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U.S. loses favor with British
LONDON — Drip by drip by drip this summer, traditional British goodwill toward the United States appears to be leaking into the sands, as irritation with U.S. policies and attitudes grows increasingly personal.
From the opinion pages of conservative newspapers to the choices of studies at universities, America seems to have lost its appeal, even though as many British tourists are visiting the United States as ever — encouraged in part by a highly favorable exchange rate.
Despite Prime Minister Tony Blair’s staunch support, many here believe that U.S. policy toward Iraq initiated the change in attitudes. However, concern about America appears to have deepened to the point that open admiration for the United States no longer is fashionable.
On university campuses, according to news reports last week, five of 50 American studies programs already have closed for lack of students, and most of the others have declining enrollment. Only four years ago, such courses were as popular as psychology or media studies.
“I’m convinced that it’s partly to do with 9/11 and the war in Iraq,” said Professor Ian Bell, head of the American studies department at Keele University. One of the oldest and biggest of its kind in Britain, the department recently was forced to cut its teaching staff by half.
“Undergraduates don’t want to be tainted with the Bush regime,” Mr. Bell told the Financial Times newspaper. “They may still want to follow American subjects but don’t want to be classified as Americanists.”
For some time, the British tabloids have played up reports of heavy-handed American law enforcement officials fingerprinting, handcuffing and detaining British visitors whose passports or visas are judged not to be in order when they enter the United States. The reports usually have been accompanied by expressions of outrage that Britons, hailing from America’s closest ally, should not treated this way.
Now the heavyweight broadsheets have weighed in.
A few days ago, the staunchly pro-American London Daily Telegraph gave its prominent lead opinion piece to Stephen Robinson, former foreign and U.S. editor of the conservative paper. Mr. Robinson fulminated against his treatment in getting a work visa to cover the Republican Party convention in New York this week.
Under the headline “Why is the U.S. doing its best to alienate all of its allies?”, Mr. Robinson wrote of a misleading embassy telephone information line, of being forced to wait in line outside the extensively cordoned-off embassy just after dawn and of watching a “preposterous show of force” from a young U.S. Marine dressed “as though he was just back from patrol in Najaf.”
“Normally, I am absurdly, unquestioningly pro-American,” he wrote. “I lived in Washington for seven happy years. I have many American friends and a 10-year-old American goddaughter who is as delightful as she is precociously intelligent.
“When my Lefty friends refer to George W. Bush as a grinning monkey, I rebuke them and tell them to show more respect to the leader of the free world. I take the ‘War on Terror’ seriously, even if I think the term is daft. …
“Yet even I find I am enraged by the current attitude of America in its disproportionate approach to defending the homeland. Too many friends and colleagues report horror stories of being held in rooms, separated from their children for trivial, easily explicable visa violations.”
Even harsher words came from a long-time expatriate British journalist living in the United States, in an equally prominent comment in the London Times newspaper.
Under the large headline, “America deserves a gold [medal] for narcissistic isolation,” Gerard Baker argued that NBC’s coverage of the Olympic Games in Athens was so grotesquely skewed to the home audience that it was “reinforcing all those characteristics that the rest of the world finds so distasteful in Americans.”
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