Surprising Statistics

A recent public opinion poll conducted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States yielded surprising results.  According to the Transatlantic Trends survey, the US is now more popular in Western Europe than in Eastern Europe.  Sixty-three percent of Western Europeans have a favorable view of the US, compared with just over 50 percent of Eastern Europeans.  This is a massive shift from the George W. Bush presidency, when public opinion about America was much lower in Western Europe.

The change is largely attributable to President Obama’s replacement of President Bush (President Obama’s approval rating is 77 points higher in France than President Bush’s was) , who alienated Western Europeans by invading Iraq and adopting a more unilateral foreign policy (President Bush’s Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, dismissively referred to Western Europe as “old Europe”).  President Obama was a vocal opponent of the Iraq War, and he is perceived as being more concerned about Western European views and more inclined toward multilateralism and engagement with other powers.

But it is surprising that the US is more popular in Western Europe than Eastern Europe given that the Eastern European members of NATO are more reliant on America to protect them from a resurgent Russia, a country that has historically dominated the region.  Last year, Russia invaded Georgia and in recent years has used its energy policy to meddle in the internal affairs of Ukraine.

However, just because the US is more popular in Western Europe does not mean that Western European nations are more inclined to support American policies.  Although Western members of NATO have made significant contributions in Afghanistan, the war effort is very unpopular in Western Europe and there are strong indications that governments there are looking to withdraw their troops.  In addition, US-supported NATO expansion is a much more popular idea in the East than it is in the West.  Although America and Western Europe share historical ties and values, governments and peoples will generally support policies that they perceive to be in their national interest, and when those perceptions differ the US should expect its Western allies to go their own way despite how favorably Western Europeans view America and Americans.

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