Anti-Americanism – Europe?s Epidemic?




A debate







Tuesday, December 10, 2002, 5:00?6:30 p.m.

Wohlstetter Conference Center, Twelfth Floor, AEI

The pundits agree: anti-Americanism in Europe is on the rise. After a strong alliance of almost half a century, recent developments show an increasing divide between Europe and the United States. Europeans disagree with Americans on issues as diverse as the role of the United Nations, the environment, tariffs, Iraq, and Israel. They also criticize American culture, the U.S. economy and the American ?way of life.? This anti-American sentiment is powerful?in September, it swayed Germany?s electorate in favor of Gerhard Schröder. Do Americans deserve this vociferous criticism? Are the Europeans simply ?jealous?? Should the ?Yankees go home?? These topics and more will be discussed at the last debate in the New Atlantic Initiative?s discussion series on anti-Semitism, anti-Europeanism, and anti-Americanism.


To talk about epidemics, I?d have to be a doctor.

To defend this case, I?d have to be a lawyer – and a very good one.

But I am a writer. So let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there were two brothers. They faced each other across a pond, and got along well. The younger brother was bigger and wealthier, and his house was larger. The elder brother?s house wasn?t as big, but it had charm.

One summer day the two brothers were walking in the forest, and they came upon a pot of gold. They took it home and shared it, and celebrated their good fortune.

With his half of the treasure the younger brother built a fence around his house, then bought a guard-dog and a rifle. The elder brother decided to make his house even more comfortable.

Winter came. One stormy night a pack of wolves surrounded the houses. The younger brother said: let?s go out and shoot them. The elder brother said: wait, it?s so nice (gemütlich) in here. Let?s see what those wolves do.

The brothers began to argue and soon were swearing at each other. This set the wolves to laughing, which they seldom do in fairy tales.

And this is NOT the end of the story.

I guess there is one bit of my story that needs to be explained: the pot of gold. Not to Joshua Muravchik, though, or to Radek Sikorski, who know all about the rise and fall of socialism. The gold the two brothers – America and Europe – found was the Cold War?s dividend. No more Soviet bears to fear. Less need of huge, expensive weapons. I know what you?re thinking ? that YOU paid for those weapons. But believe me: living next to the bear wasn?t comfortable, either.

It is obvious that America and Europe decided to invest that ?peace dividend? in different ways. Defence took a back seat, in the Europeans? mind. As most of you know, although our economies are roughly the same size, Europe spends less than half of the US on defence ($140bn against $350bn – that is before president Bush?s proposed increase of $43bn for 2003). So if we decide than power and weakness are the only things that matter, if we accept this Kaganesque world, we may stop here. If you were happy to be JUST the mightiest nation on earth, there would be no need to go on. But power is not the only thing that matter. And you?re NOT happy. If you were, you would not have come to a debate on anti-Americanism, in Washington, at the American Enterprise Institute. You want to be understood. Even more: you want to be liked. That?s what makes you so charming.

Yes. There is a lot of misunderstanding about America, nowadays, in the world. But when misunderstanding occur, it is too easy to say ?You just don?t get it?. If so much of the world doesn?t get it – including many of your friends – it means one thing: America, in 2002, it?s not getting its message across. This is not an opinion. This is a fact.

Why that? Conventional explanations don?t convince me. In Europe I hear people say: how can we trust the Americans? They create their own monsters! They sponsored the Taliban against the USSR, and we know what happened. They supported Saddam again Iran (I was in Baghdad in 1988: the place was swarming with American ?advisors?), and now they want to topple him. They pampered the Saudis, and now we find out Riad supports Reactionary Islam to the tune of $2 to $3 billion a year.

My answer to that is: this may be true. But America was right to act in the Balkans (genocide on our own continent!), and it had no choice in Afghanistan; America it?s more honest in its support of Israel (in Europe we abandoned Israel to its destiny and to its stubbornness – but we?re NOT anti-Semitic, that?s something else). America is self-sufficient, we are not (European armed forces outnumber those of the U.S., yet we can?t take them where they are needed. We have the grand total of eleven transport planes for troops; ridiculous).

But somehow I think that all this misses the point. Let me say it once again. Anti-Americanism is on the rise – in Europe, and beyond – because America can?t get its message across. And America can?t get its message across because it?s an idea, before it is a physical place.

Thomas Jefferson said that ?every man has two nations; his own and France.? Substitute ?France? with ?America? and it is still true. Many people who don?t like the place have never been here. The worst anti-Americanism comes from ignorance. This is partly your fault – we?ll go into that later – partly the world?s fault. But it is unpleasant and annoying, I agree. I remember being interviewed by Ted Koppel on ?Nightline?, not long after September 11th. I said how angry I was with the ?But Crowd?. Those Europeans who said that what happened in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania was horrible, BUT. But America made people suffer in the past. But American foreign policy has been so often wrong. But. But. I hate ?but-ism?. And I said so loud and clear in Europe, whenever I had the chance. One may – indeed one must – criticise one?s friend. But the timing of that criticism was terribly wrong, and much of it was unfair. Actually IS unfair, because it goes on.

