposed an attack on Iraq, and Schröder merely profited from supporting the majority, it is a surprise that the Germans have not been given the same propaganda treatment the French got a few months ago, attacked in U.S. neoconservative circles as an anti-Semitic society because of popular French pro-Palestinian sympathies. Official Washington has perhaps realized that the United States needs U.S. bases in Germany, but Germany does not. They are essential to the U.S. global strategic position.
The subject of anti-Americanism can, however, be intelligently discussed, an example being a recent exchange between a French writer with a long record of sympathy for the United States, Jean-François Revel, and a younger colleague with family connections to the United States and a British education, Emmanuel Todd.
Todd maintains that the United States today actually is displaying weakness. He says, "I have always had a positive vision of the United States" and "taken for granted that it was a reasonable power" but now "I have the sense of a disquieting semi-bellicosity, an agitation, a feverishness."
He puts this down to an unarticulated sense of vulnerability in the United States, caused by its budget dependence on European and Japanese investment and its lingering strategic anxiety about Russia and China.
He argues that current American emphasis on military and diplomatic action against weak rogue states is a kind of unacknowledged compensation for this anxiety.
Thus embargoes are imposed on countries incapable of defending themselves, and tribal armies and "disarmed civil populations" are subjected to high-tech bombardment. He presumably has Serbia in mind.
Revel answers that blaming America has always been a reflex of European intellectuals. He says that American politicians are given to hyperbole that should not be taken too seriously, and that Europeans have only themselves to blame for today's American predominance, since Europe's own failures in the 20th century made a gift of global power to the United States.
He also says that the French themselves would be obsessed with terrorism if suicide planes had simultaneously attacked the Opéra, the Arc de Triomphe, and other prominent Paris sites - although he himself mentions the series of attacks on crowded Paris stores and train and metro stations in 1995, which were met without panic.
It strikes me that the two are actually discussing two separate kinds of anti-Americanism. The old kind, which Revel stoutly opposed, was influential some thirty years ago, when news of the Gulag was only belatedly being admitted by a French intelligentsia traditionally disposed to uncritical support for the left.
Then, every American Cold War measure was attacked as if it were an unprovoked provocation to the Soviet Union.
The new kind of anti-Americanism is the one Todd talks about, and is a reaction to the post-Sept. 11 policies of the Bush administration, which he takes as revealing deep-seated anxieties in American society which have economic and demographic structural causes - a fragile economy, and loss of the old sense of national identity.
He also argues that Washington's preoccupation with the rogue states and China - actually a weak state - and its concern that they might become allies with Russia, avoids looking at the real strategic threat, which is that a nuclear Russia would ally itself with the two most important real power centers outside the United States, which are Europe and Japan.
This analysis is not one that seems to concern Washington, which makes much of the symptoms of anti-Americanism in Europe while actually making the problem worse. Chancellor Schröder did not whip up anti-Americanism in Germany. It was there already. That is what should worry Washington.
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