Western criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin comes in different shapes and shades. In a Friday article in the Washington Post, Sarah Mendelson and Theodore Gerber accused Putin’s "belligerent rhetoric and actions toward the United States" in fomenting rampant anti-Americanism among Russia’s youth. They supported their assertion by a Levada Center study conducted among 1,802 Russians ages 16 to 29.
Unfortunately, the format of a newspaper article doesn’t allow a glimpse at the study methodology. This is too bad, because as we all know, pretty much any answers can be produced by asking "proper" questions.
For example, Mendelson and Gerber are concerned that 64 percent of respondents described the United States as either "enemy" or "rival", a percentage that is higher than for any other country (Georgia came second with 44 percent). Well, as native English speakers, the authors must know that "enemy" and "rival" don’t mean the same. Bundling them together serves no other goal as to prove, by whatever means, their major point: Russian youngsters consider the United States the Enemy No. 1.
Both Mendelson and Gerber are just too clever to not understand that the worldwide disapproval of the Bush administration policies must not be equated with anti-Americanism. The authors concede this much by saying:
"[the] perception of American human rights violations relate directly to anti-American sentiment: young Russians who believed that the United States tortures … terrorist suspects had considerably more negative views of the U.S. government."
"[the] Bush administration counterterrorism policies have helped the Kremlin cultivate … hostility toward America."
Do Mendelson and Gerber really believe that young Russians are so unsophisticated that they see no difference between the U.S. government and the American people?
A random sample of polls conducted by the Levada Center easily refutes the notion of a rampant anti-Americanism in Russia. For instance, a May 30, 2007 poll asked Russians to name the "most friendly" country. On a list of 42 countries, the United States came 14th (ahead of such traditional Russia’s ally as Serbia). Not the best friend, true, but hardly the Enemy No. 1.
Another poll shows that in June 2007, 48 percent of Russians had either "very good" or "generally good" attitude toward the United States, whereas only 40 percent expressed either "very bad" or "generally bad" sentiment. Perhaps, testifying that Mendelson and Gerber aren’t totally off the marks, and there is indeed a negative trend, the same numbers in January 2007 were 53 and 38 percent, respectively. But, again, any claim of a rampant, growing, and virulent anti-Americanism among the Russians, including younger ones, just doesn’t pass the academic and the common sense muster.
Mendelson and Gerber are certainly entitled to their negative view of President Putin. But they ought to stop blaming Putin for everything occurring in the world that the United States happens to dislike. America’s negative image is a self-inflicted wound, and Americans need only a mirror to find someone to blame.
A recent Pew poll has found — somewhat in disagreement with the above-mentioned Levada poll –that a 48/41 majority of Russians hold negative views of the U.S. But compare that to a 60/39 majority of French and a 66/30 majority of Germans feeling likewise.
Will the next Mendelson & Gerber article accuse Nicolas Sarkozy and Angel Merkel in fomenting anti-Americanism in France and Germany?