Listen to this. It is a letter that a reader – Anna Boatti, a teacher – has just sent to my column for ?Corriere della Sera?.

Dear Beppe, Last night I accompanied my students to the Carcano theatre in Milan for a field trip to Iphigenia in Aulis by Euripides. The theme of Euripide’s play is universal and timeless: war, power, human ambition. I should have guessed that the theme would lend itself to easy anti-American manipulations, the new national pastime, but I thought that in an historic Milanese theatre, they would be aware, they would know that Euripides speaks and raises questions for all the dead, for the victims of all wars, in every era, every colour, every country. And yet, they didn’t. Some people think about war only when the United States is involved. An expert who illustrated and explained the tragedy had this to say about the figure of Iphigenia who decides to sacrifice herself for love of her country: we can say that Iphigenia behaves like a person possessed, that is, the way today a suicide bomber who has nothing more to lose and blows herself up might or “like thousands of fanatics who voted for the most bellicose president that ever was convinced he is going off to do battle to eliminate the barbarians without realising that the barbarian is he.” Now, I took my students to a production of Euripides. It is not acceptable to insult millions of free American citizens who expressed their right to vote by calling them “fanatics” (and reading between the lines, barbarians as well).

I?m not saying ?Come on don?t worry, it always happen to the head boy, to the gold medallist, to the world champion to be envied, even hated?. I say: do worry. In Italy anti-Americanism unites far left and far right, old and young, Catholics and greens. These people do NOT represent the majority of the Italian population. But they are many, they are influential, and their animosity is increasing. Some have become apologists for radical Islam: just because it?s against America. Some show how a quality such as tolerance can become pathologic, and become self-defeatism I am sure you read those Pew Centre findings. Those who believe that the circulation of American ideas is bad are 71% in France, 67% in Germany, 59% in the UK, 58% in Italy. These figures indicate that people in Western Europe are forgetting that you sorted us out ? twice , in World War Two and against Communism.

You must try to stop this worrying trend – but NOT in the way you?re doing. Dismissing Europeans – your oldest friends – as weak, whinging and hopeless; ungrateful, mean and ignorant; guilty, cynical and exhausted (I quote from a recent piece by John Lloyd in the Financial Times) would be a disastrous mistake. Do you think you won?t need anybody anytime anyplace? If you do, let me remind you of a word: hubris. It?s Greek (i.e. European). It means ?Overweening pride towards the gods, leading to nemesis?. This I won?t translate. Most of you know.

America, my friends, is not only the wealthiest, mightiest, and the most talked about nation on the planet. ?At times, it must be the policeman or head of the posse–at others, the mediator, the teacher, the benefactor. These are not my words: they are Joshua Muravcik?s. I took them from his book ?The Imperative of American Leadership: a Challenge to Neo-isolationism?. ?In short – Joshua goes on – America must accept the role of world’s leader.? I couldn?t agree more. But leaders lead. And mediators mediate. And teachers teach. And benefactor – a word straight out of Latin (European. again) – must do good.

So be patient, and wise. ?The United States must resist basing foreign policy on hegemonic power. Many of the problems affecting the world order are not susceptible to solution by military means? – this is no peace activist, this is Henry Kissinger in the Washington Post today. Polls numbers change, as politicians know well. If you want to win over your family once again – we are brothers, remember? The others are just business partners – you must accept the fact that we may say and do things that you don?t like. Family and friends are supposed to be frank – which doesn?t mean they are right.

But often, in what they say, there may a glimpse of truth. ?Foreigners can see things about America that natives cannot, and if there was a time when Americans needed such perspective, it?s now? writes Mark Hertsgaard in ?The Eagle?s Shadow. Why America fascinated and infuriates the world?. Some of the most perceptive comments about Europe come from Americans: many of you see easily what unites us (for instance that an Italian has much in common with a Pole, besides sharing a Pope). In my book ?Ciao, America!? – I know some of you have read it: thank you – I try to do the same. I want to convince you that many American customs are indeed American, identical in Maryland in Miami and in Milwaukee – from you admirable passion for the 6 C (control, change, comfort, competition, constitution and choreography) to your less admirable lust for iced water and cappuccino after meals (it?s is not only wrong. It?s ILLEGAL).

