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Do Americans really hate Europe that much?

Back in June, shortly after Mitt Romney's entry into the race, I wrote a short piece noting the anti-European rhetoric in Mitt Romney's announcement of his candidacy, and predicting that Republicans would try to pain the president as a Brussels bureaucrat. After all, the "European" charge is a one-stop-shop shorthand for socialist economic policies, timidity in foreign affairs, and suggesting that there's something not-quite-American about the president without getting into dangerous racial territory.

Judging by last night's New Hampshire victory speech, Romney is doubling down on this line of attack:

“President Obama wants to ‘fundamentally transform’ America. We want to restore America to the founding principles that made this country great.

“He wants to turn America into a European-style entitlement society. We want to ensure that we remain a free and prosperous land of opportunity.

“This president takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe; we look to the cities and small towns of America.

And later:

“I want you to remember when our White House reflected the best of who we are, not the worst of what Europe has become.

On MSNBC this morning, Chris Matthews thought this was an effective tactic, saying something to the effect of, "A lot of Americans have done their European vacations. They thought the French were rude to them and Venice smells." (This isn't an exact quote. The clip isn't posted yet.)

But I'm still not quite convinced that Americans are that hostile to Europe. Granted, this hasn't been a great year for the European economic model, but it hasn't exactly been a great one for the American economic model either. As Andrew Sullivan notes, Americans probably wouldn't mind Germany's unemployment rate. 

Americans may not want to live in Europe, but they don't really hate it. A 2009 Pew Research Center poll found that 77 percent of Americans have favorable views of Britain, 66 percent for Germany and 62 percent for France. (The French number nearly doubled since 2003 when tensions were high over the Iraq War.)

Granted these numbers are from before the worst of the financial crisis (Although another poll released this year found that 55 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the E.U.) but I'm still not sure that U.S. hostility toward Europe -- particularly in the general electorate -- is as palpable as Romney seems to think it is.

Also, does Romney really want to come into office having spent his entire campaign bashing longtime U.S. allies?

Mike Hewitt/ALLSPORT

Passport

Is Obama really trying to overthrow the Iranian regime?

In a bombshell revelation sure to reverberate around the world, the Washington Post quotes a senior U.S. intelligence official seeming to suggest that the United States' goal in Iran is now the collapse of the regime. The story's headline: "Goal of Iran sanctions is regime collapse, U.S. official says."

I say "suggest" because the Post never directly quotes the official saying outright that regime change is the policy. Here's the key passage:

The goal of U.S. and other sanctions against Iran is regime collapse, a senior U.S. intelligence official said, offering the clearest indication yet that the Obama administration is at least as intent on unseating Iran's government as it is on engaging with it.

The official, speaking this week on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the administration hopes that sanctions "create enough hate and discontent at the street level" that Iranians will turn against their government.

What's more, the story's authors -- Karen DeYoung and Scott Wilson, two very seasoned and careful reporters -- also spoke with a "senior administration official" who contradicted that line:

A senior administration official, speaking separately, acknowledged that public discontent was a likely result of more punitive sanctions against Iran's already faltering economy. But this official said it was not the administration's intent to press the Iranian people toward an attempt to oust their government.

"The notion that we've crossed into sanctions being about regime collapse is incorrect," the administration official said. "We still very much have a policy that is rooted in the notion that you need to supply sufficient pressure to compel [the government] to change behavior as it's related to their nuclear program."

Dennis Ross, a top Middle East advisor who recently left the White House, also told De Young and Wilson that regime change was not the goal of the sanctions. And he should know, because he helped design them.

So what's going on? I suspect that the first source, the "senior U.S. intelligence official," may have misspoken, or been somehow misinterpreted. Pursuing regime change in a well-armed country of 78 million is no small matter, nor is it the sort of thing that can be ascertained from a blind quote that's immediately contradicted by other sources. (It's also very much worth noting that the harshest sanctions -- on Iran's central bank -- were imposed by Congress over the White House's objections.) 

Still, as my colleague Dan Drezner noted yesterday, the Obama team may be hoping that sanctions can open up fissures within the Iranian regime and provoke internal political strife -- thus giving the United States and its allies more leverage. That's not quite the same thing as regime change, however.

It's important to remember that Iranians themselves haven't called en masse for regime change. The protests that broke out over the stolen 2009 presidential election were mainly about calling for a recount or a revote, not about bringing down the entire clerical system. More Iranians may eventually conclude that "everything must go," but as far as we can tell they aren't there yet.

There is a certain political appeal in calling for regime change in Iran, I'll admit. Obama is being pilloried daily by the Republican presidential hopefuls for not doing enough to stop Iran's nuclear program, and he seems highly unlikely to agree to a bombing campaign that may or may not succeed in doing the job. But if he can say that he's trying to overthrow the mullahs rather than negotiate with them, he might be able to neutralize that line of attack. That's probably a bad idea, and it's no way to make foreign policy, but it wouldn't be the first time an American politician behaved like, well, a politician.

UPDATE: The Post has now changed its headline, substantially revised the top of the story, and appended a correction. The new headline reads: "Public ire one goal of Iran sanctions, U.S. official says." That's more like it.