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Lack of Support for the US, Because "No One Wants to be on the Losing Team"

Anne Applebaum starts her Washington Post column "Why They Don't Like Us" like just another journalist in need of group hug:

"Why do they hate us?" Much ink has been spilled over the past six years in attempts to answer that question. By contrast, not enough attention has been paid to what is, in some ways, a more perplexing conundrum: Why don't they like us as much as they used to?

But then it gets better: She notes that "there were strong pockets of 'pro-Americanism,' even in the most 'anti-American' countries. In Europe, for example, the upwardly mobile felt more warmly about American power than the establishment."

Besides, she blames the US government's "incompetence" for the lack of European willingness to follow US leadership any longer:

What's more curious is that our friends' faith in us has weakened just as their perceptions of potential threats are growing ever more similar to ours. True, more Europeans worry about global warming than Americans, but the difference (85 percent vs. 70 percent) is not as great as one might think. And we all worry about everything else -- international terrorism, a nuclear Iran, global epidemics -- in almost equal measure. This last point strikes me as most interesting: For in fact, it indicates that what our closest friends really dislike is not our traditional pushiness, our violent movies or even our current president (though they don't like him much) but our incompetence. A full third blame the perceived decline of the transatlantic alliance on the "mismanagement of Iraq." Not the invasion of Iraq, the "mismanagement" of Iraq. Which makes sense: If you're really worried about Iran, do you want to put your faith in the United States, the country that bungled Iraq?

Personal comments: I think US policy mistakes or failures are not the only reason why Europeans do not want to follow US leadership anymore. Europe has its own ambitions. That's normal. The US is not interested in following EU leadership either, for instance by joining the EU-3 negotiations with Iran.

I find it interesting that Applebaum, like most US journalists, assumes that it would be normal for European countries to follow US leadership. She treats the lack of willingness to follow US leadership as the exception that needs to be explained rather than the other way around: It is to be expected that a country follows US leadership (no matter in which direction the US leads).  But when a country refuses to follow the US lead, then suddenly an explanation is required: Probably the US has done something wrong and some therapist has to explain why this country does not love or like the US anymore and might even hate the United States now. See related post in the Atlantic Review: The Anti-Americans and the Manichaean Narcissists.

Applebaum's piece is also published in Slate under the headline "Why Don't They Like Us as Much as They Used To? The United States has lost its aura of competence." Hm, an "aura"? Is the US supposed to be a saint with a halo?

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Sue on :

Reminds me of the old saying, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way." If Europe wants to stop following the US, it will have to do more than ascribe incompetence to the US without developing any collective competence of its own. I remember reading (can't remember source) a comment about American annoyance with Europe's critiques: it's irritating to be told you're doing it all wrong by someone who can't do it at all. So, Europe does not want to follow. To lead, Europe should get rid of all American military bases and move from quasi-independence to real independence. Then Europe's army can keep the peace in the Balkans and the various Scarystans, and its navy can patrol the waters of the Mediterranean and Africa. Or you can put up with constant piracy and wars on your EU borders, if you prefer to "get out of the way."

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

"it's irritating to be told you're doing it all wrong by someone who can't do it at all." Good point. I just wonder whether "not doing it all" is sometimes (Iraq war, Vietnam, Somalia) better than doing it the wrong way. "Then Europe's army can keep the peace in the Balkans" Europe is doing that already. There are more European troops than US troops over there. I think there are not any US troops in Bosnia anymore, but only some in Kosovo. Anybody know the current US and European troop numbers?

Mr. Bingley on :

"Good point. I just wonder whether "not doing it all" is sometimes (Iraq war, Vietnam, Somalia) better than doing it the wrong way." That's the advantage of hindsight, isn't it? I'm sure the unanimous Security Council on Somalia or the French in their colony of Vietnam thought they were doing things 'the right way.'

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

"That's the advantage of hindsight, isn't it?" Only partly. I think Germans tend to have very little faith in military means to achieve political goals and they (we) are very pessimistic about our capabilities. Americans, however, tend to have much more faith in military solutions than Germans do. And Americans have this "can do"-spirit, which makes them very sympathetic on a personal level, but causes problems on a political level. Rather than hindsight, it is, I believe, these differences that explain's my response to Sue's statement: "it's irritating to be told you're doing it all wrong by someone who can't do it at all." Sure, Germany provided some medics to Somalia, but stayed out of it otherwise. In the early 90s Germans were concerned that our neighbors would freak out if the newly unified Germany would project too much military power abroad. Never mind, that we did not have much to project anyway.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

Look at the current debate re a potential war with Iran: Strong majorities of Germans and Americans are against a nuclear armed Iran. I think, most Germans are against a war with Iran, because we are pessimistic about military means. We fear that a war would make everything worse. Americans are split. Some share the opinion of the Germans, while others still have this "can do"-spirit re military power. They think bombing Iran would not make matters worse, but improve security. They are confident about US power. They are optimistic. These conservative Americans find it "irritating to be told you're doing it all wrong by someone who can't do it at all," while most Germans find it irritating that the current US government and its supporters in the media apparently want to drag us into one ill-advised, ill-planned adventure after the other: First Iraq, now perhaps Iran or even some confrontation with Russia over Kosov. And whenever we say no to them, then we are called "weasels" or accused of Anti-Americanism or lack of gratitude etc. Many of you guys are optimistic, while we are pessimistic. Let's accept the differences.

