Errant European

The 8th annual Transatlantic Trends survey of European and American attitudes is out. I must first qualify “European,” which includes non-EU Turkey (which is not even in Europe, according to many), but does not include a number of EU countries. No Scandinavians, no Baltics? Likewise, “American” is just that: the US’s North American partners in NATO, the Canadians, don’t figure in the report.

That said, it is a fascinating survey of public opinion on a range of important policy issues, from what to do about Afghanistan to whether to kowtow to the Russians. And don’t presume you know where public opinion in selected countries already stands on these questions. Ronald Asmus, the German Marshall Fund’s Executive Director in Brussels and former Clinton Administration State Department appointee, says that a common reaction to his numbers is “that can’t be so!”

Yes, the numbers don’t lie: “Old Europe” Westerners are generally more pro-NATO and pro-US than their “New Europe” Eastern counterparts (Donald Rumsfeld must be saying “that can’t be so!!”). And Turks – whom successive US administrations have adopted as their favorite EU candidate country – haven’t gotten over their Iraq War slump, when Rumsfeld’s Deputy Paul Wolfowitz tried to sic the Turkish Army on a recalcitrant elected civilian government. Turkish attitudes toward the US – though improved over the Bush years – are the least susceptible to the Obama charm.

But the sheer magnitude of the “Obama Bounce,” as Asmus likes to call the chart-topping effect, is what is so different. “Unprecedented,” says Asmus, of the 70 point jump in approval ratings between Bush and Obama (in the case of German public opinion).

I wish I had a slide that was shown at the recent GMFUS briefing, a composite of similar surveys taken since 1952, where European opinion of the US has had its momentary ups and downs, but nothing like the abyssal depths of the Bush years, followed by the bends-inducing rise beyond the surface after Obama’s appearance on the scene.

Okay, all this is refreshing but what to do with it? Confirmed Atlanticist Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, German Liberal Member of the European Parliament, called the findings evidence of “political capital.” “Now, let us use it,” he said. Indeed.

So I pose that very question to readers in the public diplomacy community: How can the Obama Administration build on this groundswell of European public opinion in favour of the person of Barack Obama, which, as the survey shows, does not always have its corollary in support for US policies?

In a week where some of his fellow citizens called him a liar, it has to be reassuring in the White House and in Foggy Bottom that the Obama magic still appears to be working on the European side of the Atlantic.

This post first appeared in Avuncular American, my principal blog.

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