The Magazine

An Orgy of Anti-Americanism

They hate us. They really, really hate us.

May 24, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 35 • By JEFFREY GEDMIN
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Berlin

RECENTLY, the center-right daily Die Welt placed on its front-page a large color photograph of a tall African-American soldier, outfitted in full combat gear, standing in front of a jail cell at the Abu Ghraib prison. Stretching a delicate hand through the bars of her cell, a diminutive female prisoner looks to be pleading for mercy. "Bush Supports Rumsfeld: 'Courageous Führer,'" reads the headline. Mind you, Germans use other words for "leader" today and avoid "der Führer"--except apparently for Herr Rumsfeld.

The next day, the liberal Süddeutsche Zeitung showed another female prisoner from Abu Ghraib on page one. As she peers through the bars, the headline reads, "A Glance Out Toward Freedom." Opines the centrist Berlin daily Tagesspiegel: "America must now prove to the world that it is different from the dictatorships it is fighting against." That's becoming popular sentiment.

Remember the moral equivalence that infected democracies during the Cold War? It's back. Part of America's problem is self-inflicted. I honestly believe that the administration's public diplomacy has been so bad that if America suddenly discovered a cure for cancer, we'd probably botch the marketing and trigger a worldwide boycott.

But the mess over Abu Ghraib is also firing up anti-Americanism. Here in Germany, I argued the case for war against Saddam Hussein on talk shows and in newspaper columns. The hate mail is back and now the Süddeutsche Zeitung has called for me publicly to apologize. Those who never cared a lick about democracy in Iraq are out in hordes again, this time telling Americans to get out of Iraq so democracy and rule of law can have a chance.

Do not think, though, that Europe's current state of mind is merely caused by anti-Americanism, or, for that matter, that this is just an "Old Europe" thing. Peruse the Polish press and you see things like this from the centrist Rzeczpospolita, up until now a staunch ally on Iraq: "The administration in Washington has not only led the West into a war it cannot win, it has also twisted the concept of democracy into something quite foreign." Stalwarts like Solidarity intellectual Adam Michnik have been falling on their swords. Michnik asks whether Poland should not rethink its role in Iraq if tortures by Saddam executioners "are to be replaced with tortures by U.S. soldiers turned executioners."

Nor is it just Abu Ghraib. Friends want explanations why enlisting old Saddam generals will make Iraq a better place. Don't we need more troops? Do we (finally) have a coherent and convincing strategy for winning the peace?

President Bush once tried to draw a distinction between Bad Old Europe (France) and Not-So-Bad Old Europe (Germany). The president said he could understand German opposition to the Iraq war. Germans are still very much pacifists. The president also told a senior German executive that his problem was with Schröder, not the rest of Germany. I hope he and his top advisers do not really believe this.

Look at the German opposition. Another front-page headline recently in Die Welt: "CDU Governor Müller: Iraq War was Wrong." A spokesman for the Christian Democrats says that his party "must condemn American human rights violations just as clearly as the crimes of Saddam Hussein." Bundestag member Willy Wimmer, a former senior defense official in Helmut Kohl's government, has launched his latest round of scurrilous attacks. Before the war, Wimmer divided his time between Baghdad, where he consulted with Baathist officials, and nightly talk shows here in Germany, where he berated America for aggression against Iraq and devious strategies to keep Europe divided and weak.

Jürgen Todenhöfer, a former CDU Bundestag member turned author and media commentator, was recently given a full page by the Financial Times Deutschland for his own diatribes. "Is the West's antiterror more humane than the terrorism we are fighting against?" Todenhöfer asked. Whose bombs, he writes, "pulverized the children of Iraq and Afghanistan?"

Now, Wimmer is a backbencher and crackpot. Todenhöfer is a flake. But Mathias Döpfner, the 41-year-old publisher of Springer, traditionally a bastion of pro-American sentiment, warned in an essay several weeks ago that anti-Americanism was flourishing in Germany, including in "national-conservative and culturally conservative circles."

Just to let you know how weird things can get, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has now warned the opposition of exploiting anti-American sentiment for cheap political gain. That's rich. But such is the zeitgeist. A popular new book in Germany is Eric Frey's Schwarzbuch USA--Black Book USA. It is a 497-page catalogue of American crimes throughout history, beginning with the "annihilation of the Indians." This sells. Michael Moore has become America's ambassador to Europe.