Josef Joffe, co-publisher of Die Zeit, attempts here to draw the line between "rabid and the reasonable" criticism of the United States. Joffe’s allegiances are clear; he is currently a fellow at a conservative American think-tank and is pro-American and pro-Israel by European standards. However, Joffe does occasionally criticize (G) American policy; so it’s unfair to describe him as a toady.
The piece has its flaws. He doesn’t tell us where he gets many of his quotations. Also, he tries to maintain a firm distinction between fair criticism of the U.S. and anti-Americanism, but doesn’t provide any examples of the former to let us police the fairness of his thinking. Plus, the piece goes on a bit.
However, Joffe makes some good points, which I’ll summarize. Joffe first looks at the nasty generalizations and stereotypes that plague European discourse about U.S. policy. Accusations of the "illegality" of some American action "may be true or false; they are not ipso facto anti-American. But to attribute American behavior to inbred imperialism ("look what they did to the Indians"), to American capitalism ("blood for oil"), or to religious bigotry ("they claim divine guidance") transcends policy criticism."
So is singling out the United States or Americans for criticism, while ignoring other nations’ essentially identical actions (I highlight a recent example here). Another press filter singles out Americans who "serve as witnesses against their own government and nation," regardless of their actual importance on the political and cultural landscape of the U.S. The usual suspects: Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, and Susan Sontag. I’d add Morris Berman, who is virtually unknown in the United States outside of leftist circles, but whose books (G) (with telling titles such as "Dark Times for American: End of an Imperialist Era" and "Culture on the Brink of Collapse: America Shows the Way") are instantly translated into German, available in every bookstore, and please left-wing German critics (G) no end.
Joffe finds Freudian defense mechanisms buried everywhere in the rhetoric of anti-Americanism. Anti-Americans will claim to despise only Bush when their language reveals the hatred goes much further (displacement); claiming not to be anti-American while simultaneously launching a stream of self-righteous invective against the Great Satan (denial); and criticizing shortcomings of American society that have direct counterparts in their own countries (projection). Anti-American argumentation is filled with such projection-derived stereotypes: America is a "merciless exponent of world capitalism"; America is "culturally retrograde"; it elects thugs (Nixon) and morons (Reagan) to lead it. These stereotypes all serve one main purpose, according to Joffe: "[T]he denigration of America and the elevation of Europe."
Because anti-Americanism is driven primarily by prejudice and the "the unconscious remedy of projection and displacement", anti-American arguments are often illogical and internally incoherent: The United States is simultaneously powerful enough to be responsible for almost every world evil and teetering on the brink of collapse; America is the world capital of racism and the land where honest debate has been stifled by "political correctness"; America is the land in which an indifferent state lets the weak drift into illness and poverty, and is a puritcanical nanny-state which passes laws to protect people from themselves, etc. etc.
All these pathologies of thought make it impossible to have a reasonable discussion with an anti-American:
[I]n the end, debates on anti-Americanism or any anti-ism turn into spirals without resolution or escape. It is possible to have a useful discussion with a critic of American policy, and, indeed, necessary to hearken what is right and reasoned while rebutting what is certifiably false. But, in the end, anti-Americanism is not about America, as anti-Semitism is not about Jews. Any "anti-ism" reflects the crisis of the personality or polity afflicted with it.
This is also my experience. There’s really no point in arguing with anti-Americans. They’re driven by emotions you cannot change, and their arguments are either nothing more than a few hastily-strung-together stereotypes (example here (G)), or loony conspiracy theories; a web of suspicions and hatreds in which a few isolated facts hang here and there.
However, though I agree with many of the points Joffe makes, I’d add that almost all of them also apply to American and British attitudes toward Europe. Indeed, Joffe himself is an example: he’s a German willing to criticize anti-Americanism in the Continental press, which is music to the ears of the conservative magazine he wrote this article for. So, for example, is this Swede, who writes in English that the Swedish social-welfare model is "rotting from within." I’m not saying that these pieces don’t make good points; I’m just saying that if you’re a European looking to publish a think-piece in English, or have one translated, you’re likely to find a more eager market for pieces that criticize European society than for pieces that praise it.
Projection is also rampant in English and American coverage of Europe. The number one example: after enduring years of self-righteous lectures from the French about the "savagery" of the "Anglo-Saxon" social model, English and U.S. journalists and commentators didn’t even try to disguise their delight when the French suburbs erupted in riots last fall…