Wisconsin Public Radio

Manufacturing is still critical to the economy United States. Clyde Prestowitz, says it's time to start realizing the positive spillovers that manufacturing creates... Read more  

Events & Activities

Stephen Olson at Chinese Development Institute Conference


 Clyde Prestowitz giving presentation to CDI...


Steve Olson teaching trade negotiations at the Mekong Institute...


Stephen Olson to speak at upcoming workshop organized by the International Institute for Trade and Development on 

"Economics of GMS Agricultural trade in goods and services towards the world market"

Chiangmai, Thailand Sep 8-12.


(08/18/2002 - Prestowitz) Why Doesn't America Listen?

Why Don't America Listen?
By Clyde Prestowitz
18 August 2002

'You no longer want allies or institutions, but only volunteers for posses to chase various gangs of bandits." That was not what I expected to hear from a former European Union Commissioner who is now chairman of one of Europe's leading corporations, but it perfectly captures the growing alienation from America that was constantly expressed to me during a recent swing through the major European capitals.

What a contrast to the Le Monde headline proclaiming "We Are All Americans" in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Eleven months later, sympathy for the victims remains, but the American image is increasingly perceived as ugly and support for U.S. policies is plummeting. Of course, anti-Americanism is nothing new. What is new is that it's European leaders who have been longtime friends of the United States who are increasingly critical. Their dismay is due to a number of factors, such as U.S. arrogance and the double standards of an America that sharply criticizes E.U. agricultural subsidies while increasing its own. But looming far above all other causes are two transcendent issues: the Middle East and American unilateralism.

The gulf between the American and European views of the Middle East could not be wider, which explains why several European allies responded to President Bush's recent call for new Palestinian leadership by emphasizing that they would deal with whomever the Palestinians elect, Yasser Arafat included. Influenced by fundamentalist Judeo-Christian beliefs, many Americans tend to see the rise of modern Israel as the fulfillment of Biblical prophecies, and they have developed an identification with Israel as a trusted ally that has only been strengthened by the events of Sept. 11 and the Aqsa intifadeh. While condemning suicide bombings and sympathizing with the Israeli victims, Europeans also note the plight of the Palestinians and the fact that they have been under occupation for 35 years. Indeed, one European editor compared the treatment of the Palestinians with that of Native Americans during the settlement of the American West.

This points to a key difference: while Americans emphasize the need to stop the suicide bombings, Europeans note that calling for an end to Palestinian violence without mentioning the expansion of Israeli settlements is unfair and counterproductive. Yet America's friends abroad despair of any progress because they see the U.S. as unwilling or unable, for domestic political reasons, to operate in an evenhanded manner on this matter. The issue of Iraq only serves to widen the perception gap. While U.S. officials proceed with plans to displace Iraq's Saddam Hussein, European leaders wonder if they are living in the same world as the Americans. They can't imagine how the U.S. can hope to avoid disaster while putting an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on the back burner in order to invade Iraq.

Even more serious than differences over the Middle East is growing European and global frustration with what is seen as a new American unilateralism. U.S. actions such as rejection of the Kyoto treaty on global warming, declaration of a "first-strike" policy that might include an attack on Iraq and withdrawal from the agreement to create an International Criminal Court have convinced many Europeans that the U.S. no longer feels any need to consult its friends, or indeed any need for friends at all. "After World War II," a top European business leader and longtime friend of the U.S. told me in Brussels, "America was all-powerful and created a new world by defining its national interest broadly in a way that made it attractive for other countries to define their interests in terms of embracing America's." In particular, he noted, the U.S. backed creation of global institutions, due process and the international rule of law. "Now," he said, "you are again all-powerful and the world is again in a period of restructuring. But without talking to anyone, you appear to be turning your back on things you have championed for half a century and defining your interest narrowly in terms of your own immediate security. If you continue to do this, we in Europe can only feel a sense of disappointment and deep foreboding."

Particularly frustrating to foreign friends of America is their sense that even though they will be deeply affected by U.S. policies, they have no opportunity to influence them. This lament suggests at least a partial remedy. Congress has powers to advise and consent on foreign policy, and of course no foreign operations can proceed without congressional funding. In exercising these powers, Congress holds extensive hearings — yet it rarely calls foreign witnesses. Perhaps now would be a good time to begin.

Join our mailing list

Latest Publications

The Betrayal of American Prosperity.

The Trans-Paific Partnership and Japan.

Making the Mexian Miracle.

Industrial Policy and Rebalancing in the US and China.

The Evolving Role of China in International Institutions.


Contact us

Economic Strategy Institute

1730 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, Suite 414 |  Washington DC  |  20036
Ph (202) 213-7051  |  Fax (202) 965-1104  |  info@econstrat.org