Anti-Americanism in Western Europe
With Glenn Frankel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2003; Noon ET
As members of the Bush administration tout strong relationships with allies in Europe and among democratic nations, anti-American feelings are moving from intellectuals and the left-wing fringes into the political mainstream. In his story, "Sneers From Across the Atlantic" (Feb. 11, 2003), Washington Post London correspondent Glenn Frankel notes that based on opinion polls, critics and analysts, some of America's closest allies, including France, Germany and Britain, are distancing themselves from U.S. policies.
What exactly is driving these feelings, and how widespread are they? Frankel was online to talk about his story and attitudes toward America in Western Europe on Wednesday, Feb. 12.
Frankel, who has been with The Washington Post since 1979, spent nine years as a foreign correspondent in Southern Africa, Jerusalem and London and served as deputy national editor and a reporter on the investigative staff. He was editor of The Washington Post Magazine from 1998-2002, and is the author of two books, including "Rivonia's Children: Three Families and the Cost of Conscience in White South Africa" (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1999).
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Newcastle upon Tyne, U.K.: Is it really justifiable to equate European public concern with the upcoming war with against Iraq with "anti-Americanism", as though it were motivated by some irrational prejudice? I have friends in the U.S. who are as opposed to this war as my so-called "anti-American" European friends are. Are those Americans "anti-American" too? Is the term "anti-American" not just a rhetorical device employed to delegitimize ALL forms of opposition to current U.S. foreign policy?
Glenn Frankel: Greetings from London. Seems like we were just discussing this same topic online a month ago (we were!) and now it's exploded again, and it's much in the news this week following the French-German position in NATO and their apparent plan to press for a more rigorous U.N. inspection regime as an alternative to war.
To deal with your question, as you point out, it's true that there are many many Europeans, and Americans as well, who oppose the Bush administration's particular policy on Iraq, or its overall policies, but who resent being typecast as anti-American. But I would argue that what is emerging in Europe is an overall critique of the U.S. that is beginning to feel like a doctrine or even an ideology, and that it's migrating from the left -- which has a long history of anti-Americanism -- to the mainstream. It's an attitude that begins to lump many aspects of U.S. society and culture in one basket -- U.S. consumerism, corporate greed, fast-food, violent movies, capital punishment, SUVs, as well as U.S. policies -- and rejects them all. It's not an irrational prejudice exactly, and it's seldom personal -- Americans in Europe feel no sense of hostility aimed directly at them -- but it's palpable and growing. It begins with a sense of alarm and concern over the Bush administration and the way it wields and talks about power, but then expands into something much broader.
New York, N.Y.: Is the European anti-American movement new, or was it beginning before Iraq?
Glenn Frankel: As I suggested above, there's always been a very vigorous critique of America from the European left. A colleague of mine recalls some students cheering at Exeter University in the UK in 1981 when they heard President Reagan had been shot. The Bush administration early on grated on sensibilities here with its vocal rejection of the Kyoto treaty on global warming, the International Criminal Court pact and the ballistic missile treaty. After 9/11, Europeans were at first deeply sympathetic, but then freshly alarmed by the administration's good v. evil rhetoric and insistence that countries choose sides. And so the dispute over Iraq comes with much history and is but the latest chapter in a frayed relationship.
Yesterday's broadcast on al Jazeera of an audiotape purported to be Osama bin Laden had members of the Bush administration pointing to what they called evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. How did it play in Europe?
Glenn Frankel: At the risk of overgeneralizing, I think many Europeans remain skeptical about the administration's efforts to link al Qaeda and Iraq. Colin Powell's presentation to the UN Security Council last week scored far lower here than in the U.S. The Europeans seem to accept that Iraq is still attempting to develop and hide weapons of mass destruction, but they don't see the link to Bin Laden, and they haven't made the jump between the war on terrorism, which most seem to support, and military action in Iraq.
Lexington Park, Md.: What would Europeans like America to do?
Pack up and leave the European and Asian continents and leave them to sort out all of the problems?
As a member of the Armed Forces I think we should bring the troops home, including those in South Korea, and let the world have a taste of the past.
