My Take on Markovits

Looks like my link to the Markovits essay has become one of the most-commented posts this blog has ever seen. I’ve gone through them with interest. Of all the views posted, I guess my take is the most similar to Koch’s. Koch doesn’t seem to be American, so perhaps Germans are more free with their comments to him than they would be with someone whom they know to be an American. In any case, because I criticize the policies of the Bush Administration (and was doing so before 60+% of the American public started doing the same thing), I often get an "unvarnished" view as well.

I have seen not only an increase in anti-Americanism recently, but what I would call a shift in its basic nature. Anti-Americanism of one form or another has, as we all know, been around since long before the U.S. was even founded as a nation.

However, it’s now characterized by certain overtones that were much more rare before 2003. Now, I am not talking about what prominent German politicians and business leaders say. As Markovits points out, they will always call for better U.S.-German relations, and will often make claims about the state of those relations that look rather unrealistic from the ground. Here are the overtones I hear in conversations with ordinary Germans:

  1. We don’t really care what the state of U.S.-Europe relations is. If they’re bad, it’s not because of anything we did. And if they’re bad; so be it.
  2. The number of areas of profound disagreement has increased to the point where we can say that many of our basic values are different from Americans’.
  3. This situation is not an exceptional situation that will be remedied by a return to the "norm" of close U.S.-Europe relations anytime soon, if ever. Nothing in particular needs to be done about it (see #1).

As Koch points out, 2003 was a very bad year, but in some respects, 2004, when a slim majority of the American people returned George W. Bush to office, was dramatically worse. That’s when "the American People" seemed, to Europeans, to declare their ownership and approval of Bush’s policies. The anger and resentment seemed to quadruple overnight. In 2003, the U.S. and Europe were going through a rough patch in their "marriage." Now, they have separated and are headed for an amicable divorce. When the kids (reporters, the public) are around, of course, they’ll still try to put a brave face on things.

Otherwise things are icy. Markovits help explain why this is so by pointing out another important dynamic: from a European perspective, anti-Americanism is now both much more practicable than it was, say, 20 years ago. It’s even desirable and useful from a European perspective.

Practicable. Europe no longer needs American military power to protect it from the Warsaw Pact. As for terrorism, almost no Europeans actually believe American policies have decreased the threat of terrorism; instead, like a large majority of Americans (now) and virtually all commentators, they believe President Bush’s policies have increased the danger of terrorism worldwide. Unlike in Cold War days, there’s little dispute about this among commentators. Back then, the European left thought the Americans were dangerous, but the right and the center generally accepted the idea that American power was a needed deterrent.

Now, however, nobody agrees that America’s policy against terrorism is "working." Seventy-four percent of Germans think the U.S. is having a negative influence on the world stage. You could say that differing with the U.S. on its main foreign policy priorities has not only become practical, it’s virtually mandatory. Of course, high-level cooperation on counterterrorism will continue regardless of the overall state of relations between the U.S. and Europe. And, of course, the USA is still a crucial trading partner and export market, but that can still work fine even if countries don’t have particularly warm political relations.

Thus, not only have the warm feelings generated by previous acts of generosity evaporated; there is also now no particularly strong reason why European politicians — left, right, and center — should feel inhibited from expressing strong criticism of American policies.

Desirable. As Markovits notes, anti-Americanism (regardless of whether we like it or not) has positive side effects both internally and externally. Internally, it helps shore up a sense of distinctly European identity, which is especially important when the EU’s actual policies contribute little to this goal (when not actually undermining it). Externally, it is hard to emphasize how useful the U.S. is as a whipping-boy. Measured by standards the rest of the world uses, European policies on foreign aid, climate change, human rights, development assistance, multilateral cooperation, among others, look praiseworthy and enlightened when compared with Bush administration policies. Sometimes, this is indeed because they are praiseworthy and enlightened. Even when they are far from perfect, though, they still look much preferable, to hundreds of millions of people across the world, when compared to American policies.

That’s why I thought Markovits’ piece was particularly insightful: he seems to have caught on to a fairly deep shift in the dynamics that mirrors my experience. And he does so specifically because he looks outside the normal channels of high-level discourse to other areas, where ordinary Europeans directly vent their opinions.

12 thoughts on “My Take on Markovits

  1. I agree with Andrew that we’re headed for a divorce. My single quibble is that there is no necessity that it be amicable.

    Indeed I don’t expect it to be amicable based upon events the past decade or so. Will we fight a war? Of course not, unless facts on the ground shift fundamentally in a manner not obvious right now.

