In Search of Pro-Americanism: There has never been a more popular time to be anti–American. From Beijing to Berlin, from Sydney to São Paulo, America’s detractors have become legion. But not everyone has chosen to get on the anti–American bandwagon. Where—and among whom—is America still admired, and why? Meet the pro–Americans. (Anne Applebaum, July/August 2005, Foreign Policy)
Anecdotally, it isn’t hard to come up with examples of famous pro–Americans, even on the generally anti–American continents of Europe and Latin America. There are political reformers such as Vaclav Havel, who has spoken of how the U.S. Declaration of Independence inspired his own country’s founding fathers. There are economic reformers such as José Piñera, the man who created the Chilean pension system, who admire American economic liberty. There are thinkers, such as the Iraqi intellectual Kanan Makiya, who openly identify the United States with the spread of political freedom. At a recent event in his honor in Washington, Makiya publicly thanked the Americans who had helped his country defeat Saddam Hussein. (He received applause, which was made notably warmer by the palpable sense of relief: At least someone over there likes us.) All of these are people with very clear, liberal, democratic philosophies, people who either identify part of their ideology as somehow “American,” or who are grateful for American support at some point in their countries’ history.
There are also countries that contain not only individuals but whole groups of people with similar ideological or nostalgic attachments to the United States. I am thinking here of British Thatcherites—from whom Prime Minister Tony Blair is in some sense descended—and of former associates of the Polish Solidarity movement. Although Lady Thatcher (who was herself stridently pro–American) is no longer in office, her political heirs, and those who associate her with positive economic and political changes in Britain, are still likely to think well of the United States. Their influence is reflected in the fact that the British, on the whole, are more likely to think positively of the United States than other Europeans. Polish anticommunists, who still remember the support that President Ronald Reagan gave their movement in the 1980s, have the same impact in their country, which remains more pro–American than even the rest of Central Europe.
In some countries, even larger chunks of the population have such associations. In the Philippines, for example, the BBC poll shows that 88 percent of the population has a “mainly positive” view of the United States, an unusually high number anywhere. In India, that number is 54 percent, and in South Africa, it’s 56 percent, particularly high numbers for the developing world. In the case of the first two countries, geopolitics could be part of the explanation: India and the Philippines are both fighting Islamist terrorist insurgencies, and they see the United States as an ally in their struggles. (Perhaps for this reason, both of these countries are also among the few who perceived the reelection of U.S. President George W. Bush as “mainly positive” for the world as well.) But it is also true that all three of these countries have experienced, in the last 20 years, political or economic change that has made them richer, freer, or both. And in all three cases, it’s clear that people would have reasons to associate new prosperity and new freedom with the actions of the United States.
These associations are not just vague, general sentiments either. New polling data from the international polling firm GlobeScan and the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland break down pro– and anti–American sentiments by age, income, and gender. Looking closely at notably pro–American countries, it emerges that this pro–Americanism can sometimes be extraordinarily concrete. It turns out, for example, that in Poland, which is generally pro–American, people between the ages of 30 and 44 years old are even more likely to support America than their compatriots. In that age group, 58.5 percent say they feel the United States has a “mainly positive” influence in the world. But perhaps that is not surprising: This is the group whose lives would have been most directly affected by the experience of the Solidarity movement and martial law—events that occurred when they were in their teens and 20s—and they would have the clearest memories of American support for the Polish underground movement.
Younger Poles, by contrast, show significantly less support: In the 15–29–year–old group, only 45.3 percent say they feel the United States has a “mainly positive” influence in the world—a drop of more than 13 percent. But perhaps that is not surprising either. This generation has only narrow memories of communism, and no recollection of Reagan’s support for Solidarity. The United States, to them, is best known as a country for which it is difficult to get visas—and younger Poles have a very high refusal rate. Now that Poland is a member of the European Union, by contrast, they have greater opportunities to travel and study in Europe, where they no longer need visas at all. In their growing skepticism of the United States, young Poles may also be starting to follow the more general European pattern.
Looking at age patterns in other generally anti–American countries can be equally revealing. In Canada, Britain, Italy, and Australia, for example, all countries with generally high or very high anti–American sentiments, people older than 60 have relatively much more positive feelings about the United States than their children and grandchildren. When people older than 60 are surveyed, 63.5 percent of Britons, 59.6 percent of Italians, 50.2 percent of Australians, and 46.8 percent of Canadians feel that the United States is a “mainly positive” influence on the world. For those between the ages of 15 and 29, the numbers are far lower: 31.9 percent (Britain), 37.4 percent (Italy), 27 percent (Australia), and 19.9 percent (Canada). Again, that isn’t surprising: All of these countries had positive experiences of American cooperation during or after the Second World War. The British of that generation have direct memories, or share their parents’ memories, of Winston Churchill’s meetings with Franklin Roosevelt; the Canadians and Australians fought alongside American G.I.s; and many Italians remember that those same G.I.s evicted the Nazis from their country, too.
These differences in age groups are significant, not only in themselves, but because they carry a basic but easily forgotten lesson for American foreign policymakers: At least some of the time, U.S. foreign policy has a direct impact on foreigners’ perceptions of the United States. That may sound like a rather obvious principle, but in recent years it has frequently been questioned. Because anti–Americanism is so often described as if it were mere fashion, or some sort of unavoidable, contagious virus, some commentators have made it seem as if the phenomenon bore no relationship whatsoever to the United States’ actions abroad. But America’s behavior overseas, whether support for anticommunist movements or visa policy, does matter. Here, looking at the problem from the opposite perspective is proof: People feel more positive about the United States when their personal experience leads them to feel more positive. […]
There is, finally, one other factor that is associated almost everywhere in the world with pro–Americanism: In Europe, Asia, and South America, men are far more likely than women to have positive feelings about the United States. In some cases, the numbers are quite striking. Asking men and women how they feel about the United States produces an 11 percent gender gap in India, a 17 percent gender gap in Poland, and even a 6 percent gap in the Philippines. This pattern probably requires more psychological analysis than I can muster, but it’s possible to guess at some explanations. Perhaps the United States is associated with armies and invasions, which historically appeal more to men. Perhaps it is because the United States is also associated with muscular foreign policy, and fewer women around the world are involved in, or interested in, foreign policy at all. Perhaps it’s because men are more attracted to the idea of power, entrepreneurship, or capitalism. Or it may just be that the United States appeals to men in greater numbers for the same intuitive reasons that President George W. Bush appeals to men in greater numbers, whatever those are.
Men are simply more likely to favor freedom, women to favor security.