In a hopeful sign, we have seen a slow dribble of articles on anti-Americanism of late. The latest is a piece by Jan Ross of Die Zeit. This is an encouraging and worthwhile piece, though he does make a few sweeping generalizations that are difficult to support - about Asia for example. Also, he fails to address the fundamental role that German and world media have played in pouring gas all over the flame of global anti-Americanism for the past several years.
Still, this is evidence that more people are beginning to awaken to a phenomenon we have worked against for years now. For that reason, we offer a full translation exclusively to our readers:
"The World’s Bellyache: From subculture to "Leitkultur" - a collective anti-Americanism is conquering the world.
By Jan Ross
Here as well? India is no anti-American country – millions have relatives in the USA, and Washington has recently plastered Dehli as a preferred ally, including recognition of it as a legitimate atomic power. But at a seminar in Chennai, in the south of the country with regional newspaper reporters who want to learn something about the EU, the big awakening first comes when the topic America is discussed. The (EU) Constitutional contract, WTO negotiations, fine and good, but the real reason for being of the EU ought to be one thing above all: To put the arrogant United States in its place. The Europeans in attendance very nearly received a shock, did not want to acknowledge the anti-American leading role offered them, spoke of the United Nations and the Rule of Law for great and small alike. The EU does not want to be a competing pole to the USA, not an alternative leading power of the West, and it certainly doesn’t have what it takes to do that. But, after scratching the surface on most conversations, Europeans are receiving such demands to resist the United States all over the place these days – obviously, of course, in Islamic lands, whether officially pro or anti-American, whether Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Iran, whether the partner in conversation belongs to the ruling elite or to the opposition.
The prevailing mood against the United States extends far beyond all concrete topics of dispute. When Angela Merkel travels next week to the US/EU summit in Washington, she will meet the tamest, most cooperative American government in a very long time. A project for the harmonization of the transatlantic economies will be started that is really of no interest to the Americans, and that they plan to undertake primarily to please the Chancellor. American diplomacy is doing overtime to negotiate within NATO and with the Russians about the controversial missile defense program. The Washington government has given up its grandiose plans of reform for the Islamic world, which the Europeans held for megalomania, and has returned to working with the EU on a more humble and traditional Middle East peace policy. (Expressed literally in German as a return to baking the “small rolls” of a traditional Middle East peace policy.) Humbled by Iraq and weakened, the BushII administration is probably a more comfortable partner than the Clinton government, that is still mourned after in Europe, ever was.
But it doesn’t help. Everything American has become radioactive in (Western) Europe – whoever comes into contact with it too closely and for too long becomes contaminated to the point of unelectability. The German CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic parties) began to really shake when the SPD (Social Democrats) discovered the potential for conflict and mobilization in the US missile defense plans. Nicolas Sarkozy would rather keep quiet about his admiration for America in the French presidential elections, and nothing will be dismissed with more relief in the waning Blair-era in Great Britain than his historic bosom-friendship with George W. Bush. It is a long way from this alliance-frustration with old NATO partners to the unrestrained demagoguery of third world populists like Mahmud Ahmadineschad (Iran) and Hugo Chavez (Venezuela). To fight Bush’s foreign policy, to culturally despise the American Way of Life or to demonize the United States, as the Iranian state rhetoric, as the “great Satan,” – that is not all the same. But something potentially universal, a form of worldwide bellyaching in varying strengths, is to be seen in the criticism of the United States. Anti-Americanism is a new global ideology, the “Leitkultur” for protest against prevailing conditions, just as it was for decades for the various forms of Socialism.
Polls prove that the worldwide outrage over the Iraq War was no short-term expression of opinion. The image of America has not recovered – on the contrary. It has further deteriorated. A “mainly positive” influence of the USA in the world was given by 40% of respondents in a BBC poll of 18 countries. In 2006 still 36% and in 2007 just 29%. The US image was the darkest in Germany and Indonesia (74% and 71% respectively stated a “mainly negative” (US) influence in world events.) Dramatic collapse of trust between 2006 and 2007 took place in Poland (from 62 to 38% for “positive influence”), the Philippines (from 85 to a still spectacularly friendly 72%) or in India (from 44 to 30 percent). The Muslim countries, where the distrust of the United States borders on hate, the people are for democracy and entrepreneurship in majorities. Optimists can interpret that as a form of underground sympathy for “real” American values: If the USA would only finally follow its ideals, it would certainly gain the appreciation of its enemies. But those are abstract fantasies. The concrete truth is that the stock of America has suffered a deep decline on the world market of public opinion.
