America and the World

I've been skimming a new book in the mail, and it looks like it's worth closer inspection. It's called "America Against the World," and it's a mainly empirical, psephological take on how other countries view America and why America is different from so many other places. It's a complicated piece of work, but it reminds me why, twenty-one years ago, six weeks after arriving here, I wrote to tell my Americaagainsttheworld parents: no offense, but I've found a home. Two key characteristics that distinguish Americans are religious belief and the notion that the individual is responsible for his own destiny. Suddenly, after secular, class-based England, I didn't feel so isolated.

But the data also reveal a stunning unraveling of global good feelings toward the U.S. in the past few years. Anyone who has been abroad lately will testify. My trip in London was mainly filled with social engagements with British Tories: probably the most sympathetic sub-group America has in Europe (with the exception of the Poles). They all seem terribly discouraged by the trends in the U.S. and completely befuddled by the conduct of the war. Many Europeans were never going to give the U.S.the benefit of the doubt. But we seem to have lost the few who would.

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In 1999 - 2000, 83 percent of Brits had a favorable opinion of the U.S. That's now 55 percent. Among the Germans, the percentage has dropped from 78 percent to 41. Among Turks, 52 to 23. But buried in the stats, there are also some glimmers of hope. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, there's been a revival in the last two years in a few places. The biggest surge in pro-U.S. sentiment is in Jordan and Morocco. Moroccans had a 77 percent pro-American rating in 2000. That collapsed to 27 in 2004 but perked up to 49 again in 2005. Jordan, after a similar slump, has just gone from 5 percent pro-American in 2003 to 21 percent last year. Even the French have become more pro-American in the last year. Maybe we are at a turning point. And if we can hang on in Iraq, and show some results, we can begin to achieve what we were hoping for when we began to fight back against Islamism. So much has been lost; but that gives us all the more to win back. Or is my instinctual optimism clouding my judgment?