TCS Daily

Innocence Abroad

By Eric R. Staal - November 19, 2004 12:00 AM

In light of how the media and political elites in Europe continue to denounce the war in Iraq and openly criticize the reelection of President George W. Bush, it is surprising that their reaction to the replacement of Secretary of State Colin Powell with Condoleezza Rice has been so favorable. After all, Powell was widely regarded in Europe as the single moderate voice in an administration of hawks.

Despite the positive remarks about Condoleezza Rice from German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and his French counterpart Michel Barnier, it is important not to underestimate the depth of anti-Americanism in Europe and its impact on U.S. foreign policy around the world.

Over the previous two years, opportunistic leaders in Belgium, Germany and elsewhere rallied behind French President Jacques Chirac as he vigorously lobbied against a final UN Resolution on Iraq. Since then Chirac has continued to undermine the legitimacy of American foreign policy, in recent days again blaming the war in Iraq for increasing terrorism. One of Europe's most prominent critics of American foreign policy is Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-chairman of the Green Party in the European Parliament, who routinely appears on German talk shows advocating that the international community not get involved in Iraq until the United States fails.

Of course, most European anti-Americanism is targeted at Bush. Upon news of his re-election, Hans-Christian Ströbele, deputy head of the Green Party in the German Bundestag, declared his "worst nightmares had come true" and pronounced it "a black day for peace". His counterpart in the ruling Social Democrat Party, Michael Müller, argued Bush's re-election is "neither good for the world, nor for a democratic America." Perhaps even more worrisome were protestations against the U.S. electorate in mainstream publications such as Der Spiegel or The Daily Mirror, which malign extremist and ignorant American voters for re-electing a war-mongering President.

Why are the United States and its twice-elected head of state so thoroughly reviled in Europe? Europeans would simplistically blame the administration's policies for the backlash. However, the European political and media elite made their hostility toward Bush known when he was a candidate in the 2000 election. Even in the weeks following 9/11, the United States did not enjoy the fabled goodwill many commentators claim existed. On the contrary, the German weekly Die Zeit, France' Le Monde and the UK's Guardian -- to name a few -- were littered with articles echoing the grievances of Osama Bin Laden about American support for Israel and hegemony in the Middle East. If Osama Bin Laden needed any help recruiting terrorists, the European media certainly provide plenty of free advertising.

What is more accurate therefore is that the political and media classes in Europe are reacting to the Republican electoral success with the same hysteria as liberals in the United States, i.e. with intentional distortions of U.S. conservatives as backwater fundamentalists led by a cabal of sinister Neocons. For the secular left, the Republican proposition of social values and free enterprise coupled with a strong stance against terrorism is too threatening. The day after the election, for example, the award-winning national German talk-show Hart aber Fair featured a Green Party leader denouncing America's war for oil and, more emblematic of the problem, an American journalist who received applause for comparing U.S. Christians to the Ku Klux Klan.

It is important to understand that modern American conservatism has no equivalent in Europe and has never been accepted as legitimate in European intellectual circles, which are monolithically both secular and liberal. There is no National Review or Weekly Standard, no talk radio personalities or Fox News to challenge the liberal orthodoxy. Serious ideological diversity among think-tanks and political foundations in any European country is negligible.

Just how much influence do these opinion shapers have? The Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Survey from March this year noted that "solid majorities in France and Germany believe the U.S. is conducting the war on terrorism in order to control Mideast oil and dominate the world." In Turkey "as many as 31 percent say that suicide attacks against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq are justifiable." Turkey is important, because it stayed out of the coalition in Iraq and we know whose club it wants to join.

What can be done to mitigate European anti-American sentiment when it boils over into anti-American action? To say the U.S. Foreign Service has neglected to defend American policies in Europe over the previous decades is an understatement. The first Bush administration struggled to find a solution with the establishment of a White House Office of Global Communications during the Iraq war and the appointment of advertising expert Charlotte Beers to head public diplomacy at the State Department. However, more needs to be done to tackle the problem at its European source.

With the appointment of Rice to Secretary of State there is an opportunity to take a fresh approach. The pervasive nature of the problem suggests the need for a paradigmatic shift and a retooling of U.S. foreign policy resources. Ambassadors can be geared to play a more vigorous role in winning support for U.S. policies in major European media markets. The administration can take a more coordinated and proactive approach to dealing with the foreign media. If needed, a special assistant or spokesperson can be appointed in key embassies to help coordinate the international communication of U.S. foreign policy and even represent the administration in selected fora.

Overcoming decades of anti-American propaganda and failed U.S. public diplomacy in Europe will not succeed overnight. Without a strategy for attacking the roots of European anti-Americanism, however, it is only a matter of time before the new Secretary of State and U.S. foreign policy run into more European roadblocks.

Eric R. Staal is a writer living in Germany. Contact him directly here.


TCS Daily Archives