Of Noteworthy Items in the Press

French Frays: “Cheese-eating surrender monkeys.” That’s how “The Simpsons” — and National Review Online, for that matter — refers to the French, and for journalist Timothy Garton Ash it’s typical of a rising tide of anti-Europeanism in the United States. Writing in the January 15 issue of The New York Review of Books, the Englishman reports on his travels to Boston, New York, Washington and the “Bible-belt states of Kansas and Missouri.” In most places he visits, “Pens are dipped in acid and lips curled to pillory ‘the Europeans,’ also known as ‘the Euros,’ ‘the Euroids,’ ‘the ’peens,’ or ‘the Euroweenies.’ Richard Perle, now chairman of the Defense Policy Board, says Europe has lost its ‘moral compass’ and France its ‘moral fiber.’ This irritation extends to the highest levels of the Bush administration. In conversations with senior administration officials I found that the phrase ‘our friends in Europe’ was rather closely followed by ‘a pain in the butt.’”

Garton Ash suggests a number of possible causes for such Euro-bashing, from a historical strain of anti-European rivalry, to fundamental differences about the uses of power, to the fading of America’s “cultural inferiority complex” and the Yankees’ sense of post-Cold War triumphalism.

But the strongest recent catalyst for “burgeoning European anti-Americanism and nascent American anti-Europeanism” is the intifada. “Anti-Semitism in Europe, and its alleged connection to European criticism of the Sharon government, has been the subject of the most acid anti-European commentaries from conservative American columnists and politicians. Some of these critics are themselves not just strongly pro-Israel but also ‘natural Likudites,’ one liberal Jewish commentator explained to me.” Pro-Palestinian Europeans, meanwhile, “infuriated by the way criticism of Sharon is labeled anti-Semitism, talk about the power of a ‘Jewish lobby’ in the U.S., which then confirms American Likudites’ worst suspicions of European anti-Semitism, and so it goes on, and on.”

Behind this cycle of recrimination are real differences in approaches to the Middle East. “For example, European policymakers tend to think that a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be a bigger contribution to the long-term success of the ‘war against terrorism’ than a war on Iraq. The larger point, for our purposes, is that where the cold war against communism in Middle Europe brought America and Europe together, the ‘war against terrorism’ in the Middle East is pulling them apart. The Soviet Union united the West, the Middle East divides it.”

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Muddle East: There’s an interesting hiccup in Ash’s piece when he writes about the cycle of “prejudice” that fuels the American-European disagreement over Israel, a subject, he writes, “difficult for a non-Jewish European to write about without contributing to the malaise one is trying to analyze.”

Interestingly, American journalist Eric Alterman, who recently traveled to the continent to explore evidence of anti-Americanism for a long article in the February 15 issue of The Nation, also warns that the divide over the Israel-Palestinian conflict may be too tangled a web to unravel. “Europeans and Americans also differ profoundly in their views of the Israel/Palestine issue at both the elite and popular levels,” Alterman writes in a footnote. “And this difference, with Americans being far more sympathetic to Israel and the Europeans to the Palestinian cause, has larger implications for other disagreements and misunderstandings. But because the question is so tangled in history, and raises such difficult issues regarding accusations of media bias, traditional European anti-Semitism, anti-Arab racism on both continents, etc., I’ve chosen to define it as beyond my mandate here, for fear of indefensible oversimplification.”

Alterman, by the way, argues that Europeans aren’t so much anti-American as anti-Bush. “Europe is a continent whose political center of gravity remains almost as far to the left of center as America’s is to the right,” he writes. “The current German government governs from Wellstone/Feingold country. Even most of the conservative parties in Europe are to the left of the Democrats in this country. Cultural issues also divide; the negative reaction to Bush in Europe feels quite visceral.”

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