Thursday, May 17, 2007

Is America Bashing in Europe a Myth?

On of the recurrent theme of this blog is the long-held myths concerning American-French relationships. (although we have also addressed other "myths", such as the French loving Jerry Lewis, Globish, Islam in Europe, Latino assimilation in the U.S. or even al-Qaeda or the Irish Pub, to name a few).

In the wake of the election of a new "American" president of France (yet another myth for you), William Drozdiak has written an interesting piece in the Washington Post on 4 myths about America-bashing in Europe :
  • The French hate us.
  • Europeans look down on the American way of life.
  • "Old Europe" no longer matters because China and India are the future.
  • Europe loves only Democrats.

I do not necessarily agree with all the points Drozdiak makes to debunk these myths. In fact, I don't believe the last point (that Europe loves only Democrats.) is necessarily a myth.

I think he fails to address the complexity of the issue. When America-bashing is popular in far-left and far-right circles, and to a certain extent with other people on the left, it is less so in the center and center-right of the the political spectrum.
There is also a distinction to make between the people and their leaders. Until recently for instance, it was common in the French elite to play out Anti-Americanism while the French people didn't necessarily buy into it. But even then there are contradictions. A lot of the Muslim youths in the impoverished 'banlieues' do not necessarily look to the U.S. with much admiration (in part because of US pro-Israel policy and the war in Iraq) yet, they crave for American brands such as Nike, and play gangsta' rap on their i-pod. So really, it is a whole lot more complicated than what Drozdiak's enthusiastic article implies.

Yet, it is true that the election to the French presidency of a politician who has never been shy of his admiration for the US. is a break - if nothing else simply because it is a major change in the political rhetoric of the French elite. At the same time, it must be remembered that Sarkozy was not elected because of his views on foreign policy, but because of domestic issues. What his victory shows is that open admiration for the U.S. does not prevent a politician from being elected and popular with most French people - a fact that goes against many long-helf myths, even in France.

And now here's William Drozdiak's abridged article (here's the full version):

France's newly elected president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has already stretched a warm hand of friendship across the Atlantic. He vowed to transform the venomous relations with Washington that prevailed under his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, urged his compatriots to emulate the social mobility and work ethic commonly found in the United States, and expressed pride in his nickname, "Sarko l'americain."

Sarkozy's paean of affection for the United States echoed the sentiments of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who upon taking office in 2005 declared that she would strive to restore a close U.S.-German partnership. While President Bush is held in low esteem in many world capitals, the fact that the new leaders of "Old Europe" could win with pro-America platforms suggests that Yankee phobia may not be as toxic or universal as some pundits, mainly on the American left, claim.

Why has U.S. stature in the world eroded? Opinion polls cite widespread dismay with the Iraq war, our dog-eat-dog social model and the arrogance of an imperial superpower that places itself above international law. But behind the surveys about "why they hate us" lies a reservoir of goodwill waiting to be tapped among foreigners who would prefer to see the United States succeed rather than fail.
This love-hate melange has perpetuated four modern myths about transatlantic relations that deserve to be debunked.

1 The French hate us.

There is scant evidence to suggest that exploiting anti-American attitudes wins elections. During the French campaign, Sarkozy was often derided by his Socialist opponents as "an American neoconservative carrying a French passport." Some critics claimed he would dismantle
France's welfare state and replace it with an American-style "law of the jungle." But most voters ignored such rhetoric. If anything, Sarkozy's public endorsement of the United States helped convince voters that he would shake France out of its torpor and put the country back to work.


2 Europeans look down on the American way of life.


American culture continues to enthrall Europeans. Besides American films and television shows such as "Desperate Housewives," which Europeans lap up, books written by Americans regularly top European bestseller lists. Among French authors, some of the most popular books feature dissections of life in the United States, whether by pro-American intellectuals such as Bernard-Henry Levy or anti-American writers such as Emmanuel Todd.

3 "Old Europe" no longer matters because China and India are the future.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Europe supposedly lost its relevance. Not true. In fact, Europe and the United States still act as the twin turbines of the global economy, accounting for 60 percent of all trade and investment flows.
It's clear now that for a long time to come, the future of
U.S. security interests will still depend on closer coordination with our European allies than we can ever expect with our Asian friends

Europe loves only Democrats.


The next occupant of the White House will be judged by our friends abroad on how well he or she can infuse a new sense of purpose and destiny into the Western alliance. There is plenty of work to be done to repair the damage inflicted on America's moral leadership by the debacle in Iraq and the sordid images from Abu Ghraib prison. But given the pro-American mindset among the new leaders in France, Germany and Britain, the next U.S. president, regardless of party, could command surprisingly strong support from our supposedly fickle allies.


At 04:48, Blogger Tororoshiru said...

Let's see how American-language clichés could be translated into Eurolangue ones...
"The French hate Americans" could accurately be transposed as: "The French feel sorry for Americans".
"Europeans look down on the American way of life" as: "Europeans commonly view America mostly as America enjoys portraying itself: i.e., as a great Disneyesque fantasyland perfect for living fantasy adventures (such as settling in Silicon Valley or opening a Nouvelle Cuisine restaurant in Seattle), but far from perfect from any other perspective".
" 'Old Europe' no longer matters because China and India are the future" as: "Old USA no longer matter because China and India will soon eat them alive".
"Europe loves only Democrats" as: "The only known Americans that have shown some vague understanding of international matters, particularly European politics, happened to be Democrats".

Of course, some debunking sometime is needed for European clichés too... :)


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