On America, European public
opinion does not agree with its
Associate since 1991
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September 7, 2007
LONDON -On America, European public opinion does not agree with its “opinion leaders”
Date: Sept. 26th 2007
Does Europe have a common foreign policy - one that can be regarded as of equal weight with America’s? Everyone knows the answer is no. But maybe the problem is not the people of Europe, but the so called elites of Europe - the senior European Union officials, mainstream political leaders and press commentators in most European countries. If one consults the people it is a different story - one that has been taking shape since the massive marches all over Europe when the U.S. and Britain were preparing to invade Iraq. Then there appeared to be a common European foreign policy and it was clearly anti war.
This dichotomy between a wide range of thinking people and the small crowd at the top has not much changed over the five years of the war. Although the elite in Europe will now say the war in Iraq is a bad mistake, they still seem to cling to the notion- one that Americans themselves very much hold on to- that the world badly needs strong U.S. leadership, with the implication being that on balance American leadership is usually benign and often enough not self-interested. This viewpoint of the European elites is confirmed by a study just published by the University of Sienna after conducting a wide range of interviews.
However a study published at the same time by the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. of rank and file public opinion tells a different story. 88% of Europeans want the EU to assume more responsibility for tackling global threats, yet they don’t want European troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, or threatening war with Iran. Indeed a high 77% say they don’t want Europe to be sending more troops into combat around the world.
It’s hard to see how European leaders can in the long run retain their rhetorical commitment to supporting Washington. According to the German Marshall Fund poll European public opinion does not expect that America will radically change its militaristic, America-first, attitude after the election. Most people may not have read the essays penned by the leading presidential candidates in Foreign Affairs but it is doubtful if they would be surprised to read that Barack Obama says the U.S. “ must lead the world once more”” and Mitt Romney says “Radical Islam’s threat is just as real” as that posed before by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
If they read the report “Forging a World of Liberty Under Law”, recently produced by the Princeton Project on National Security with 400 contributors, mostly the great and the good, European public opinion would not feel reassured that political opinion among the American elite which shifted so far to the unilateral right under the influence of 9/11 and the neo-conservatives is capable of returning to a more moderate stance.
Whilst throwing out some liberal morsels such the imposition of 50 cents a gallon gasoline tax rising by another 20 cents each year thereafter, it is essentially a most conservative, America-centric document. For example, it suggests that the use of force, which under prevailing international law can only be legitimised by a UN Security Council vote, should be authorised by “another broadly representative multilateral body like NATO.” It seems to forget that Europe and the U.S. make up only 12.5% of the world’s total population and why should such up and coming powers as India, South Africa, China and Brazil, not to mention Russia, settle for this? Indeed why should their opinions be ignored in the solving such conundrums as the Israeli-Palestinian dispute?
It is a big problem that the elites of Europe, led by the new arrivals, Nicholas Sarkozy, Gordon Brown and Angela Merkel, are out there smoothing America’s ruffled feathers at a time when the need is to educate both American public opinion and its governing class how far, since 9/11, the U.S. has drifted from what most intelligent people regard as both sensible and doable.
There is still no sign of contrition in America for past sins- the irresponsible insouciance in the face of Israeli intransigence and settlement expansion that has so provoked even middle of the road Arab opinion; or the still burning American resentment with Iran over the taking of American diplomats as hostages back in the time of President Jimmy Carter that has allowed the blood feud with Iran to go on for (nearly) 30 years too long, turning Iranians into putative enemies when most of them want to be friends. Most Europeans are uninterested in a crusade against Islam. America, despite the debacle of Iraq, gives the impression it still is
Are Europe’s opinion “leaders” truly tuned into what their compatriots think? It seems not.
Copyright © 2007 Jonathan
Jonathan Power can be
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of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging
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hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.
William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
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