To Be Absolutely Frank

Nous Sommes Tous Antiaméricains

Bashing the U.S. is nothing new, says Fouad Ajami. And it's not Bush's fault.

By 9.5.03

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Yet another poll shows that Europeans increasingly disapprove of U.S. foreign policy. Released yesterday by the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Compagnia di San Paolo (in Turin, Italy), the survey says that 70 percent of Frenchmen consider American global leadership "undesirable." That may not be news, but it turns out that half of Germans and Italians now feel the same way -- 20 percentage points higher than last year.

"The trans-Atlantic split over war in Iraq has undermined America's standing with Europeans," the poll's authors conclude; and the president of the German Marshall Fund draws the lesson that "neither Europeans nor Americans want to go it alone or compete with each other on foreign policy. They both want to see a strong European Union and a U.S. superpower that works through multilateral institutions."

The New York Times makes the point more explicitly: "The survey offers a snapshot of changing attitudes since the Bush administration, frustrated by some European resistance to war, led a coalition to battle in Iraq without the authorization of the United Nations Security Council." In other words, the rest of the world hates us for Bush's unilateralism.

Fouad Ajami thinks that's a bunch of malicious nonsense. In the latest issue of Foreign Policy, he writes that the second Gulf War hasn't made other countries hate us. They hated us already.

"Anti-Americanism became the uncontested ideology of French public life" in the 1990s, as defenders of France's egalitarian and protectionist traditions struggled to fend off U.S.-led economic globalization, Ajami writes. Even that now-famous Le Monde headline of September 13, 2001 ("Nous sommes tous Américains") ran over an editorial claiming that Osama bin Laden was the creature of a Frankenstein America.

Greeks, too, have been angry for a while, even if the U.S. has hardly noticed. Apparently they resent America for opposing the Serbs, fellow Orthodox Christians, in Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990s. In the Islamic world, Ajami reminds us, it's the same story. Muslims were seething long before Washington supposedly flouted the will of the international community by attacking Iraq.

Behind even relatively old grievances that other nations have against the U.S., Ajami detects a deeper motive: envy. The world wants to be rich and free like America, but is afraid of the change and sacrifice that this would entail. "To come bearing modernism to those who want it but who rail against it at the same time, to represent and embody so much of what the world yearns for and fears -- that is the American burden."

For Ajami, this internal conflict explains why America gets the blame for such contradictory sins. Frenchmen say we're a gang of Christian zealots; Jordanians denounce us as materialistic infidels. Greeks accuse us of favoring Islam; Arabs claim the opposite.

The most delicious irony that Ajami identifies is that of the Turks, whom the U.S. has long supported in their bid to join the European Union, but who protested America's Iraq policy this year "in the apparent hope that Europeans (real Europeans, that is) would finally take Turkey and the Turks into the fold."

Ajami doesn't try to explain why America's international poll numbers have dipped in the last year. Perhaps he takes it for granted that so colossal an assertion of our envied power as Gulf War II was bound to elicit the world's latent resentment. In any case, he doesn't think we should worry about it, because no matter what we do, "this kind of envy cannot be attenuated."

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About the Author

Francis X. Rocca ia an American writer in Rome, Italy.