Debate: Why do they hate us?

3 June 2010
EUobserver.com Brussels

While Europe sees itself as a benevolent superpower with an enviable lifestyle, the rest of the world sees nothing more than a shambling, increasingly introspective ex-colonial master that hides behind the United States. If it wants to become a major global actor, it must change.

Shortly after September 11th, a frequent refrain among the American commentariat was: “why do they hate us?” Americans had always seen themselves as a benevolent power, and found themselves confused by the sight of jubilant crowds in Gaza or Lebanon, celebrating the destruction of lower Manhattan. Juxtaposing these with dated images of protesters burning US flags in Seoul or Paris, the viewer could be left with an impression of rising ‘anti-Americanism’ in a world that veered between envy and ingratitude.

These days, however, it is Europeans as much as Americans who can ask themselves why they attract so little respect in the world. Whereas once a Chinese white paper declared Europe ‘the world’s rising superpower’, in recent weeks a chorus of international commentators has begun to deride Europe’s pretensions to international leadership. Kishore Mahbubani, the Dean of Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew School of International Affairs, charges that Europe no longer understands ‘how irrelevant it is becoming to the rest of the world’, while Richard Haass, the president of the US Council on Foreign Relations, has publicly declared ‘goodbye to Europe as a high-ranking power‘. And these are hardly voices from the wilderness or the lunatic fringe. Mahbubani is Dean of one of Asia’s rising policy institutes, and Haass is a longstanding nonpartisan diplomat.

So why are European countries riding this wave of derision? After all, Europeans, moreso than Americans, have the right to see their continent as a fundamentally benign influence. Europe is a peaceful juggernaut, a bumbling assortment of nation-states whose foreign engagements seem limited to disbursing development aid and hosting long if slightly meandering conferences. We have our internal problems, but not such as to merit the contempt of elites in New Delhi, Beijing or Cairo. Yet long gone seems the time, just 6 months ago, when Al-Jazeera could run a documentary entitled ‘Europe: a fast-track superpower’. Read full article in the EUobserver...

Factual or translation error? Tell us.