Maybe then, they will appreciate what the "evil" Americans provide the world.
Glenn Frankel: I wrote about the rise of anti-Americanism in Europe. Here's one example of the mirror phenomenon -- growing anti-Europeanism in America.
Arlington, Va.: Mr. Frankel,
Will anti-Americanism subside when/if Europe decided to take some responsibility for its security issues? I would imagine the Europeans must feel pretty badly about their inability/unwillingness to prevent genocide in the Balkans. Is the current fury a response to their own sense of impotence and its consequences (e.g., 250,000 murdered in the heart of Europe)?
Glenn Frankel: Certainly that's one aspect of the identity crisis going on within Europe. This is truly a watershed moment where Europe is struggling to determine its role and its responsibilities. The European Union is an economic superpower, yet militarily weak and divided. One strong argument heard from U.S. critics is that if Europe wants a role at the serious table, it needs to begin to punch its weight militarily, and to have the will to police its own regions.
Maryland: Your article focuses on Britain, Germany and France, three obviously important nations in Europe but which by no means constitute all of Europe. What about Italy, Spain, Portugal, Scandinavia, etc.? I know that Spain has been in the vanguard of the fight against terrorism and leans toward favoring action in Iraq. Also, doesn't the fact that Britain, France and Germany all have sizable and restive Muslim populations living within their borders an influence on their less-than-enthusiastic attitude about a war in Iraq?
Glenn Frankel: I did indeed focus on the countries that have traditionally been our closest partners in western Europe. The leaders of Spain, Portugal and Italy have joined British Prime Minister Tony Blair in supporting the U.S. on Iraq -- but polls show that their populations are strongly opposed to military action without a second Security Council resolution and that many oppose action even with such a resolution. The same is true of Scandinavia. Their leaders have gone out on a bit of a political limb.
I wouldn't ascribe too much of the French-German attitude to their Muslim populations -- those populations exist all through Europe. But they are increasingly vocal, and largely opposed to war with Iraq.
Oakville, Ontario, Canada: Looking back at American policies and actions starting with Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954 and Chile in 1973, are you surprised at the negative feelings about U.S. all over the world? U.S. policies are based on strong-arm tactics, lack of respect for others' point of view and betrayal of those who trusted them. The Shah of Iran could not get asylum in U.S., Kurds were left to be massacred twice by them and now Afghans are left at the mercy of warlords. In short, the U.S. is nobody's friend. Your comments will be appreciated.
Glenn Frankel: That's the kind of sweeping statement I hear from the left here. I suspect many Muslims in Kosovo and Bosnia might feel differently. For that matter, many western Europeans, although critical of the Bush administration, still feel a sense of gratitude and obligation for the cold war years when the U.S. faced off against the Soviet Bloc.
Philadelphia, Pa.: I was under the impression that when President Clinton was in office, Europe liked the United States much better, and that European support for Americans in the wake of Sept. 11 was at an all-time high. Isn't what we are looking at really "Anti-Bush" sentiments, and not "anti-Americanism"? And if so, why was it presented as "anti-Americanism"?
Glenn Frankel: President Bush does seem to rub many people here the wrong way. His Texas drawl doesn't go over well; his invoking of God and faith sounds sanctimonious and alarming to some people. Ditto Donald Rumsfeld -- a BBC Radio news program does the Donald Rumsfeld quote of the week. But it's deeper than anti-Bushism. The wave of sympathy after 9/11 was a bit misleading. America moved to a war footing that alarmed people here. They are reluctant to divide the world between good and evil. And they tend to see terrorism as a long-term matter that nations have to cope with, not as a menace that can be wiped out. It's possible that the advent of Bush and the 9/11 tragedy accelerated trends that already existed.
London, England: I don't want to appear cynical but surely the American government must be delighted with the wrangling within the EU as this tears the idea of a common European defense force to shreds. If we can't agree over this we will never have the strength to rival the U.S.
Glenn Frankel: I don't know if anyone's delighted, but it's certainly true that the wrangling feeds an image that American critics hold about Europe -- that it's weak, divided and incapable of speaking with one coherent voice on any issue of importance.
