Right after Sept. 11, 2001, most of our international neighbors stopped hating Americans and felt a surge of empathy for us. Most countries forgot about their upturned European noses and showered the United States with support and friendship.
Then a few months went by, and some of them started to remember. They started recalling why they resented us Coors-swilling, McDonalds-eating, reality-show-watching cowboy slobs. They started to begrudge us again.
This happened especially after the president decided to attack Iraq sometime soon, initially without consulting our international friends. This offended them, they who had ideologically supported us for so long. Now we didn’t even want their real support.
I’m not a European, so I don’t know how much of this is really true and how much is gleaned from reading European newspapers (by the way, the Le Monde Web site translates really horribly into English).
Those are just assumptions, but I think many Americans would agree: Europeans don’t always like us. They did for a while, but any positive international sentiment we had after the Sept. 11 attacks has been almost completely squandered.
Over winter break, I spent a week in a country that was the world’s most colorful exception.
Late last year, my friend and I decided to spend a few hundred dollars to go to Ireland for a week. We left the day before New Year’s and returned home (I did, anyway – my friend went on to South Africa) in early January.
I had already seen Dublin and Waterford, for a few days on a trip after my high school graduation. But I really wanted to see the rest of Ireland, where my great-grandparents emigrated from in the 1920s and where my ancestors and very distant relatives still live.
So my friend and I rented a stick shift Renault Clio (Miss Cleo to us) and drove throughout almost the entire Republic of Ireland – from Shannon to Galway, all the way around and up to Dublin.
On the way, the thing that impressed upon me the most – besides the ridiculous amount of Guinness consumed by the entire country- was how much the Irish love America.
So much that the American ambassador lives in the same residence as the President.
(Ireland, like France, has a president and a prime minister. P.M. Bertie Ahern has his own house; Mary McAleese is Ireland’s second woman president.)
Everywhere we went, the Irish greeted us with exuberant welcomes. We took a bus tour through the Ring of Kerry, a circle of roads on the western shore, and the bus driver got misty talking about the terrorist attacks on “our friends in America.” Pub drinkers in Dublin wanted to know how far Colorado was from New York, or if my friend, who is from Indiana, had ever been to the Indy 500. They absolutely adore Bill Clinton, who, we were proudly told, was the very first visitor to the newly renovated Guinness factory.
At least somebody in the European Union still likes us.
I doubt France and Germany will think much of the U.S. after Donald Rumsfeld’s comments Wednesday. According to the Secretary of Defense, Germany and France represent “old Europe” and therefore don’t matter. They are also a problem on the Iraq issue, apparently.
“Germany has been a problem, and France has been a problem,” said Rumsfeld, himself a former NATO ambassador. “But you look at vast numbers of other countries in Europe. They’re not with France and Germany on this, they’re with the United States.”
Rumsfeld also said NATO’s expansion in recent years means “the center of gravity is shifting to the East.”
After comments like these, we’ll need all the friends we can get. Maybe President Bush should do something nice for the Irish. If things continue the way they’ve been going, they may be the only friends we have left.
Becky’s column runs on Thursdays.