Are We Big, Ugly Americans Again?

Christian Astier, a 44-year-old Parisian, agrees that there is an "axis of evil." But he thinks the United States is part of it.

"I have a very negative view of the Americans because they are intolerant, they focus on themselves and they think only about themselves," the civil servant says. "They are part of the 'axis of evil' as well."

Astier is far from alone in his thinking.

As post-Sept. 11 solidarity with the United States dies down in Europe and elsewhere around the world, unease and anger with American policy and Americans in general have returned to a degree that might surprise those accustomed to the global outpouring of support after the terror attacks.

Experts disagree on how much European anger is on the rise. Most believe that opinion has shifted away from the blanket support the United States received immediately after the attacks. Many think Europe is still largely sympathetic to its pal across the pond, but feel the wave of post Sept. 11 compassion has given way to deep fears about what it sees as heavy-handed U.S. policy.

Evidence of Backlash

The welcome wagon may be headed into the sunset.

"The emotions of Sept. 11 have faded," says Dominique Moisi, the deputy director of the French Institute of International Relations in Paris, referring to French public opinion today. "If you read the French press today, you have the feeling that the threat is America."

"Americans may not yet be fully aware of this, but the fact is that anti-American sentiments are resurfacing in Europe," the Belgian newspaper De Standaard wrote earlier this month. "It was striking how short the period of widespread solidarity and sympathy with the United States was in the wake of September 11."

Some commentators, such as novelist Salman Rushdie, point to a deeper anti-Americanism that reaches well beyond the political commentators who have always criticized the United States.

"Night after night, I have found myself listening to Londoners' diatribes against the sheer weirdness of the American citizenry. The attacks on America are routinely discounted. ('Americans only care about their own dead.') American patriotism, obesity, emotionality, self-centredness: these are the crucial issues," Rushdie wrote in an op-ed piece that appeared in American, Canadian and British newspapers.

Some commentators here and abroad have argued the just-concluded Winter Olympics reflected this growing global resentment.

Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins labeled the controversies at the Salt Lake City Games an "anti-American binge," citing international anger over the gold medals Americans Apolo Ohno and Sarah Hughes won in speed skating and figure skating.

"It was ultimately impossible to separate the [Salt Lake] Games from the fact of American hegemony in the world and the United States' go-it-alone approach in foreign policy," she wrote after the closing ceremonies.

Shortly after the games began, England's left-of-center Guardian newspaper reported that the "wave of American jingoism and intense security" had some senior Olympic officials privately voicing concern about whether the United States could host the Olympics again.

It Was Different Right After Sept. 11

Such criticisms seem a world away from the immediate global rush of sympathy after the attacks.

"I think that everybody felt solidarity with the Americans," says Emilie Bloch, a 22-year-old student in Paris, describing the mood in late September of last year.

"Immediately following Sept. 11 there was a genuine sense of unity, solidarity, and humanity with the United States. Europeans saw it as an attack on all right-thinking people," agrees Steven Everts, a research fellow at the Center for European Reform in London.

In the weeks after Sept. 11, Europe rallied to the American cause. Nearly three-quarters of the British public supported using British troops against the terrorists responsible for the attacks, according to one poll, and 70 percent approved of the way President Bush was handling the U.S. response. The fact that Sept. 11 victims came from 26 countries also increased the sense that the attacks had reached around the globe.

"I think there was so much sympathy here," says Natasha Walters, a columnist for the Independent in London. "It was almost as though it had happened here."

Emotions Fade, Differences Appear

But as time passed and the anti-terrorism campaign took new turns, that feeling was tempered by growing unease with U.S. policy and shock at the American military's sheer might in the assault on Afghanistan.

"None of that feeling [of post-Sept. 11 support] has soured among my immediate family and friends who remain supportive of the U.S., but in the U.K., there is a groundswell of dissent [about U.S. policy]," says Charles Elder, a Kansas native who has lived in England for the past 20 years.

Bill Martel, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, thinks the fact that the attacks occurred on American — not European — soil meant that different reactions were inevitable.

"They didn't suffer what we suffered. They didn't see 3,000 Europeans killed on Sept. 11," he says.

Anger Over Camp X-Ray and the ‘Axis of Evil’

As the war in Afghanistan progressed, U.S. foreign policy alarmed a broad cross-section of European politicians and public figures. They complained that the United States was directing its anti-terror campaign without consulting its European partners.

In late December, support for widening the conflict beyond Afghanistan was slim, with just 32 percent of Europeans polled saying they supported attacking Iraq and Somalia if those countries supported terrorism.

Many European policymakers had expected American foreign policy would become much more multilateral after Sept. 11. Now, they fear that the clear superiority of the American military would make other nations irrelevant in U.S. policymakers' eyes.

"There's almost a sense of betrayal," Alberta Sbragia, director of the European Union Center at the University of Pittsburgh, says of the European reaction.

The U.S. treatment of Afghan detainees at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo, Cuba, also drew outcries from around Europe.

The Camp X-Ray controversy prompted Rosa Montero, a columnist for Spain's El Pais, to write: "One of the most harmful aspects of American society is its Calvinist notion of vengeance … the primitive 'eye for an eye' of frontier law, the moral intolerance."

"Everybody from left to right — were talking about it in shocked tones," says Walters, the Independent columnist. "I thought that was a turning point."

Decrying ‘American Arrogance’

Bush's "axis of evil" remark in his State of the Union address likewise drew widespread condemnation overseas. Only British lawmakers came out strongly in support of Bush's speech, and even there, politicians were openly skeptical of Bush's rhetoric.

The moderate Independent newspaper wrote: "America is already envied and disliked because of its domination. The danger is that Mr Bush's speech, with its simple certainties and pronounced unilateralist flavour, will merely fuel that resentment further."

The speech prompted Anatole Kaletsky — the main economic correspondent for the right-of-center Times of London, which typically takes a favorable position toward the United States — to write: "The greatest danger to America's dominant position today is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is the arrogance of American power."

Trans-Atlantic Tensions Are Nothing New

The significance of such comments is unclear, however. Some feel that European unease with American policy is nothing new.

"I think the reality is that there are long-standing strains within the [American-European] alliance," says Warren Bass, director of special projects and the Terrorism Program at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

He cites disputes that are "near and dear to the hearts of many European countries," such as Bush's refusal to sign the Kyoto environmental accord and his desire to leave the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, among others.

In France, even just two weeks after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, poll by an international research firm found only 24 percent thought American foreign policy had a positive effect on France. In Germany, the total was 37 percent; in Britain it was 43 percent.

Broad Criticism, But How Deep Does It Run?

Iain Murray, research director at the Statistical Assessment Service, a nonprofit research organization in Washington, believes the criticism of U.S. policy is mostly confined to politicians and writers.

"There's still a residual sentiment in favor of America among the general populace," he says.

He also says upcoming elections in France and Germany may be pushing politicians there to show they are not merely towing the American line.

"There's definitely a [backlash against America] but I think many commentators are exaggerating it," he says.

Robert Lieber, a professor of government and foreign service at Georgetown University in Washington, says he thinks the European outcry is unlikely to lead to a major rift between the continent and the United States.

"Underlying things hold us together," he says. "Western values, shared interests in the Western economic system, liberal constitutional governments."

ABCNEWS' Tony Eufinger in London and Christophe Schpoliansky in Paris contributed to this report.