On the eve of the war in Iraq, anti-Americanism was on the rise in almost every corner of the globe. Perhaps never before had negative attitudes toward the USA reached such a high level of intensity as in March 2003. The USA's rating among Europeans declined to its nadir. This was true not only in the countries that headed the anti-American coalition, but in participating nations of the American alliance. Only 31 percent of the French, 25 percent of the Germans, and 28 percent of the Russians held positive views of America; in Britain, 48 percent, in Italy, 34 percent, and in Spain, 14 percent were positive toward the USA. In all these countries, popular condemnation of the war in Iraq reached 70-80 percent (with Britain as an exception at 51 percent). It would not be an exaggeration to say that anti-Americanism in Paris, Moscow, and Berlin reached the level of "political correctness." Maintaining anti-American views has indeed become an obligatory element of public life.
The rise of anti-Americanism in these countries was fomented by the political elites. In France, Germany, and Russia the crusade against America was led by the heads of these nations. The role of the Russian president was particularly remarkable. While the hostility of the French president and German chancellor toward the U.S. foreign policy had been influencing the public for several months prior to the Iraq crisis, Vladimir Putin had demonstrated his total loyalty to the USA only one month before the war. In mid-February the mass antiwar demonstrations swept across the world, but ordinary Russians remained passive as usual, without hearing the command from the top. Putin's sudden jump to the anti-American camp was as unexpected in Moscow as it was in other capitals. The move triggered a campaign against the USA, which Russians had not seen since Stalin's time. Even later, after the victory in Iraq, when the anti-American campaign in Russia declined significantly, as directed by the Kremlin, Putin continued to deliver, though in a more veiled form, his diatribes against the American policy.
Although the national leaders of the three countries played an important role in sponsoring the new wave of anti-Americanism, it was the national elites who enthusiastically implemented the official policy. There were high levels of anti-Americanism in France and Germany. The attitudes of the Russian elites toward the USA were particularly venomous. While the French and Germans focused on the policies of the American government, the Russians often made no distinction between the current leadership and the American nation as a whole.
We discovered radical differences between European and Russian anti-Americanism in our study of foreign attitudes toward America in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. The intensity of the Russians' anti-Americanism was almost 1.5 times greater than that of the Germans, and came close to the anti-Americanism professed by the Egyptian elites.
The explanation for this lies in the fundamental fact that with all their negative feelings toward America, the German and even French elites have more in common with the Americans than do the Russians, who continue to claim the superiority of their own system of values and historical course.
With Putin giving the green light in mid March, Russian officials started to organize public meetings across the country. The Russian elites let off the steam of their repressed anti-Americanism, and almost unanimously condemned the USA. "The verdict on America," argued Vitalii Tretiakov, a leading Moscow analyst and journalist, "is typical for the mentality of the Russian elite on the day the war began in Iraq. America is dead as the model of democracy ... for itself as well as for others." The known priest-publicist Vsevolod Chaplin said that "America is now a new Soviet Union in its worst manifestation." The editor of Izvestia, who is quite close to official Moscow, declared that "George Bush Junior has a good chance of entering history as the most feeble and criminal president."
In March, it became typical for the Russian media to compare the U.S. policy to that of Nazi Germany, and equate Bush to Hitler. This comparison could often be found in the street demonstrations around the world, but almost never appeared in the French or German media, which were more inclined to discuss the similarities between Hussein and Hitler. Many Russian media were replete with this comparison, particularly the TV stations controlled by the Kremlin. As Izvestia noted on April 3, "major TV channels are more and more active in making the analogy between Bush and Hitler, and between the Holocaust and the mass murder of peaceful Iraqis."
In March and early April, most Russian newspapers resorted to this comparison, though some did this more than others. The centrist newspaper Gazeta ran an article about anti-American mass actions with the headline, "Russian regions think Bush is 'Hitler and devil.'" Moskovkaia Pravda devoted a big article to proving that the 500 richest families in the world delegated Bush to install the same order as Hitler. The article also drew a comparison between Bush's references to God and Hitler's praise for the dominant super race in the world. The author of the article, "Green plague" (an allusion to the color of U.S. currency), which was published in the supposedly liberal newspaper the Conservator, described the emergence of a new fascism in America, which the author named "Bushism." Some authors, such as Maxim Sokolov, a leading columnist of Izvestia, preferred to compare Hitler not to the American president, but to the Secretary of Defense. For the author of an article published in a liberal newspaper, the American "melting pot" concept was associated with concentration camps, while "the idiotism and aggressiveness of Bush" justified the comparison with Hitler. The provincial media also actively used Hitler metaphors to denounce America.
