America's foreign alliances have become an issue in this year's presidential election campaign. Senator John Kerry, the Democratic candidate, has accused President George W. Bush of neglecting and offending America's allies, particularly in Europe. A Kerry administration, he claims, will restore respect for America in the world.
Anti-Americanism is not new in Europe, but views of America have generally been more positive in the past. During the Cold War, the United States not only pursued far-sighted policies like the Marshall Plan, but also represented freedom and democracy.
Admiration for American values does not mean, of course, that others want to imitate all the ways Americans implement them. While many Europeans admire America's devotion to freedom, they prefer policies at home that temper the liberal economic principles of individualism with a robust welfare state. Despite all the rhetoric about "old" and "new" Europe, at the end of the Cold War opinion surveys showed that two-thirds of Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, and Bulgarians perceived the US as a good influence on their respective countries, but fewer than a quarter wanted to import American economic models.
Popular culture can often be an important source of "soft" power. Simple items like blue jeans, cola, or Hollywood movies helped produce favorable outcomes in at least two of the most important American objectives after 1945. One was the democratic reconstruction of Europe after WWII, and the other was victory in the Cold War. The Marshall Plan and NATO were crucial instruments of economic and military power, but popular culture reinforced their effect. The dollars invested by the Marshall Plan helped achieve US objectives in reconstructing Europe, but so did the ideas transmitted by American popular culture.