Azille, France: Where can one find the "high" moral ground in relation to Iraq when President Bush is perceived by many Europeans as an arrogant lackey of the petrol industry and big business; when President Chirac (referred to by many French people as "Le grand Menteur" -- the big liar) seeks only to serve French commercial interests within the Arab world; when Chancellor Schroeder has latched onto popular German anti-war sentiment to win an election and when in fact many German companies have secretly supplied Iraq with technology which could be used for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Never has such a political problem so exposed the moral bankruptcy of so many Western leaders and the hypocrisy of political hierarchies worldwide.Anti-Americanism is a useful way of targeting the sense of impotence of many people around the world since it provides a shadow image of their dis trust of their own leaders.
Glenn Frankel: That's one perspective about some of the roots of anti-Americanism.
Somewhere, USA: Do you perceive the same personal level animosity from Europeans against Americans as a whole, as Europe seems to be getting from the U.S. (e.g., the New York Post for the last couple of days calling the French ungrateful cowards)?
Glenn Frankel: My guess is that people on both sides of the Atlantic are smart enough to put in proper perspective some of the games the tabloids like to play -- whether it's the New York Post or the Sun here in London -- both of them owned by Rupert Murdoch -- or the virulent anti-war stance of the Daily Mirror, which spends a lot of ink on various minor British celebrities who have signed its anti-war petition.
New York, N.Y.: One thing that baffles me is that Europeans seem to think Americans support George Bush, and tar us with the actions of our government. Here in New York City, we voted a resounding 82 percent against the current government in the 2000 election. I wouldn't be sensitive about this except that I've been cornered into discussions with French people insisting that someone I voted for wants to bomb Iraq. Not true. Why can't Europeans understand that America has a diversity of political opinion?
Glenn Frankel: One of the bills of indictment of the United States is that George Bush became president even though he lost in the popular vote. Some critics paint the U.S. as if it were some banana republic ruled by an illegitimate junta. Others condemn Americans in general, as you suggest. Some of this is less than rational, but it's still very real.
Potsdam, Germany: I think I can speak for everyone I know when I say: these are not at all anti-American feelings you're noticing on behalf of the German people when they imply anything other, but the fact of the U.S. preparing to start a preventive war. We appreciate everything the usa have done for us and still do remember -- same as the other European states that are being ridiculed at this time in your newspapers.
It is just our justified concern about the consequences of a war where, imagine that, innocent people just as you and me are going to be killed. And as the U.N. and the NATO are as much of a democratic institution as the American government, why shouldn't we be allowed to express our opinion, our concerns? I've informed myself on the whole matter, yet I still can't think of a plausible reason why a war is necessary.
Glenn Frankel: I think you're offering a fair summation of the moderate anti-war position.
Washington, D.C.: When is the next election in Britain, and do you see the anti-American sentiment there having any significant effect?
Glenn Frankel: The next election won't be held for at least two more years. Assuming Tony Blair still is leader of the ruling Labor Party, his strong support of the US stand on Iraq could cost him votes depending, in large part, on whether the war takes place and how it turns out---if it's quick, short and relatively successful, Blair will feel vindicated, as he did over military action in Kosovo. If it drags on, or the aftermath is messy and uncertain, it could cost him many votes.
Wheaton, Md.: Since Europe has proved itself unable to resolve Europe's conflicts (Kosovo, Bosnia, Parsley Island, etc), why should the U.S. even care what anyone in Europe thinks? With European policy makers being historically wrong when determining how to resolve a major conflict, they have no right to criticize the U.S.
Glenn Frankel: This is a question I often hear from back home -- why should we care what Europeans think? Perhaps the U.S. doesn't need Europe. But it does seem that we still share some basic values and interests, and that it's important to have allies for the war on terrorism. I've heard some analysts argue that an isolated U.S., no matter how powerful, would be more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Others would like to abandon the Europeans to their own rhetorical devices.
We'll just have to stay tuned.
I'm sorry I couldn't get to more questions -- we had a truly international audience today, and I enjoyed hearing from al of you.
That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.
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