- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2003

Americans abroad — and a few Europeans — are organizing to fight the tide of anti-Americanism that washed over much of Europe this year with rallies, meetings and visits to U.S. war cemeteries.

At Oxford University — where a generation and a half ago U.S. flags were burned to protest the Vietnam War — American graduate students have formed a group called Americans for an Informed Democracy (AID) to educate Europeans and Americans about each other.

The students founded the group soon after the September 11 attacks, but when the sense of trans-Atlantic solidarity turned into bitterness over the Iraq war, the group set out to correct misperceptions.

“We really have tried to break down stereotypes, while also using Americans abroad as a channel to raise awareness back home,” said Seth Green, 23, a 2001 Marshall scholar who founded AID.

With about 300 members worldwide, AID has held three meetings at Oxford to discuss U.S.-European relations and has submitted opinion columns to several newspapers.

The meetings celebrated the “diversity of opinions” in the United States, conveying to Europeans that Americans value debate and discussion, Mr. Green said.

“It’s not just [conservative commentator Sean] Hannity interviewing [Pentagon adviser] Richard Perle. It’s also [liberal commentator Alan] Colmes and [former Clinton adviser] Leon Fuerth,” he said, referring to the hosts of Fox News Channel’s nightly news debate show “Hannity & Colmes.”

“If you just see a Michael Moore film, you can see a distorted view of America. It’s not just a caricature,” he said of the work of the liberal documentary filmmaker, who is passionately opposed to President Bush.

But in the back yard of an Adams Morgan apartment, where AID recently solicited the support of about 40 college students, one participant was skeptical.

Evan Baehr, president of College Republicans at Princeton University, expressed doubt that any organization claiming to want “to raise awareness” actually could produce results.

Mr. Green told Mr. Baehr that many anti-American views are based on incorrect impressions and pointed out the contradictions in many anti-American arguments.

“The U.S. is criticized both for being disengaged from the world, and being too interventionist,” AID notes in its literature.

On the European mainland, Americans have told Germans that they should start re-evaluating their own positions before brushing off U.S. views.

On an overnight train trip from Bozel to Berlin in Germany in May, Gary Smith, executive director of the American Academy in that country, debated a pair of German professors about America’s search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

“If the U.S. finds weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it’ll only be because the CIA planted them,” the Germans said, according to Mr. Smith, who has lived in Germany for 19 years and identifies with the Democratic Party here.

“What possible scenario would change your mind?” Mr. Smith said he asked the Germans, but they couldn’t come up with an answer.

The 6-year-old American Academy, based in Berlin, runs a fellowship program that brings about 30 Americans to the German capital each year to host up to 120 cultural events.

“We’ve become more than just a fellowship,” Mr. Smith said. “We’re the most visible American intellectual presence in Germany, and that’s our ambition.”

When Angela Merkel, head of the opposition Christian Democratic Union political party, was planning her trip to the United States earlier in the year, she first visited an academy fellow, Amity Shlaes, a newspaper columnist and author.

Even a few Europeans are taking up the cause.

In France, which has been stung by U.S. anger at that country’s effort to obstruct U.S. war plans at the United Nations, U.S.-French groups delivered roses to the 60,511 graves of American servicemen and held festivities to celebrate America’s Independence Day.

“We cannot, do not, and will not ever forget the ultimate sacrifice American heroes made during the two world wars to liberate France,” the groups said in a statement.

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