Mr. Bingley on :

Well, it's not so simple, though, is it? Let's start with the point of agreement "Strong majorities of Germans and Americans are against a nuclear armed Iran. " With that as a given, what do you do? Sometimes there are no happy alternatives. Sometimes you have to choose between a crappy option and a crappier option. There's no giddy optimism here. The crappy option is military action against Iran. Unbelievable amount of risk and unknowns coupled with high cost and no guarantee of tactical success let alone any idea/control over the resultant political situation. Which leaves what to me is the crappier option: doing nothing, which in effect seems to be the 'most germans' position; in other words allowing Iran to develop the bomb...which strong majorities of Germans are supposedly against, seemingly only in theory.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

IMHO you have mixed up the crappy option and the crappier option. ;-) The crappier option is a war with Iran, which delays Iran's nuclear program for a couple of years, but leads to a major war and makes Iran even more anti-West because of a rally around the flag effect. After war (you may call it just air strikes, but it will end up in a war) you are back to square one with an even madder Iran. Again, this is about American optimism and German pessimism. You think that going to war with Iran would achieve something, while I think it would make matters worse. Likewise, the US started the Iraq war because after 9/11 there was so much fear of WMD and terrorism etc. Now you had your war and Iraq is even more dangerous now then it was before the start of the war. So..., in 2003 you have chosen the crappier option. Again because of exaggeration the Iraqi threat and because of your optimism that the military can solve this problem. Transatlantic debates over Iran sound more and more like a deja vue. Perhaps this time, France plays the part Britain played in 2003, but I doubt it.

Mr. Bingley on :

Well, as the saying goes I never could keep my crap straight... I'm not optimistic at all. Will war with Iran make the current situation worse? No doubt. But I'm looking beyond the current situation, to the situation which frankly you seem resigned to accept: a nuclear-armed Iran. I'm not willing to accept it. No person who values Western Civilization should. MAD worked during the Cold War because at their cores the two systems were competing for economic resources. Do you think that is the case here? If Iran gets nuclear weapons they will use them. They will use them on their Islamic and Saudi foes. They will use them on Israel. They will use them on the US and Europe. The analogy to Iraq is in many ways apt, of course. Iraq had WMDs and had used them. Iraq was seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iraq had ties to and supported many terrorist organizations. Iraq had shown itself time and again to be a danger to other nations. And after 'our' war you claim Iraq is more dangerous? Internally it's a mess, but its ability to project danger on the international scene no longer exists and that must be the main concern of our leaders. To be completely machiavellian is that not an acceptable less-crappy outcome? And why would the same not apply to Iran? Especially an Iran that is working very hard to obtain a bomb. Sure, it's easy to say you want to avoid war and you don't want Iran to have nuclear weapons. But you need to decide which is more important: no war and a nuclear Iran or war with a non-nuclear Iran.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

"But you need to decide which is more important: no war and a nuclear Iran or war with a non-nuclear Iran." What do you hope to achieve with a war against Iran? Do you think a war will make Iran give up its nuclear program? Re Iran: When US withdraws from Iraq, its new leaders will not be any better than Saddam. After a few years of civil war some warlord will control the control large parts of Iran with much of the same methods Saddam used and show as much interest in WMD as Saddam did.

Mr. Bingley on :

[i]What do you hope to achieve with a war against Iran?[/i] What I hope to achieve is what you say that strong majority of Germans want: a non-nuclear Iran. What's not to love? [i]Do you think a war will make Iran give up its nuclear program?[/i] It seems to me that the UN and EU and US have been asking Iran to do just that for several years, and Iran's response has been naught but the immortal words of [url=http://www.berkeleybreathed.com/Images/outland_full.jpg]Bill the Cat[/url]: "thpPFFT!!" A war would not be to make Iran give up its nuclear program but rather to destroy the program, facilities and capabilities. [i]Re Iran: When US withdraws from Iraq, its new leaders will not be any better than Saddam. After a few years of civil war some warlord will control the control large parts of Iran with much of the same methods Saddam used and show as much interest in WMD as Saddam did.[/i] And they will see the gallows that Saddam swung from and the splintered house where his two charming lads found out that there aren't any virgins waiting on the other side. How's the Libyan WMD program going these days? Again, what is your alternative? Do you think allowing Iran to have nuclear weapons is the best alternative? And let's be clear here: Iran is enriching nuclear material solely to make bombs. Even the BBC for gosh' sake admits as much [url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4617398.stm]here, where they list all of Iran's known nuclear facilities. Iran has [b]one[/b] power generating reactor under construction and [i]it uses a different type of fuel than that which is produced by all of their enrichment facilities,[/i] so let's dispense with this 'peaceful purposes' fantasy once and for all.

Mr. Bingley on :

oops! forgot to close that tag; my bad!

Kevin Sampson on :

Good comments, Joerg.

Vipin on :

Now a day global warming controversy is very hype. NASA sciencetists completely work on global warming research. According the sciencetists after 30 year earth is completely effected by global warming.

ADMIN on :

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