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Algora Publishing - Meanwhile Growing Split With Allies Feeds Anti-Americanism
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Meanwhile Growing Split With Allies Feeds Anti-Americanism
Michael Getler Washington Post Opinion & Editorial

WASHINGTON Among the many challenges that President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell face is one that didn't get much attention during the campaign, or in the press, but that can bring unpleasant surprises down the road.

It involves the growing differences between the United States and its allies, especially in Europe, and the emergence of what the British journalist Martin Kettle describes as "a new form of post-Cold War anti-Americanism" both "more serious and profound" than the traditional kind of America-bashing.

Mr. Kettle, Washington bureau chief for The Guardian, laid out many of the issues in The Washington Post's Outlook section on Jan. 7. It was a useful wrapping together of strands into something more meaningful and easier to grasp.
Among those strands: America's continued acceptance of the death penalty and a gun culture, disagreement over implementation of measures to combat global warming, pressing ahead with a missile defense shield despite widespread opposition, the fact that the treaty establishing an International Criminal Court is unlikely to be ratified.

You could add: rejection of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, the old battle over paying United Nations dues and a new one over genetically modified crops. Hanging over this policy brew is this new era of globalization and the accompanying perception of growing U.S. arrogance and self-absorption.

Having defined these issues, Europeans do less well at acknowledging that all the policies are the subject of legitimate debate for Americans as they view their own interests. And the anti Americanism certainly would be put aside for a while once the next war or crisis came along and U.S. help was needed.

Nevertheless, the differences are real, growing and basically untended. They could expand with the ascension of a new president without much foreign policy experience and a secretary of state with a narrow view about U.S. involvement abroad. Allies have been crucial to the well-being of the United States for decades. Lack of understanding on both sides threatens miscalculation and a possibly dangerous vacuum in which the United States does not lead and no one else is prepared to.

Oddly, this intellectual drifting apart comes when U.S. business has never been more engaged globally.

For the American public, politicians and the press, this new situation also is challenging. An article last autumn in the journal Foreign Affairs by James Lindsay of the Brookings Institution pointed out that although opinion polls continue to show that Americans remain generally internationalist in outlook, they don't care very intensely about such matters.
Politicians understand this "apathetic internationalism," which encourages the neglect of foreign affairs. So the great irony of the post-Cold War era, he writes, is that "at the very moment that the United States has more influence than ever on international affairs, Americans have lost much of their interest in the world around them."

Bringing this diffuse and frequently nuanced subject to the public is difficult. The idea that Americans are less and less interested in global news took hold some years ago and has resulted in reduced levels of international news in and on American media.

With the exception of CNN, U.S. television networks have essentially abandoned such coverage. Readers of The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and a handful of smaller newspapers are fortunate that these publications support the high costs of maintaining large staffs of correspondents abroad who are able to bring sophisticated reporting of global events to their readers.

My guess is that more people are actually interested than the conventional wisdom suggests.

The writer, executive editor of the International Herald Tribune from 1996 to 2000, is ombudsman for The Washington Post, in which this comment appeared.