American Views Abroad

Tuesday, December 28, 2004
The news is so grim about the catastrophe. The German ambassador in Sri Lanka expressed it so on last evening's special news report on TV -- it leaves everyone stunned silent. Silence because what happened was beyond most people's imagination. Silence because individuals can't cope with so much horror without warning or anticipation. Silence because that whole area was too poor to have an early warning system. What must it have felt like to see what's coming and not be able to contact anyone to prevent the sheer number of children from being killed?

This and the elections in Ukraine have put happenings in Iraq on the back burner here. There is a column in today's IHT - From the Heartland: Europe Drops out of the Picture by Wayne Merry

'Beyond economics, however, Europe pretty much drops off the radar screen. The European popular obsession with American power and influence has no counterpart in America..... Europe simply stopped being an issue when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union imploded. Europe as a locus of American attention and anxiety during the cold war is entirely a thing of the past...... I suspect most Europeans - with their daily diet of news, views and theories about America - would be surprised how utterly asymmetric is the interest.......Europe is not a problem, not global, and of the past. A nice place to visit, but pricey.'

My gut feeling is that 'European popular obsession' is dwindling. The media isn't necessarily giving a complete picture here. There is a drifting away, a very slow process but, nevertheless noticeable, in how ordinary citizens react to various things American. Take, for example (only one among many), a Polish lady who works in my local supermarket. She thought I was English, but after finding out I'm American, her immediate reaction (before the election) was that Bush had to go. It was her facial expression, more than anything, that showed a bigger picture.

The idea that most Europeans would be surprised at how one sided interest is makes me almost laugh. The entire article deals with the past (from an American point of view). There is absolutely no mention of the European Union or the euro. The Europeans I know don't delude themselves thinking America is interested in or understands present day Europe. A number of years ago it was possible to pick up Meet the Press on Sundays on a cable station. I recall one of the most important weekends in present day Europe, a weekend in May when European leaders made the decision to go for and with the euro. So what did Tim Russet have to say on his show that 'sets the agenda for the week' about this to his viewers? A two minute comment? One minute? 30 seconds? 2 seconds? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. No wonder the show is no longer on. Europe was not that engrossed in Paula Jones or US campaign fincance reform, even back then.

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