    Does the ‘rest of the world’ prefer Europe? Perhaps they do right now, in large part because Europe has heretofore worn the velvet glove over the iron fist of their ‘soft’ power. But the gloves have come off against the US, that much is obvious.

    Can Europe maintain the velvet glove against the rest of the world? I’m not sure. Was European intrasigence in the DOFA round of trade talks a velvet glove or the iron fist when viewed from (say) Mexico?

    I see a clear bid by Euroe-elites for world leadership, pushing the US into the ditch. That will be popular in the short run. In the long run it will ‘Welcome the new boss, same as the old boss’ I think…..

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  2. No Don. I don’t think a European new boss will be same as the old boss. They won’t be nearly as magnanimous in the long run – in spite of their do-gooder talk.

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  3. Looking at the polls you mention and reading US newspapers and blogs, it seems to me that Americans have pretty negative and deteriorating opinions on US foreign policy as well. IMHO this should be taken in consideration when assessing Anti-Americanism.

    When an American expresses harsh and unfair criticism of US foreign policy or demonizes President Bush, then he is just considered a lefty. When a European makes the same criticism, it is considered Anti-American.
    This is a normal human reaction, I believe. I also react stronger and more emotional to criticism from Americans than to criticism from Germans, but I always tell myself that I should not differentiate.

    The US seems to be increasingly divided.
    Germans and liberal Americans seem to have similar opinions on US policies.
    So, perhaps some or even a lot of the Anti-Americanism is “just” hatred of the values and policies of conservative Americans…
    Yes, I do acknowledge that there is plenty of “non-political” Anti-Americanism against all Americans. I am just saying that some or a lot of Anti-Americanism is aimed at conservative values and policies, i.e. it is similar to opinions by liberal or progressive Americans.

    I am just saying that the apparently increasing political divide in the US should be taken into consideration, when we assess “Anti-Americanism” because there might not be “Americanism” anymore. Or is all this talk about how divided Americans are exaggerated? I guess core values are not sooo different. Liberals and conservative Americans seem to agree on a lot of basic principles, but when it comes to voting for politicians they elect guys and gals with quite different values/principles/policy preferences/gut instincts.

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  4. andrew says this is an overtone of what hears in conversations with ordinary germans: “The number of areas of profound disagreement has increased to the point where we can say that many of our basic values are different from Americans'”. now, i have never come across this. to me, it would seem that the conclusion most germans in comparing american and “european” (german) values come to is that they’re identical, but that there is fundamental disagreement as to what course of action those values demand.

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  5. “They won’t be nearly as magnanimous in the long run – in spite of their do-gooder talk.”

    Could be, Casey. The US attitude has mostly been one of benign neglect. That is not the mark of the EU I think. The new boss will be a busybody – if it succeeds in itt’s aim that is.

    It is possible that they will not. remember the old adage that when two nearly equal forces fight it’s usually a third party which benefits. China? India?

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  6. For those who wonder how this could happen in Germany, one M. Hagen found the answer rereading Hobbes’ Leviathan:

    To have received from one, to whom we think our selves equall, greater benefits than there is hope to Requite, disposeth to counterfiet love; but really secret hatred; and puts a man into the estate of a desperate debtor, that in declining the sight of his creditor, tacitely wishes him there, where he might never see him more. For benefits oblige; and obligation is thraldome; which is to ones equall, hateful.

    O. M. Hartwich, another funny bone, is a thinkalike: he was reminded of Monthy Python’s Life Of Brian:

    REG: All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
    XERXES: Brought peace.
    REG: Oh. Peace? Shut up!

    This should be valid for the rest of Europe as well – there was a time in the 30ies(!), when fascist regimes ruled most of the continent. Had the US decided not to interfere in WWII, millions more would have died, but Asia’s appendicitis would have had the chance to heal itself (eventually!), thus sparing us of losing our brittle pride. The US brought us peace and prosperity, and watched over it for 45 years – but what is that compared to its failing in Vietnam, Chile and Iraq?! Besides, cunning and selfish US had a hidden agenda: they wouldn’t let us join commie paradise! Additionally, they dared to elect a twit supreme for president – and that’s really demeaning: in all likelihood they did so just to humiliate us, those devious bastards.

    Not to be misunderstood: Most of what of my fellow anti-Americans dislike about the US galls my sensibilities too, be it capital punishment, black ghettoes, the clueless Near East politics of the past 50 years, predator capitalism (long live its Rhenish cousin) or presidential critters. However, I much prefer the US as ally to Russia, China or the Islamic axis of goodness and civilisational overdrive (wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_Human_Development_Report) – and no, I don’t think our geriatric paradise will make it on its own; being xenophobic while needing planned immigration and whitelivered, while having the massive, unplanned, Muslim(*) variety is a match made in hell.

