Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff at PostGlobal

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

Germany

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is a Senior Director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a transatlantic public policy and grant-making foundation. He overseas the fund's policy programs. He was previously the Washington bureau chief of the German newsweekly, Die Zeit. Close.

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

Germany

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is a Senior Director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a transatlantic public policy and grant-making foundation. more »

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A Cause for Alarm

So you think it's ludicrous, it's outlandish, it's just plain nuts to assume that the United States is more dangerous than Iran? Well, think again. And listen to some readers of DIE ZEIT, the German weekly that I work for.

Last weekend Russian President Putin attacked the American goliath at a security conference in Munich. On its website, my newspaper analyzed the speech saying: "It was nothing less than the attempt to re-erect an old world order, an order in which the American superpower is contained by the power of other states, by the rule of international law and strategic considerations of its alliance management". Putin was quoted as saying: "Nobody in the word feels safe". According to the analyst at my paper, Putin’s statements were "rammed into world history". The author concluded by writing: "As of today, nobody in the West has any reason to feel at ease."

Immediately after the publication of this analysis, readers started a debate. I counted close to 70 comments. One reader argues that Putin's "critical assessment" was "appropriate". Another finds Putin spoke "in the name of all mankind". Putin "disclosed" the "illegal ventures" of the West and "unmasked" Western leaders, primarily Americans, as "dangerous outlaws". A third reader finds: "The United States are not a role model, but a sick moloch". Reader number four states that the problem is not Putin, but Bush. He "has to go, immediately." Reader number five argues that the only individuals who might feel threatened by Putin "have been completely indoctrinated by American fantasies". Consequently, this reader argues that Germany's armed forces should vacate the Mediterranean Sea and Afghanistan and all the places where "they support the American crimes". Reader number six said that "no person in his right mind can doubt that Putin is right on target". Reader number seven weighs in claiming that "countries like Russia and Iran" are the hope of all those who "suffer" from the American led military machine. Reader number eight notes that it is Europe's security interest to "stop offending Russia and the countries of the Islamic world". Reader number nine, ten and eleven agree. So do readers forty-seven and sixty-four.

In fact, a solid majority of those who wrote comments find Putin’s remarks appealing. They seem to feel more threatened by Bush's America than by Russia or Iran. If they offer a critique it is not directed at Putin but at the seemingly alarmist analyst whom one reader calls "a CIA agent".

What's going on here?

Maybe this is just a one-sided sample. Surely, not everybody in Germany feels this way. And most of the policy community certainly does not. On the other hand, DIE ZEIT is not a paper for ideologues; it is squarely middle-of-the-road. It is read by educated people, and has a wide circulation of 500,000 copies every week.

Maybe we are getting a good look at anti-Americanism. Surely, Germany has quite a bit of that. The nationalist right loves to talk about "authenticity" and "roots" as opposed to American "shallowness" and "materialism". The left is proud of its history of "anti-capitalism" and "anti-imperialism". The United States is seen as the premier perpetrator of these crimes. Surely, Germans will have to work through these stereotypes –- and historically they have. But the undeniable anti-Americanism in Germany and all of Europe has also become a convenient excuse for Americans. The argument goes: if it is all about who we are instead of what we do, then why care?

Traditionally, the way America conducted itself in the world influenced foreign audiences. America was able to change the "balance of power" in foreign debates. Certainly, America has again changed foreign lands over the past five or six years. Except, this time it has acted much to its own detriment.

Some argue that America does not explain its policies and motives well enough and that this is why the country is hated. This is a favorite claim from those who do not want to change policy course. These people fool themselves into believing that expanding a White House spin and communication campaign around the globe will change perceptions. It is more likely that Frances Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins University has it right.

During an event on Capitol Hill today he said that rebuilding America’s reputation around the world will take "the better part of a generation. And it cannot be done as long as "American tanks roll through a major Arab capitol". And I might add: there will be little global legitimacy for the U.S. as long as it is seen as a country that routinely tortures its prisoners.

That fact ordinary citizens of European liberal democracies feel more threatened by America than Iran (or Putin’s Russia) is not just because of a lapse of judgment that can easily be dismissed. It is cause for alarm.

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