Not only the politicians who directly supported the Kremlin, but also prominent liberal politicians with pro-Western reputations joined the attacks on the USA, even if they avoided lugubrious historical parallels. Mikhail Gorbachev was among those who strongly attacked the American foreign policy, contending that "America needs its own perestroika." Irina Hakamada, famous for her liberal, pro-Western views, compared America to a berserk elephant that began destroying everything in sight. Even Boris Berezovsky, who claimed to be a champion of Russian democracy, characterized the war as a criminal act. None of the liberal politicians, including Grigorii Yavslinsky and Boris Nemtsov, the leaders of two liberal parties, went up against the anti-American hysteria in Russia. Talgat Tadzhutdin, the head of the Central Spiritual Directorate of Russian Muslims, who was known for his proximity to the Kremlin, declared jihad on the USA and England, an initiative that was not, however, endorsed by the sponsors of the anti-American campaign.
The true hatred of America in Russia as well as in several other countries was revealed in the first ten days of the war when many people forecasted a disaster for the American army. In these days, many Russians were euphoric, because of the losses of American troops, and the "success" of the Iraqi resistance.
In a typical article, Maxim Sokolov mocked the American army. He described American soldiers as pampered boys who "cannot even go to the bathroom without a computer," and who in the final analysis are "not very different from an ordinary, untrained soldier." "Gripped by fear, the poor guys shoot nobody knows where, hysterically reacting to any noise." Sokolov was seconded by an author from another liberal newspaper who wrote, "the tender American and British soldiers, even in ideal situations, have shown their helplessness and lack of even a hint of military spirit."
The Russian public was also delighted about the prognoses given by experts and the Russian General Staff. Sixty-three percent of the respondents in a survey of experts conducted by the Fund of Public Opinion on March 25 predicted a long war for the USA. The specialists on the Middle East competed with each other in predicting a dire future for the American troops, promising that "Iraq will fight as we fought against Napoleon and Hitler."
In its turn, the General Staff was no less elated by the news from Iraq in the first days of the war. As reported by Pavel Felgenhauer, one of the most respected military analysts in Russia, the General Staff had predicted that "America will run out of ammunition in 10-15 days" ... "the American blitzkrieg failed" ... "America boggled operations near Baghdad." Felgenhauer mused, "perhaps the hatred of America blurred so much the eyes of the military commanders that they could not see evident things."
Anti-Americanism in Germany in March was quite intensive, but less aggressive than in Russia. The influential Der Spiegel published an article with the headline "The messenger of death" in which the author talked about "America's insanity," and claimed that "international agreements mean nothing to America when it is necessary to implement American interests." The newspaper Die Zeit described the American president as an arrogant leader, engulfed in primitive, black-and-white Manichean thinking, who is absorbed with the task of establishing American hegemony in the world. Sudendeutche Zeitung offered a description of the American leadership as amateurish and shortsighted, as a dwarf unable to see. The article promised that Washington would claim only a Pyrrhic victory in the Middle East. Another article in the same paper portrayed Washington as blinded by arrogant neo conservative ideologues.
The French brand of anti-Americanism was closer to the acerbic character of Russian anti-Americanism. As one French author described the mood of French elites, "From the time of its birth until present, for both the left and right, the United States has aroused as much admiration as disgust, and with the Iraqi conflict, hatred is dominant." Similar to the Germans and Russians, the French detractors of America did not miss an opportunity to mock President Bush, particularly his religiosity. They described his role in the world as dangerous and neo messianic. The French and Russians nurtured a hope for the defeat of the American troops in what they called a "dirty" war.
The emergence of people who boldly attacked anti-Americanism in such a climate is a remarkable development that could be compared somewhat with the birth of the dissident movement in Communist countries in the 1960s when few people challenged the dominant dogmas in their milieu. Of course, Soviet or Czech nonconformists paid a much higher price than the defenders of America. Those who condemn anti-Americanism today may in some cases risk their careers, but do not risk their lives, as Soviet dissidents did in the past.
