Why Europe Sees US As An Increasing Threat – OpEd


There’s something big that seems to go unnoted in American media. It is that increasingly the US is being seen as a significant threat around the world. Here in neutral Switzerland it is easy to observe.

I see that to the north in Germany, almost 50 percent of the people think of the US as a major threat to their country. I saw that authenticated in a PEW Research poll published in 2019. It’s exactly the same in France to our west.

The Italians to our south see it differently. Only 22 percent think America is a threat to them. I can’t explain that difference. The Italians see China as a greater threat than the US. Not so for Russia — it’s not as scary to Italians as the US, but just a small bit less. The Germans and French both see Russia and China as a significantly lower threat than the US; the Germans especially think that way.

The perception of the US as a threat is rising globally. From 2013 to 2018 it rocketed up by 80 percent. For a similar period of time fear of Russia and China went up only by 9 and 3 percent respectively. World tensions overall have even increased since that period.

What is America doing to cause the escalation of its perception as a global threat? Politically partisan Americans may jump to blame the 80 percent increase on Donald Trump. But half of that increase was produced during the presidency of Barack Obama. Something else must be happening that is scaring countries around the globe.

I have a strong suspicion it is related to the powerfully threatening rhetoric that we’ve been seeing come out of the United States from politicians and partisan commentators.
Two recent examples of this have appeared recently in prominent American publications. They are both examples of irresponsible rhetoric that gives the United States a threatening face before the world.

The first is an article by a former State Department official, once a bureau chief. He’s now employed by the McCain Institute. His name is David Kramer. His Politico article sounds very extreme to me. I’m surprised Politico published it.

Kramer’s article is titled, “What I Wish the U.S. Had Done About Putin Years Ago — And What Biden Should Do Now.” To Americans that might not look menacing. I’d like to explain how it looks to many of us elsewhere in the world.

The United States and Russia are the only nuclear superpowers on earth. They each have the capacity to inflict damage to our planet almost in an instant. When they feud it puts the rest of us at risk. The probability may be low that one country would deliberately launch a nuclear strike against the other. But there is a real chance of an error that could set things off. That would lead to a global catastrophe.

Errors are not unheard of. In 2018 Hawaiians received warning of an incoming ballistic missile attack, and were instructed to seek shelter. The warning was soon recognized as an error made at a regional level and no retaliative preparations were made.

It could have been worse. I’ve read that back in 1983 an error by a regional Soviet military commander resulted in the shoot down of Flight KAL007 traveling from Anchorage, Alaska to Seoul. There were 269 people onboard, including a U.S. congressman. All were lost. Errors do happen. The existence of nuclear stockpiles makes every real risk unacceptable.

Nevertheless, Russia and the US continue to feud and engage in tit-for-tat actions against each other.

Kramer’s article seems to promote the tension between the two. His title suggests that America has a duty to micromanage Russia’s internal affairs. He seems to enthrall himself in recounting a litany of allegations against Russia that are yet without factual substantiation. Kramer previously authored an article titled, “Now Crank Up the Heat on Russia.” This looks like a theme of his.

If you are an American how would you feel about a Russian, who claims to have some sway, to be expressing a Russian obligation to micromanage affairs in your country? Either way, American-Russian or Russian-American, the assertions of a right and obligation to control the other is menacing. The risk of things getting too far out of hand is too great.

In an instance of piling on, subsequent to the Kramer article, Fiona Hill wrote a piece, titled “The Kremlin’s Strange Victory, How Putin Exploits American Dysfunction and Fuels American Decline.” To my surprise it appeared in the prestigious US Foreign Affairs Magazine.

Most of her article appears to focus on Donald Trump, not Putin. In all honesty I must comment that her writing sounds like that of a woman scorned. That fits with her vociferous denunciation of Trump given at an impeachment inquiry. But she is the person that was Trump’s top Russian advisor in the National Security Council.

Hill writes about her discomfort during the Trump-Putin Helsinki summit. She recounted, “I contemplated throwing a fit or faking a seizure and hurling myself backward into the row of journalists behind me.” My word, that sounds like a threat of a very unstable personality. It is frightening that someone like that held a position so close to a person with the power of the presidency of the United States.

Going on, Hill writes, “Prior to the 2016 US election, Putin recognized that the United States was on a path similar to the one that Russia took in the 1990s, when economic dislocation and political upheaval after the collapse of the Soviet Union had left the Russian state weak and insolvent.” That sounds like the basis of her claim that Putin is exploiting American dysfunction.

How does she know that Putin had that recognition and used it against America? I’ve never heard Putin say that. Does Hill’s instability extend to a belief that she can read Putin’s mind?

Hill posits, “When Trump was elected, Putin and the Kremlin made no attempt to conceal their glee.” She casts that as a negative. I saw Kremlin remarks about Trump’s victory. They were irrefutably approving, but not “gleeful.” Certainly the United States itself makes known its approval or disapproval presidential choices made in other countries. Hill presents her statement in the context of a conspiracy theory about a covert secret relationship between Trump and Putin.

My perception of the Kremlin’s welcoming of Trump’s election is that it might be more related to a Russian aversion to his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton had made Russia the goat of her since-discredited allegations against Russia in the Russiagate misadventure.

Hill wrote, “Putin recognized Trump as a type and grasped his political predilections immediately.” Again, how does she know whatever it is that Putin recognized. Either this is more of her conspiracy theory or she really does believe irrationally that she has some power to read Putin’s private thoughts.

This is where I’ll stop. The remainder of Hill’s article continues to focus on Trump, sounding like a scorned woman, while persisting to speak as though she is somehow privy to Putin’s private thoughts and motivations. Instability in persons held in high regard in the US can be very discomforting abroad.

Rhetoric like Hill’s and Kramer’s coming out of America, a strong country possessing power so enormous that it can cause unimaginable destruction to our planet, creates much fear. That is why increasingly the United States is seen as a threat in many world nations. Americans should ask themselves: Is this declining image something that is in your best interests?

Wouldn’t it be more productive for everyone if the two nuclear superpowers, America and Russia, would both seek rapprochement? Cooperation on arms control, anti-terrorism, preserving a hospitable climate, and the global pandemic would be good places to start.

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