Why do they hate us?
Americans have asked that question about the world at least since the beginning of the Cold War, sometimes plaintively and sometimes peevishly, but never more pointedly than since the opening of the war in Iraq.
“Why do they hate us?” George W. Bush asked rhetorically in his speech to a joint session of Congress nine days after the 9/11 attacks. Islamic fundamentalists hate America’s democratic form of government, the president concluded. Some analysts say that foreign governments whip up anti-Americanism to divert attention from their own shortcomings; others call negative attitudes abroad a fitting rebuke for American policies that defy or divide world opinion, ranging from our overuse of natural resources to our role in the Middle East.
Analyzing anti-Americanism has become a flourishing academic specialty. Last fall, eight members of a junior task force at the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs studied the issue in depth. The task force was taught by Sophie Meunier, a research scholar who has written extensively on the subject and currently is working on a book about anti-American attitudes in her native France and elsewhere. The students produced a 16-page policy paper, “Dealing with Anti-Americanism: A Report to the New Administration,” which it presented to policymakers in Washington in December. Meunier was planning to send a much longer, final report, completed in January, to members of the new administration, including former Woodrow Wilson School dean Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80, the incoming director of the State Department’s policy-planning staff.
Anti-American attitudes are not confined to jihadists, and polls — taken before the election of Barack Obama — suggest they have been deepening, even among those who are supposed to be our allies. According to a survey released in December by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, an affiliate of the Pew Research Center, only 53 percent of Britons think favorably of the United States, down from 83 percent nine years ago. Just 31 percent of Spaniards hold a favorable opinion of the United States, and in Turkey, an aspiring member of the European Union, approval runs at a mere 12 percent. In large swaths of the world, anti-American jibes have become a staple of popular humor: A recent advertisement in South Africa for the European-made Smart car boasted that it featured “German engineering, Swiss innovation, American nothing.”
Still, in some parts of the world, especially the former Soviet satellites of Eastern Europe and in sub-Saharan Africa, the United States remains very popular. According to Pew, 68 percent of Poles and 64 percent of Nigerians hold favorable opinions of this country; in South Korea, which U.S. troops have defended for half a century, it is 70 percent. Many people strongly oppose particular U.S. policies while professing deep affection for American culture or for Americans personally. Fewer than 40 percent of Mexicans, for example, say they hold a favorable opinion of the United States — but immigration runs in one direction.
The task force members bring perspectives from around the globe, which makes them perfectly suited to delve into their topic. Five of the eight students on the task force have lived abroad, and one is a foreign citizen.
And the professor? “I’m French,” Meunier jokes, “so that qualifies me to teach about anti-Americanism.”
In fact, the course had its genesis in Meunier’s academic work. Born in Paris, she earned a bachelor’s degree at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris. After graduate studies at Harvard’s Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies and the University of Chicago, she received a Ph.D. from MIT. With the exception of a brief period at the Brookings Institution, she has taught at Princeton since 1998.