Paradoxically, the rise of the opposition to anti-Americanism occurred in the aftermath of the war in Iraq, which itself had caused a flare-up of anti-Americanism. The first week of the war seemed to confirm the predictions of the critics. Early on, a sense of gloating over the difficult circumstances of the war escalated.
After April 2, the situation in Iraq changed decisively. The victory of the U.S. troops became evident while the gloomy predictions about heavy casualties, mass Iraqi resistence, and ecological catastrophe failed to materialize. The quick American victory, which was made possible by a revolution in military affairs (i.e., a small army equipped with new technology and precision weaponry) impressed elites from across the world. The USA demonstrated that it could function as the guardian of international security and stability, while the Hussein regime quickly collapsed, showing its criminal character, even if the weapons of mass destruction were, so far, not found.
After the war, a growing number of foreign observers demanded that the governments, elites and masses in various countries accept the new reality and abandon direct or indirect anti-American propaganda and policies. The critics of anti-Americanism were fully aware of its strong influence on their countries. They treated it as a powerful ideology that has become deeply rooted in the minds of the ruling elite. These contemporary dissidents attacked two major dimensions of anti-Americanism: its refusal to recognize the new international reality, and its reactionary role in the domestic life in each country.
They submitted that the local elites were envious of American power and prosperity, and refused to recognize that the USA, despite all its mistakes, is the single force that can prevent international terrorism, and check the formation of rogue states that have access to weapons of mass destruction. They also unmasked anti-Americanism as a negative ideology, and as a scapegoat mechanism that is used by the local elite to justify their failures inside their countries. The critics of anti-Americanism also maintained that those who foment hatred toward the USA are compelled by envy of America's power and prosperity, as well as by the desire to use the hatred of the USA to maintain and enhance their power inside their own countries.
As a subject of study, most interesting are not the critics of anti-Americanism in Britain, Spain, or Poland (participants of the anti-Iraq coalition), but those in countries that directly challenged the war, such as Russia, Germany, and France. These defenders of America and the war in Iraq looked almost like the heirs of Andrei Sakharov, who was known for his pro-Western views.
Starting with Russia, one of the most eloquent critics of anti-Americanism turned out to be Gavriil Popov, the famous Russian politician, onetime mayor of Moscow, and a leading activists during Perestroika. In one of the most popular Russian newspapers, he published a remarkable article that angered many readers in the Moscow establishment, particularly Communists and nationalists.
Popov declared that the American victory greatly benefitted Russia. He unhesitatingly insisted that "the USA fulfilled a big, useful job for us." The American failure in Iraq would have the most disastrous consequence for Russia in view of the aggressive Islamic extremism. He insisted that "even the few short weeks of Iraqi resistance rose the spirits of the aggressive Muslim forces in Russia."
Probably even more eloquent in praising America was the prominent journalist Leonid Radzikhovsky. In an article titled "America's victory" he declared that the war in Iraq was "America's biggest moral victory." In the climate of anti-American hysteria in Russia, he dared to say that "it is not the United Nations but the American empire that creates the condition of freedom on this sinful planet." The USA, he continued, is not so much the world's gendarme, but "a soldier of freedom." The author vehemently attacked and mocked the Russian "patriotic elites" who combined their guttural anti-Americanism with primitive racism, while purchasing apartments in London and Paris and sending their children to Harvard and Oxford.
In the last months, these two authors were followed by a few other intellectuals who do not see any serious alternative to the USA as a force that can stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and keep these weapons out of the hands of small countries with authoritative regimes and leaders who are ready to take any risk to maintain their power.
The German voices in favor of America have been no less unequivocal than the Russian ones. Herbert Kremp, from the widely circulated German tabloid Bild, wrote that Germany has its "eyes wide shut," unlike America, which does not want see another 9/11. "The old structure inherited from the cold war era is unable to face the new threat." Another German, Josef Joffe, a well-known editor, defended American policy demands in his article, "The reality shock." He claimed that the UN Security Council could not play "the role of the highest authority in the world." What is more, Joffe asked his readers to reconsider the role of national sovereignty, "which could not prevent 100 or 200 wars after 1945." Only the West, he asserted, is responsible for the survival of the world; the states that are ruled by despots use the concept of sovereignty for the protection of their regimes. Joffe was seconded by another German author who mocked Joschka Fischer's refusal to recognize the importance of "the change of regime" by force; the author cited the UN's inability to deal with Baghdad.
