US battles to boost image in Germany

23rd March 2004, Comments 0 comments

Twelve months after the US-led invasion of Iraq, Berlin and Washington have been battling to rebuild their relationship. In the first of a two-part series on US-German relations, Chad Thomas reports on a US campaign aimed at seeking a new understanding between the two transatlantic partners.

Michael Moore: more popular in Germany than in his home country

A year after the start of the Iraq war, the United States government appears to have its work cut out as it sharpens efforts to improve its dismal image among Germans.

Generally a fairly pro-American society, public approval in Germany for Washington's policies has taken a nosedive in the last year, in large part owing to the continuing rift over Iraq and the best approach to fighting international terrorism.

A poll released this week indicated only 38 percent of Germans have a favourable view of the US, down from 45 percent in the same poll just 10 months ago.

The survey — conducted by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center in late February and early March before the Madrid bombings — also found 82 percent of German citizens mistrustful of America.

"In the long haul, if this persists, we'll have more and more trouble finding close ties on the policy level with the German government," said Phillip Henderson of the independent foreign policy organisation, German Marshall Fund of the United States.

"Politics do in the longer term follow public opinion," added Henderson, who is the organisation's programming director.

That fact has not escaped the American government and a number of German multinational corporations doing a significant amount of business in the United States.

The US embassy in Berlin has launched two new outreach efforts in recent months in the eastern part of the country intended to boost America's standing.

*quote1*In April ten teachers from eastern Germany will be the first to participate in a new programme to the United States. They will travel to the US for a two-week visit, spending one of those weeks with an American family.

The programme, which will expand over the coming months, is funded by private enterprise, including German automakers DaimlerChrysler, Volkswagen and BMW.

"The USA is the largest market that we have," said Heinrich Timmerherm, BMW's corporate lobbyist in Berlin, explaining one reason for his company's participation. "Naturally, a large company, a 'global player,' must take a major interest in looking outside of the German viewpoint at other countries."

The US embassy has also begun sending embassy staff, and other Americans living in Germany, into east German classrooms to talk about life in the United States. So far, Americans have made more than 100 such visits.

The downward spiral of German trust in US leadership has helped spark a cottage industry for conspiracy theorists and Bush administration critics.

Three books last year espousing various conspiracy theories about who was "really" behind the 11 September terror attacks have sold incredibly well.

*quote2*Among their wildest claims: The American government staged the attacks to justify wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This assertion, incidentally, is in a book by a former German cabinet member, Andreas von Buelow, who served as minister for science and technology under former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in the early 1980s.

A poll last summer by a German newsmagazine found 20 percent of Germans believe it's a real possibility the Bush administration ordered 11 September as a pretext for global domination.

"I firmly believe after my experience that this is a very superficial perception. That is doesn't run deep," said Richard Schmierer with US Embassy's public affairs office in Berlin, referring to Germans' mistrust of the American government.

Perhaps. But at the moment leftist American critics like Michael Moore are arguably more popular in Germany than in their home country. For example, Moore currently has three books among Germany's top 20 bestsellers.

March 2004


Subject: German News, US-German relationship

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