    * So I’m an Islamophobic bigot – you knew that, and while we are at it, let’s delve a little into conspiracy theories, ok? Here goes:

    Wilhelm Heitmeyer (taz.de/pt/2004/12/03/a0171.1/text), J. Müller, H. Schröder: Verlockender Fundamentalismus. Türkische Jugendliche in Deutschland [The Allure of Fundamentalism: Turkish Youths in Germany], Frankfurt/Main 1997 (2nd edition 1997);

    Please read that study. Its data is statistically representative, at least that’s what Heitmeyer says: he’s the goody-too-shoes that runs the long-term study “Deutsche Zustände” (=~ German state of affairs), which tells us on a yearly basis of Islamophobia’s appalling rise. Besides, he’s the guy over here who decided to introduce that term to academical discourse, so he is a good guy, ok?

    You’ll read that a third of Germany’s Turkish immigrant youth is prone to a “gewaltzentriertem islamischen Fundamentalismus und ethnischen Nationalismus (gewaltzentriert =~ violence prone).” When he presented these findings in 1997, they were questioned first, and when that failed to work, he was told not to publish them at least: “diese Zahlen dürfen nicht an die Öffentlichkeit!” (these numbers must not be made public! -> oeko-net.de/kommune/kommune02-06/amigrat.htm). In 2005, Eberhard Seidel interviewed him for taz newspaper – unlike me, Eberhard is a good guy too, taz says so (taz.de/pt/2004/05/07/a0157.1/text), besides, taz is good on its own left leaning, anti-Islamophobic merits, isn’t it? When asked, whether it wasn’t “bizarre,” that since 97 nobody commissioned another study on that subject, it being really quite an issue nowadays, Heitmeyer replied “Ja, offenbar will man es immer noch nicht so genau wissen” (yes, obviously people still not yet want to know for sure -> taz.de/pt/2006/12/15/a0186.1/text). Admittedly, I’ve only read extracts of the study myself, so I don’t know what the other two thirds of immigrant youth think of Jews, Islam, personal and national pride, and the ways to deal best with these issues. Besides, these ghastly affairs apply only to Germany, while the rest of the European front is quiet and serene. And hey, a third of European “Residenzgesellschaft” is anti-Semite too (studies say so, and they’re understating), so why shouldn’t our Muslim brethren have some fun too?

    PS:
    “…European front?” “…quiet and serene?” That jerk is certainly trying to be sarcastic, isn’t he?! Of course he is: Die Zeit‘s co-publishing Josef Joffe tells that in 2005 60% of British Muslims want Sharia courts, while 13% saw terrorists as “martyrs” and 16% felt that attacking military targets is justified. But not all is lost, as only 7% would hit civilian targets too. Joffe does the math: there’s 1.000.000 Muslims in London, so if 7% fancy bomb belt chic that’s 70.000 fish swimming in the pond of terror. Besides, he says, 60% fancy Sharia courts in Britain too. He’s a tad sloppy and doesn’t name his sources, so I’ll do: it was a ICM poll commissioned by al-Guardian, though not in 2005, but in 11/2004, and it wasn’t 60% but 61% of Shariaphiles. But don’t blame old Josef: yes, he’s “pro-American and pro-Israel” (andrewhammel.typepad.com/german_joys/2006/06/josef_joffe_on_.html), but then, they are irritable sometimes – and maybe it was late Friday evening, and he got a bit in a hurry, grin grin, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more? That would explain him ignoring this spicy bit: 58% agreed that people who insult or criticise Islam should face criminal prosecution.

    In 2/2006 things got much better: only 40% had a knack for Sharia, while 18% just “didn’ know.” 14% thought it was right for protesters in Muslim countries to attack Danish embassies and 12% thought it was right for “demonstrators to carry placards calling for the killing of those who insult Islam”. 13% said it was right “to exercise violence against those who are deemed by religious leaders to have insulted them.” Finally, 46% feel that Muslims became more radical in their views toward Western society – poor things, just what are we driving them too? But these questions were really mean – it was the Sunday Telegraph who commissioned them, go figure. I really, really suggest thorough scrutiny of these polls, as they are brimful of other gentle-minded minutiae:
    http://www.icmresearch.co.uk/reviews/2004/Guardian%20Muslims%20Poll%20Nov%2004/Muslims-Nov041.pdf
    http://www.icmresearch.co.uk/reviews/2006/Sunday%20Telegraph%20-%20Mulims%20Feb/Muslim-Poll-Final.pdf (that file’s name has a nasty ring to it, hasn’t it?)

