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:
- 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.
- 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’.
- 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.