Therefore, on behalf of those who admire your optimism, your determination, your sense of personal responsibility, your adorable illusion that man can control everything, let me ask you a blunt question: are we anti-Americans or are some of you anti-Europeans? Because – you know – sometimes this is a feeling we have. ?Europeans – John Lloyd, again – are now in the uncomfortable position of being thought about, by a large part of the US elite, in the dismissive, contemptuous or condescending way in which the British used to think about the rest of the world – including the rest of Europe – when they were top dogs. That was pretty bad: and so is this.?

Forget the Kyoto protocol, the International Criminal Court or the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty – there is no time to go into these matters now. Just think of this. Americans often complains at Europe is divided and speaks with too many voices. But as soon as we try to unite, some in the U.S. become suspicious. Don?t tell me that the euro was greeted with enthusiasm, or you cheered the EU enlargement – because it is not true. Don?t tell me that a European army is not seen by some with suspicion. To my most conservative American friends I?d like to ask: are you sure you really want a strong Europe?

We must respect you, my friends; but you must learn to respect us. We are not weak, whinging and hopeless; ungrateful, mean and ignorant; guilty, cynical and exhausted. I agree: sometimes Europe?s caution borders on appeasement. But we?re not all Eden; and our – common – enemies are not all Hitler. Please someone inform my fellow Italian Oriana Fallaci, about this.

Some of your criticism, I?m convinced, comes from a misunderstanding. Europe is not a nation, as you are. Europe will always be some kind of hybrid: more than a free trade area, less than a superstate. A crowded hybrid too. Now fifteen countries with 370m people. Soon 25 countries with 460m people, plus 70m Turks knocking at the door.

You may have the feeling that all these people talk about America all the time. Well, you?re right. You sell us great products – from films to music, from fashion to sports. It in only logical that consumers want to know more about the producers. And they find some things hard to understand.

And they are not the things you?d expect. Lewinsky? Come on. Election 2000? Not really. There was a draw and the winner was picked through penalty shoot-out (it happens in soccer too, you know, although Justices are seldom involved). Enron, WorldCom? Up to a point. Any smugness in Europe about Enron has not lasted long, in Europe. We had plenty of our scandals to explain (Lernout&Huaspie, Belgian; My Travel, British; Vivendi, French; Italy – you choose).

The things American that we find hard to understand are different. Sometimes it is a matter of substance, sometimes a matter of perception. Because, let? be frank – the country that invented PR is so often amateurish in its public relations.

Let me make just one example. Western media and public opinion is awash with speculation that behind this urge to remove Saddam there is the desire to get the hands on Iraq?s oil. I?m not convinced. But I?m surprised that this issue has not been tackled openly and publicly – yes, by the President. But he doesn?t seem to care about criticism. He doesn?t take head on opposing arguments. I know what you?re about to say: ?This is his style of leadership.? Fair enough. But let me know that many friends of America are confused. You don?t care what we say? Pretend, at least.

Thomas Friedman wrote this, in a column last March (now included in his book ?Longitudes and Attitudes?): ?Ladies and gentleman, in 1989 the Berlin Wall came down, and on the other side we found millions of people receptive of U.S. ideal and perceptions. Well, there is another wall in the world today. It?s not on the ground. It?s in people?s heads – and it divides American from the Arab-Muslim world. Unlike the Berlin Wall, though, this wall was built on both sides and it can be taken down only b both.? Absolutely right. But, if I were Friedman, I?d substitute ?U.S. ideal? with ?Western ideals?, and I?d ask myself: can our European friends – sorry, brothers – help us in this mission? After all, they?ve been in the Arab-Muslim world before, they?ve made mistakes (oh yes), they?ve learned from them (one hopes). Let me ask you: do you think we are so useless? We are not. Test us.

I am have been in Washington three days and I hear people talking of ?a Marshall Plan for the Arab-Muslim world?. That sounds like a brave and bold idea. We all know that the Marshall Plan helped nations that wanted to be helped, and had democratic governments; and this is not the case of the Arab-Muslim world. But why not try? Call it ?Powell Plan? after Colin Powell. And count on us. It would be a long process. But Europe loves a process.

So what is the moral of this story? That America and Europe are different, but not that different. That many of us don?t get it, but many of you don?t help them to get it. That as Condi Rice said ?if we can?t find a way to cooperate the countries that have benefited from neo-liberal values we won?t succeed. Europeans are our partner in this, our strongest partners.? That America and Europe provide the ?world?s operating system? (market economy, science and technology, the English language), and should be proud of this (let?s not try, though, to bundle in unwanted software, Microsoft-style). The moral of this story is that you, cari Americani, may have an affair with other parts of the world (once it was Japan, soon it?ll be China). But you are married to us.

I know what you?re thinking: but you told us we were brothers, living across a pond. Brothers can?t marry! Well, aren?t we all open-minded about sex nowadays?

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