Rob Kroes: The Link between Anti-Americanism and the End of the Cold War

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Rob Kroes is professor emeritus and former chair of American studies at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He is a past president of the European Association for American Studies (EAAS). Readers may contact Kroes at]

... Do the terrorist attacks on symbols of American power on September 11, 2001, represent a greater sea change than the end of the Cold War? Or were they merely the catalyst that led America to implement a foreign policy that had been in the making since the early 1990s? If the second scenario is true, and it seems likely that it is, then America's current foreign policy is clearly a response to its position as the single hegemon in a unipolar world, intent on safeguarding that position.

The origin of that policy was a Defense Planning Guidance document drafted in 1992 by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Paul D. Wolfowitz at the behest of then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, entitled "The New American Century." In 1997 a group of neo-conservative foreign-policy analysts coalesced around the Project for a New American Century and founded a think tank under that name. Their thinking hardened around a view that American foreign policy should center on military strength. In the current George W. Bush administration, those neoconservatives are now in a position to implement their views. Throughout the 1990s national rituals such as the Super Bowl increasingly blended mass spectator sports with displays of military prowess and martial vigor that paralleled the gestation of the new foreign policy views. That trend may herald a militarization of the American public spirit, propagated through the mass media. To some, the displays are eerily reminiscent of earlier such public spectacles, such as those at the 1936 Olympic Games in Nazi Germany. Those militarized rituals may have readied the American public for the later curtailment of democratic rights through the 2001 Patriot Act and the emergence of a national security state under the current Bush administration. In a recent article, the American philosopher Richard Rorty warned Europeans that institutional changes made in the name of the war on terrorism could bring the end of the rule of law in both the United States and Europe. Remarkably, he forgot to mention that many of those changes had already come to the United States, without much public debate or resistance.3
As much as the entire world may have changed in the wake of the Cold War, my focus shall be on the particular ways those changes have affected Europe and the United States, internally as well as in their transatlantic relationship. An important trend to notice is the way Europeans and Americans have begun to redefine each other, in response to a creeping alienation that has affected public opinion and discourse on both sides of the Atlantic. If each side increasingly sees the other as "other," more alien than at any point during the Cold War, then the construction of this perspective is not entirely new. It draws on older repertoires of anti-Americanism in Europe and of anti-Europeanism in the United States, as illustrated by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's snide reference to "old Europe."4 Yet there may be a new and more ominous ring to those revived repertoires because they may strike responsive chords among people who previously thought they were free of such adversarial sentiments....

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