    Let us have Timothy Garton Ash have the last word, let’s? When he is not busy pointing out the niqab’s emancipatory merits (guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,,1920075,00.html) or telling us not to call poor old Islam names, like, ugh, reactionary -for which al-Guardian is happy to reserve a column- he has brilliant insights, occasionally, like thus: “So the Muslims have won the Battle of Poitiers after all! Won it not by force of arms, but by peaceful immigration and fertility” (nybooks.com/articles/19371). TGA alluding to …Muslim fertility?! Isn’t that the Islamophobe’s trope par excellence? Is he selling racist smear for an argument? Of course not: he’s al-Guardians TGA, he’s chummy with St. Antony’s and Stanford, he doesn’t botch nor mix his metaphors like the wretched likes of Steyn or Pipes, so – he’s excused. Besides, he has a second line of defence: just don’t you worry, it’s ok, let it happen (opendemocracy.net/democracy-americanpower/article_2352.jsp).

    However, should we not be able to overcome horrid and unjustified Islamophobia’s death grip, he has a last line, that is bleak:

    Is it likely that Europeans will rise to this challenge? I fear not. Is it still possible? Yes. But it’s already five minutes to midnight—and we are drinking in the last chance saloon.

    Cheers – Hurray for the world’s emerging Super Power, that certainly doesn’t need this here pages’ minions’ quibbling on practicability or desirability of anti-Americanism. And boy, will it be “magnanimous,” don’t you worry.

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  7. Nah, Europe had its ~400 years of screwing the rest of the world over, it’ll not revert to those days. The European powers lack the military means and the motivation. And let’s not forget, most talk about how “Europe” will be the new antagonist of the USA is deeply delusional about the actual state of European unity.

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  8. I second Sebastian and his last comment, the idea that “Europe” as an entity will play any significant political role in the global context is, for the time being, merely hypothetical. There might be a European Union with all the vested assets it has generated within (which was a gigantic achievement), but this “union” lacks unity and unanimity in all aspects that go beyond its own borders.

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  9. Good points by Norbert and Sebastian except for one thing – unanimity isn’t necessary to exercise power. The current nature of the EU contributes to the feeling of many others that dealing with them is like nailing gelatine to a tree. But Europe is increasingly dealing with an iron hand – at least with the US it is. Some mechanisms may be cut off by a need for unanimous consent – but not all by any means.

    What lack of unanimity means (from my POV) is that there is always an excuse for the EU (or Europeans) to trot out as an excuse for not taking action – for allowing most or all the global security burden of the NATO to fall on their erstwhile ally the US. It’s not inevitable (Tony Blair is an example of that). But it’s clearly there.

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  10. Where you’ll see most of the EU’s ruthlessness at the moment is economic policy – everything from sugarcane tariffs to Airbus subsidies. But I think that a clearly directed foreign policy in the classic sense will, for the foreseeable future, be prevented by the Union’s heterogeneity. (The US demonstrated quite impressively in 2003 how easy it can be to drive a wedge between the European powers.) That’s not to say that to be up against European interests cannot be tough for an outsider, if the big players happen to agree on something.

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  11. Ok, I´ll try to make a serious and meaningful comment here after posting something “witzig” but maybe not so funny for all joysters on the first post about Markovit´s´text: I like and agree with his point-of-view and -maybe because I am an latin-american “outsider” on this issue – I would like to highlight a part of the text that hasn´t been commented yet:

    “But what matters in this context is not so much the often appropriate indictment of American democracy, but the total silence about the defects of German and (Western) European democracy. As Klaus Faber, one of this argument’s major progressive critics, has correctly countered, surely most segregated and alienated immigrants in the suburbs of Paris or the dreary streets of Berlin would be less likely than America’s critics to extol German and French democracies as free of any defects. Indeed, if one extends the “social” dimension to include the successful integration of immigrants, surely America’s democracy would emerge as much less defective than the alleged models of Western Europe.”

    The Anti-Americanism is the result of a Europe full of fears and resentments, as it happens to many kinds of prejudices. They (those people that are part of a group I would call “the frightened Europeans”), can´t handle with some increasing “problems”, like immigration and integration, and can´t stand also the fact that americans have very good universities on their own way. The bigger the resentment (they know what has been failing on Welfare State etc.) stronger the Anti-Americanism will be on Europe. And that´s so silly because meanwhile China is working hard and will soon lead the world.

    @ Don

    Neither Europe or US: there never has been “velvet gloves” to third-word-countries 😉

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