Monday, July 11, 2005

Anti-Americanism in Perspective

Over the last several years, we have seen disturbing images on our televisions and read of poll after poll which indicates that America's popularity abroad is in free-fall. These indicators are driven most immediately by America's policies in the Global War on Terror and the invasion of Iraq. But in a larger sense, these attitudes have been long in the making as a result of American encouragement of globalization and its de facto hegemony in the political, economic, military and cultural spheres. This dominance means that the US often takes decisions in Washington (or Redmond or New York or Cupertino) which have profound impacts on the lives of people around the world. So is it any wonder that resentment emerges when those impacted perceive that they have little or no voice in the decision-making process?

Although the paragons of doomery tell us that this era of anti-Americanism is unique, they probably have short memories. They don't remember the international critiques of America during the Vietnam War or during the malaise of the Carter years. They certainly don't remember the massive protests when President Reagan sought to counter the Soviet threat with the introduction nuclear weapons into Western Europe. Although far from unique, this new era of anti-Americanism also isn't something to ignore or be unconcerned about. Indeed, it's an important development and one worthy of addressing.

How should we interpret the development? Just what weight should we give it? What role should our desire to be liked play in our foreign policy? Today's American Thinker provides us with some interesting thoughts on the subject. The key section from my perspective:

Some now imply that countries, such as France or Canada, ought to bestow affections upon the United States and, if they do not flatter our national ego, then surely we must be guilty of some uniquely horrible error that demands immediate correction. This political opinion is dubious. The evidence adduced in support of anti-Americanism, especially the European and Canadian varieties, is often contradictory and beyond our control. Out of their own self-interest, other countries are unhappy with American “isolationism” if not with American “imperialism”; with American “materialism” if not with American “Jesusland”; with “na├»ve promotion of democracy” if not with “cold and selfish realpolitik.” Go back and read press clippings of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and see how we were chastised for not helping the Afghan “freedom fighters” quickly enough, and then compare those with recent sneering that we “created” bin Laden and the Taliban. Do the same with the rest of the Cold War, as well as with Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq. How can the United States possibly satisfy so many different malcontents, whose complaints and anger change with the wind? Indeed if you wish to see anti-American contradictions distilled in a single volume, read this bestselling European hate literature, whose incoherent arguments and stereotypes rank with the ugliest of anti-Semitic and racist tracts. After its reading, the real question, you realize, is not so much why do they hate us as why are people abroad so blatantly contrary and hypocritical in their anti-Americanism? Here is one answer: all nations, by and large, are self-occupied and self-regarding, governed at times by the all too human traits of pride, vanity, resentment, honor, fear and what Freud called “man’s natural aggressive drive.” All of these darker forces of the human psyche frequently influence whom nations like and do not like; they are what loom behind the incessantly altering negative attitudes toward America, toward you and me.

Indeed, it's rather interesting that negative perceptions of America pursuing a "selfish national agenda" often arise out of positions taken by those looking out for their own selfish-national agendas. For example, many of those in France opposed to the American invasion of Iraq viewed it through the lens of the impact it might have on Europe in terms of Islamic terrorism. But since the US had already been (and will continue to be) a target for Islamic terrorism, should our overriding concern have been the potential impacts on Europe, or our own national interest? While Bush's course vis-a-vis Iraq is certainly open to debate, should we really be surprised when exercises of self-interest step on the toes of others? What role should such realities play in our decision-making? And what can be done to ameliorate the outrage when it occurs? I'll be addressing some of these issues in upcoming posts.

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