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April 17, 2005 - The OTHER French Paradox

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The world wants someone else to "take the driver's seat," writes John Feffer, discussing the results of a new 23-country PIPA poll which found that "the most highly regarded individual country is France."


Oh, how could this be?  Bill O’Reilly over at Fox News will have a cow!


Well, here’s the scoop.


See –

Goodbye Uncle Sam, Hello Team Europe 

John Feffer, AlterNet - Posted on April 14, 2005, Printed on April 15, 2005


The opening anecdote, regarding a dinner of Indian food with a Korean friend in Switzerland, is cute.


Over a curry dinner in Geneva, a South Korean friend confessed to being not entirely thrilled with her European experience. Sure, she had a well-paying job for one of the many international organizations that keep Geneva prosperous, bustling, and awash in dull conferences, but it all lacked a certain something. Europeans no longer believe in anything, she complained -- not like the Americans, who have the oomph and the moral clarity to "get the job done."


What "job" was she talking about? We most definitely were not getting the job done in Iraq, I pointed out. In recent years, it's Europe not the United States that's been on the right side of the major foreign policy issues of our time, be it Europe's objections to the Iraq War or its diplomatic approach toward resolving the conflicts with Iran and North Korea -- an approach that is far more likely to succeed than American military oomph. As for taking care of their own people, the social system in Europe -- the kind that ensured the job security, high-quality education, crime-free streets, and comparative lack of poverty that friend so clearly admired in Switzerland -- was clearly superior to anything the average American could hope for.


Feffer has this contention - The truth is that the world would likely be a better place if Team Europe and not Team America were in charge. And more and more people around the world are reaching that conclusion.


The French should be in charge of things?  Now what is the evidence of that?


Feffer cites a new poll – by GlobeScan and, again, the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA).  Those PIPA folks have come up in these pages before in the past two years – here, here and here - always with some amazing data about this or that. 


This time they tells us that their polling shows that in twenty out of twenty-three countries a carefully controlled statistical sample of the population, representing the general population, would like to see Europe become more influential than the United States in world affairs.  What the did was ask about attitudes toward the five permanent members of Security Council - and Europe as a whole.  We didn’t do so well.


How badly did we do?


The majority of citizens in only six countries (including my friend's South Korea) view the U.S. role in the world as mainly positive - a dismal popularity rating comparable only to that of Russia. Here's how bad it is: even China rated higher than the United States in popular assessments of its global conduct. The United States also took the top prize as the country most widely viewed as having a negative influence on the world (in 15 countries), with Russia coming a close second (14 countries). And this in a poll that did not include countries in the Middle East, who would have likely put us way ahead of Russia.


Okay, they hate us. So what's new?




And then there is this -


At the press conference announcing the poll results, Brookings scholar Philip Gordon offered an anecdote to sum up exactly why this latest piece of data is far more worrisome than previous surveys tracking our plummeting global image. For the past decade, Gordon has asked each new batch of 150 international students who take his international relations course at a French business institute the same two questions. First, how do you feel about U.S. power? Perhaps predictably, they always give the thumbs down to the United States and the thumbs up to multilateralism. But when he follows up with the next question - what country other than the United States has more responsibly wielded global power in the past, or could do so in the future? - they invariably come to the same conclusion: better America than anyone else.


But not this year. While the resentment of U.S. power and domination was the same as ever, according to Gordon, the students were no longer willing to give the United States its usual pass for its excesses. What's more, they were only too happy to contemplate the alternatives that Gordon offered. "And they would say, yeah, we'd take China. Germany? Yeah, Germany is fine. France? Yeah, that would be good," he said. "They were looking at me like, well, of course, we'd rather have those countries more powerful than the United States."


Oh, man!  And to add insult to injury, it seems the poll shows that thirty-four percent of Americans agree that Europe should be running the show.


We need to find out who these people are!


Anyway, Feffer claims such poll results “challenge neo-con Robert Kagan's self-congratulatory thesis that Americans are from Mars and Europeans from Venus.”  (Note that Kagan’s ideas were most recently discussed in these pages here.)  Feffer concludes -


While the current American leadership certainly has a martial disposition, it seems that virtually everyone else - the majority of Americans included - is weary of Washington playing globo-cop and would be far happier as citizens of much-maligned Venus.


Never has it been so clear that the world prefers someone else to take the driver's seat.


But what, one wonders, is so special about Europe?


This from the PIPA report –


[Europe has] exerted a magnetic attraction on those around them, such that countries are waiting in line to become part of the European Union. It has put pressure on countries, such as Turkey, to improve their human rights records, to raise their standards in terms of corruption, transparency, and their capacity to integrate into the world economy. The way that Europe has done this has been positively viewed.


Passive voice or not, that seems to be so, even if France may reject the new EU constitution in six weeks.


And as discussed in these pages, Americans do work more hours, live shorter lives, and are much more likely to be poor than their European counterparts.  And yes, the American economy is considerably less worker-friendly, more in debt, and increasingly owned by foreigners.  Feffer, and everyone else, knows that.  But we smile a lot.  Feffer say that the categories where the United States is the undeniable leader ­- military budget, government debt, trade deficit, automobile size ­- are “dubious achievements.”  Yeah, yeah.


And to rub it in Feffer quotes Norwegian foreign minister Jan Peterson:


One of eight UN countries is an EU member state. The EU generates about 20 per cent of the world's total GNP. The internal market is the world's largest multinational market. The euro has become the world's strongest currency after gaining 50 per cent in relation to the dollar during the three first years of its existence. There is even a European space agency, which has 200 satellites orbiting the Earth and which is planning to make a European the first human being to reach Mars.


And Norway is not even part of the European Union, for goodness sake!


All well, go read all of the Feffer item if you wish.  It’s full of detail.


And go here for the PIPA document.


Ah, the polling may be dead-on accurate.


But how do you explain this in the window of a French bookstore at Rockefeller Center?  Maybe they DO want to be like us.

Click here for separate image...

And here’s a cross-cultural stew in the same window.

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Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
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