U.S. diplomats have a tough job reconciling American interests with those of the Continent.
An American diplomat's life in "Old Europe" is a tough slog these days, or so it seemed to me after a week's travel on the Continent.
Today, ambassadors venture outside only with a sizable protective detail. They confront contentious transatlantic issues that drag on without resolution. And attitudes toward the United States are markedly less favorable than they were five years ago.
Polls by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project show that in Britain, France, Germany and Spain, favorable opinion of the United States has slipped by as many as 30 percentage points since 2000, to the low 40s.
Anti-Americanism, write Andrew Kohut and Bruce Stokes in their new book, America Against the World (Times Books, 2006), once focused on our government and its policies. But now, strong hostility toward President Bush and our intervention in Iraq has spilled over to affect foreigners' views of the American people as well, the Pew polling indicates.
Still, I found a deep reservoir of good will toward Americans in countries such as Belgium and France. Such sentiments were on full display during U.S.-Belgian observations of America's Memorial Day at the end of May. In the Ardennes forest, where the Battle of the Bulge and other fighting cost many thousands of lives, Belgian officials and schoolchildren joined U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Tom C. Korologos and other dignitaries to honor the memory of the 5,329 American boys buried under rows of white crosses and Stars of David in the cemetery there.
In Brussels, Ambassador C. Boyden Gray, our envoy to the European Union, does the daily work of harmonizing American and European interests. Trade and regulatory issues that Gray watches over include important intellectual property disputes involving Microsoft, Apple and American pharmaceutical companies. The prospect of European arms sales to China is a concern. Environmental policies remain contentious as Europeans rail against U.S. rejection of the Kyoto Protocol even as they decline to enforce it themselves. Agricultural policy remains a major roadblock to completion of the Doha round of trade negotiations.
But a stronger Europe is in America's interest, and we can hope that the European Union will someday achieve the promised free flow of people, goods, services and capital. Today, economies in Old Europe are beset by rigidity and high unemployment. Gray, whose deregulatory credentials extend back to his work in the Reagan White House, may well play a useful role in advising the Europeans in this regard. Americans also have a big stake in developing European energy policies, which will be prominent on the agenda of the EU summit this month and the G-8 meeting in July.
The focus of American foreign and military policy has moved away from Europe, to the Middle East and the Pacific. But as we work to solve problems in these far-off regions, we would do well to remember that Europe is our natural (and most capable) ally, and that policies toward Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Russia and China will be much more effective if they are in line with those of our historic friends. Let us hope Korologos, Gray and other American diplomats in Europe can move us closer to that important goal.