There is something pathological to the real anti-Americanism loaded with resentments. Historian and documenter of ideas Dan Diner speaks of a “narcissistic disease tied together with the assertion of the modern.” The USA, which is spreading its military bases, Starbucks franchises and Hollywood films around the world, spreading its capitalism, are branded by the losers of globalization as barbarians. One want to at least be superior morally and culturally. That was already the pattern of the classic European anti-Americanism from the 19th and early 20th centuries, it is today, above all, the unfortunate consciousness of the Arab world that, in contrast to the American dominated West, is experiencing its own backwardness, in a paradoxical mixture of disgust and fascination: “Yankee, go home, but take me with you!”
The historic breaks from 1989 to 2001 only intensified the emotional and political polarization with regard to the USA. Now the middle Europeans, who recently ran away from the Soviet empire, are also playing along, and they are not interested in the French or German criticism of America. For many Poles it is no cultural scandal that the United States is religious and patriotic, they are themselves. In the Czech Republic they haven’t forgotten that the former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright was born in Prague and found refuge in America; The image of Bill Clinton, who visited Vaclav Havel in a Prague jazz club and played the saxophone, has not disappeared. The Iraq War and George W. Bush are also no longer popular in Poland or the Czech Republic, but the disappointment did not initially shake the fundamental trust. It is exactly the opposite in the other half of the once divided world, and especially so among earlier especially close allies such as those in Germany, Turkey or South Korea. There America is practically just the superpower that has fallen to the outer edges after 9/11 and has largely used up the thanks for its assistance in the Cold War. A diplomat from the new EU countries recently asked in a perplexed manner why the German political establishment pushed through NATO up-arming against mass protests – and why today virtually no one dares to defend a pair of potential interceptor missiles against Putin’s polemic? Because, the answer must be, not only because the world has become fundamentally different from an old European perspective, but the United States has as well. From the perspective of Prague or Warsaw, on the other hand, the USA has remained, in a changed reality, at its core, the same force for good and the same indispensable protective power. This difference in perceptions is driving Europe and the Atlantic alliance apart, and it is not at all easy to say, who is right.
Anti-Americanism is the phenomenon of a world dominated by America – or at least of a world in which America is the strongest force and the most dynamic factor. Regions in which that is not the case, and a future, in which perhaps that is no longer the case, will be less fertile terrain for the animosity towards the United States. There will always be losers in globalization, but will they still direct their anger against the USA when globalization no longer has an American face, but instead an Asian one? China is already and truly India, despite occasional counter-examples, no societies with a negative fixation on the United States. With their own economic and political rise a certain superpower collegiality is forming with the USA. “America is a sort of measuring stick with which the Chinese recognize and determine who they are themselves,” believes Peter Hays Gries of the University of Colorado, author of a seminal study on Chinese nationalism. There is no cultural resentment against McDonalds, and there are no principle reservations against the motherland of capitalism – how could there be when you are racing with dramatic success to become ever more capitalist? In Peking there is a strategic mistrust against the United States, the suspicion that, in the end, it wants to slow or even torpedo the rise of an historic successor. But that is sober geopolitics. With the large global psychological game between Americans who feel the need to be loved and bitter Europeans or Muslims, Asia is not playing along. It is, however, profiting from it."
It is difficult to say that anti-Americanism is not big in Asia. Further, in order for the US (or more precisely American entrepreneurs) to "export" McDonalds, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Hollywood movies, blue-jeans, and other products around Europe and the world, there has to be someone on the other end willing to buy the products. No one is forcing those products down anyone's throat. Still, an excellent work. This is a conversation that the media needs to engage in a far more intense manner. (Translation by Ray D.)
UPDATE: The BBC is running an interesting piece that discusses the long tradition of Hate America in Europe. Excerpt:
"If we regret the founding of the US we regret a thoroughly European creation. If George III hadn't been as mad as a hatter, if the Redcoats had been more in touch with the feelings of His Majesty's subjects in the colonies, the English colony of Jamestown might never have given way to Yorktown, where 174 years later the English crown was finally defeated in the War of Independence.
To be against the founding of America is not to be original but to continue a long line of misguided bigots who always resented the birth of the US. In the late 18th Century, the eminent Dutch scientist Cornelius De Pauw wrote that everything from America was "either degenerate or monstrous". He was considered the foremost expert on the New World of his time and, like many critics of America, he never went there once.
Then there's the Oscar Wilde quip, plagiarised by former French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau: "America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilisation". Anti-Americanism is as old as America and it continues to miss the point."
The Dutch scientist de Pauw, considered to be a "foremost expert on the New World" despite never having seen the New World is a remarkable reflection of many of today's so-called "America experts" in German media. Now that the world is smaller, many "experts" actually have been to the United States - but many never wander far enough away from like-minded, inside-the-beltway think tanks or their Manhattan environs to truly challenge their Euro-centric, social-democratic group think opinions on the United States.