Through Our Friends' Eyes
American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville.
By Bernard-Henri Lévy. Translated by Charlotte Mandell.
Überpower: The Imperial Temptation of America.
By Josef Joffe.
Although the administration of George W. Bush seems to have moderated both the substance and the style of its foreign policy recently, the consequences of its earlier behavior continue to shape international life. Bush's actions during his first term, especially the invasion of Iraq, unleashed waves of anti-Americanism, particularly in Europe and the Middle East. The fallout has greatly complicated the already difficult task of managing U.S. power in a world grown suspicious of U.S. ambitions.
Two new books by Europeans firmly in the anti-anti-American camp shed light on this sorry state of affairs. In American Vertigo, Bernard-Henri Lévy, a leading French public intellectual and latter-day philosophe, attempts to follow in the footsteps (often literally) of Alexis de Tocqueville as he explores whether the United States today is still the democratic, hopeful, and open society of Democracy in America. In Überpower, Josef Joffe, perhaps the most important strategic thinker in Germany today, investigates the rise of anti-Americanism worldwide, ponders its implications for U.S. grand strategy, and prescribes a treatment for Washington's current foreign policy ills.
Much of the critical reaction to American Vertigo so far has revealed that Americans remain morbidly sensitive to slights from respected foreign observers. The same easily wounded amour-propre that inspired legions of American literati and newspaper editorialists to denounce nineteenth-century travel writers such as Fanny Trollope and Charles Dickens has blinded many readers to the true nature of Lévy's book. Although blasted as the work of an unenlightened and condescending Euro-snob who fails to grasp the majesty of U.S. democracy, the book is in fact an artfully constructed, unblinking defense of the United States against European (especially French) anti-Americanism, a stance all the more remarkable and courageous in the age of Bush.