Monday, November 22, 2004

Leaders and opinion

A very belated reply to Yevgeny Vilensky, via  Greg Djerejian,  and his critique of Tucker and Hendrickson's piece in Foreign Affairs (via  Greg again ) : 
how can we measure world opinion? Is this what the foreign ministers say? Or what the people in the streets of Berlin, Paris, and London think? Or is it what people in the State Department say people around the world think?
But if we did [have legitimacy], it was not because other nations believed that we were acting within structural constraints on our power. It is because they liked what we did.
It may not be measurable, but the anti-US sentiment in Europe is palpable and undeniable, both in peoples and in their governments; and the media, whether reflecting that or leading it, is the same. Try looking at (the websites of) The Guardian, Le Monde or El Pais, depending on your language skills, for example.

 There are notable exceptions, of course and one of them fortunately is the British Prime Minister. It is a moot point whether leaders should just try to follow public opinion or 'show leadership' by putting the case for necessary but unpopular policies, as Richard Perle accused Gerhard  Schröder of not doing.

In another example, from another article in Foreign Affairs, Richard Haass writes that Clinton gave the American people the foreign policy that polls suggested they wanted, rather than leading them toward the foreign policy they needed.
And Vilensky's 'answer', just leaves more questions : why did the Europeans, not to mention others, stop liking what the US was doing? And, more importantly,  what would it take to make them start liking it again?


Blogger Mobius Strip said...

I am the author of the piece DavidP critiques. Thank you for your thoughtful critique. I think that you are misunderstanding me. The first point isn't entirely related to the second point you quote. In the first, I am saying that opinion is difficult to measure. I mean, we might know that indeed, the Europeans don't like us. But this seems to be an extreme situation. In close calls, it is difficult to measure.

My second point is that even IF we could measure world opinion, the reason our actions are popular or not popular isn't because we were functioning within structural constraints. It is because people don't like the contents of our actions. Why did Germans protest our putting of nuclear missiles in West Germany in the 1980's? Is it because we violated some structural constraints we agreed to abide by? Of course not. It was because they didn't like nuclear weapons not because they felt we had no right to put them there (of course we did since those were our military bases which we got as part of Germany's surrender in Wolrd War 2). So my entire point is that it is difficult to get the Europeans to like us while doing the best for our own people. Their problem is not with process but with content. And whenever the policy goals of our people diverge with the moral attitudes of Europe, then we are going to have differences in opinion. And Europeans will hate us.

I think that David Adesnik's response on Oxblog is also quite appropriate.

6:02 am, January 19, 2005  
Blogger DavidP said...

(I came across the above comment exactly a year later, when I was clearing out all the spam.)

The US did not conquer Germany as a colony, did it? It allowed it to become a democratic, sovereign nation. So, for US bases to be there requires the consent of the German government and, preferably, the support of public opinion. The Germans were not too pleased when, a year or so ago, the US announced its plans to redeploy forces to places that are now more strategically important - the US presence injects money into the economy.

Of course, it's possible for a sovereign state to have preferences that are inconsistent. It's like trying to be half-married. Whether wanting US forces and not wanting nuclear weapons is inconsistent is something that could be argued about, but suppose they said they wanted US soldiers and airmen in the country, spending money in the economy, but not nasty, dangerous things like explosives?

In the case of the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in West Germany, there was opposition but it was probably a minority. Most people recognised then that the Soviet Union was a clear and present threat.

But now... there is this divergence in the psyches of Europe and America - almost a psychosis on Europe's part you might say: Europe fails to see a clear and present danger that America recognizes; Europe fails to recognize that its interests too are threatened by a state acquiring weapons of mass destruction and dominating the Middle East and its oil resources.

8:49 pm, January 21, 2006  

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