How they see us: Crudely insulting our allies

Well, at least we know now what the Americans really think of us.

Well, at least we know now what the Americans really think of us, said Lorraine Millot in Libération (France). Thanks to an audio clip of an intercepted phone call posted on YouTube, we can all hear U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland telling her ambassador to Ukraine which Ukrainian opposition figures should be installed in a new government and which should not, instructing him to hammer this all out with the new U.N. representative “and, you know, f--- the EU.” Such arrogance comes naturally to Nuland, who is married to “the famous neocon” Robert Kagan, the one who came up with the expression “Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus.” As a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, “she is accustomed to having Americans make the decisions while Europeans follow them.” She doesn’t even seem embarrassed at being thus exposed: The State Department has limited its defense to blaming the Russians for leaking the tape. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, has given the only EU response so far, calling Nuland’s words “absolutely unacceptable.”

That’s an overreaction: This is just how the Americans talk, said Gregor Peter Schmitz in Der Spiegel (Germany). When Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, she “tossed the F-word around freely.” U.S. diplomats and bureaucrats deploy it as often as we Germans say Scheisse—which is to say, all the time. Europe should just shrug it off. The real question is whether Nuland’s criticism of the European approach to Ukraine is valid, and there, “the answer is an emphatic ‘sort of.’” It’s true that the EU mishandled Ukraine last year by vainly insisting that President Viktor -Yanukovych release opposition figure Yulia -Tymoshenko from prison while failing to offer him the vital financial aid that the Russians were only too happy to provide. But the current U.S. approach to forcing out the pro-Russian Yanukovych is no better. Nuland was actually casting a new, transitional government for Ukraine, saying that opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, for example, should not be in it.

Hey, I’m not offended, said Vitali Klitschko in Bild (Germany). Nuland showed me the video herself, on her iPad, when I met with her in the U.S. Embassy in Kiev. She apologized, laughing, but she needn’t have. “I see things exactly as she does!” And I agree that I shouldn’t be in the government as long as Yanukovych remains president. What we should all be concerned about is the fact of the leak, not its content. The recording of Nuland and another leaked exchange—of EU diplomats complaining about the Americans—were intended to sow discord between the two allies. “Don’t fall into that trap.” The U.S. and the EU have to work together on Ukraine—“anything else only helps the Yanukovych regime.”

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Russia already has the upper hand, said Sylvie Kauffmann in Le Monde (France). By timing the leaks of the tapes to coincide with Nuland’s arrival in Kiev, Russia was telling both the U.S. and the EU that “Western diplomats may visit Ukraine” in a time of crisis, “but the Russian secret services are at home there” all the time.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.