No less remarkable, pro-American voices seem to be on the rise in France. Some intellectuals, such as the famous philosopher Andre Glucksmann, and the film director Romain Goupil, cautiously came to the defense of the American position on Iraq, even in early March.
Unlike Glucksmann and his comrades-in-arms, Francoise Thom attacked anti-Americanism without reservation. She denounced the official policy in Paris as being preoccupied with "the unconditional containment of the USA," and with a determination to preserve France's leading role in the international community, "to which neither economic successes nor cultural position permit such a claim." The author sardonically pointed out that the French policy had the opposite result, and the role of France in the world and in Europe declined. A few weeks later, another French author, Eric Conan, also rebuked French anti-Americanism, describing it as "craziness," "irrational," and based on "the contempt for facts, distortions, bad faith and lies about history." He linked anti-Americanism in France to American power, which "is always resented in France." For him, anti-Americanism is partly linked to the bitterness stemming from France's obligation to the USA for its role in the two world wars, and for France's recovery after the second world war.
Denouncing anti-Americanism and the willingness of local elites to sacrifice good relations with the USA for the sake of their emotions, these critics underscored the negative impact of anti-Americanism on the domestic developments in their countries. Andrei Kozyrev, the former Russian foreign minister, indicated that anti-Americanism in his country strengthened the position of those who supported Milosevichs and Saddams ... and "those who favor a return of Russia to the Soviet times." Popov, in his turn, contended that anti-Americanism is a major weapon of the Communists. For this reason, the American troubles in Iraq inspired a hope for the restoration of the "ancient regime" in Russia, while the American victory, which flaunted the overwhelming might of the new weaponry, destroyed the hope for the restoration of the Communist regime in Russia, since America proved that "mankind has the right to destroy the dictatorial regime."
Sergei Karaganov, the chairman of the council on foreign and defense policy, in his article, "The lesson of the Iraki war," talked about Russian anti-Americanism as "the ideology of the corrupt Russian bureaucracy, which colludes with semi or fully corrupt businesses." He warned the ruling class that anti-Americanism will push Russia toward "national self-destruction" and "Africanization."
The German critics of anti-Americanism see American optimism as one of the causes of the hostility toward the country. This optimism contrasts with Germany's gloomy vision of the world, and irritates the German haters of the USA who see behind it the sinister intentions of the American rulers. Anti-Americanism serves to justify German passivity, and the inability of the ruling elites to find new ways to end the stagnation "outside the old patterns of behavior." America, which played the role of an uncle in Germany over the last decades, is now being held accountable for life in Germany. U.S. foreign policies explain why "the United Europe, and the lofty ideal of the Germans, is now in shambles," and why "nationalist ideas have returned to Germany."
The French author, Francoise Thom, focused more on the role of anti-Americanism in the internal political and ideological struggle in her country than the Russian authors. She insisted that French anti-Americanism favored the coalescence of various destructive forces in the country - virulent Trotskyism, Islamic extremism, the anti-globalization radicals, and the anti-Western movements in support of the Third World. As Dr. Thom insisted, Chirac's anti-Americanism is a "preventive capitulation" before "the wild youth which France failed to civilize." It goes without saying that the American defeat would have encouraged enormously the aggressiveness of millions of extremists in France.
The pro-American tendencies in the countries that made up the core of the coalition against the USA in March 2003 will most likely continue to develop. There will be more and more people in the world who will recognize the crucial importance of the USA for maintaining the stability, and even the survival of this world. It is necessary to monitor and study these tendencies with the same diligence as the current studies on anti-Americanism. The USA should do everything it can to sustain this trend, including an increased flexibility in diplomacy, and a continued sensitivity to international public opinion. Enhancing pro-American sentiments in foreign countries may be quite important for the war against international terrorism. However, it is hardly possible that anti-Americanism will disappear in the next years. There are several objective grounds for the negative attitudes toward America on the part of the ruling elites in most countries in the world.
Acknowledgment: The author wishes to thank Joshua Woods for his editorial contribution to this article.