Home Communication Public Opinion, Transatlantic Relations and the Use of Force
Shortcomings of the debate
However, four major shortcomings affect the present political debate on the nature of the transatlantic relationship, the role of public opinion and support for the use of military force in this context. This book tries to fill at least part of these major gaps in our knowledge.
To begin with the transatlantic relationship in general, judgments are often offered on the alleged present gap in transatlantic relations without any effort to provide the historical background and the criteria against which the present state of relationships should be evaluated and compared with past periods, in order to show similarities as well as differences in the present relations between European countries and the United States and those in the more and less recent pasts. What is lacking, in other words, is a cross-time perspective on the basis of which one can estimate the relative novelty or the depth of the present crisis and its consequences. We will provide some of this historical perspective in the chapters that follow.
Secondly, and more seriously, most of the literature on topics like the transatlantic gap and the determinants of the willingness in public opinion to support military force as a necessary condition of international affairs is still highly influenced by American scholarship in both perspective and materials used. A comparative perspective, including looking at the issue from other countries and based on comparative data, is missing, and this is what we also intend to provide here. In this sense too, this book offers a new perspective.
Thirdly, an effort is rarely made in the debate over the differential willingness to use force to state clearly how exactly one measures, for instance, differences in support for the use of force and what their sources are.
Finally, but equally seriously, in this debate an effort is seldom made to state clearly how exactly one should measure the state of transatlantic relationships in a more than intuitive and essayistic fashion. Often, it also remains unclear what one means by 'the Europeans' and 'the Americans', and these concepts are often used as if they referred to unified and homogeneous actors.
It is true and unmistakable indeed that at the mass level many Europeans are very critical of current American policies on a variety of international issues, but so are many Americans. We shall argue in this book in some detail that, if there is a gap in ideas about the transatlantic relationship, it runs through Washington rather than through the Atlantic. In this regard and as far as international policies are concerned, the Bush administration was not only isolated from mass public opinion in Europe, but also from its own American public at home. The latter is not surprising if only because of Bush's narrow election victory in 2004 and defeat at the congressional elections in 2006, and because of the self-confidence of the administration, which tempted it to discount public opinion. Another factor consisted of the strong ideological convictions of many members of his administration, which led to the same disregard.
In this connection, another source of uncertainty when speaking too generally about 'Europeans' or 'Americans', is the fact that when doing so one can think of individual leaders and governments, but also of elites or of public opinion at the mass level - or all of them together - but it matters a great deal which focus one chooses. It looks evident that, at the governmental level, strong and persistent differences of opinion have developed and persisted across the Atlantic. But what about the other levels? Those of elite and mass opinion? Recent research on public opinion has shown that fundamental disagreements at government level do not necessarily imply similar differences at the elite or mass level (or the other way around).14 Especially when one is concerned about particular attitudes that are seen as detrimental to a good relationship and solutions for these problems are sought, it makes a great deal of difference at what level of 'public opinion' such solutions are sought and how one conceives of the relationships among the various levels.
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