Wednesday, February 14, 2007

They Hate Us Because We're American

Most of the American left is loathe to admit this, but when the rest of the world looks at America, they hate all of us, not just conservatives or big business or oil companies or whatever. It's all of us they hate.

Janet Albrechtsen makes this point from an Australian viewpoint in an interesting column.

But the problem with what Martin Amis calls the rodeo of anti-Americanism drawing crowds across the globe is that the antagonism is fuelled not just by what America does but also, in no small part, by what America is. It's here that rationality vanishes among even the most intelligent Westerners. British author Margaret Drabble summed it up thus: "My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me like a disease. It rises in my throat like acid reflux."

Actually, it's more akin to reflex than reflux. And a new book on anti-Americanism in Europe offers an insight into the reflexive hatred of the US: a hatred that has travelled beyond its traditional home of European elites.

Andrei S. Markovits, author of Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America, is no neo-con Bush cheerleader. Markovits told The Australian he is a card-carrying progressive signing up to every seminal Left issue. But he cannot stomach the toxic anti-Americanism, a staple of his side of politics. A bunch of people opposing US policies is not anti-Americanism. Instead, something new has emerged, he says. "European anti-Americanism is becoming an unprecedented Europe-wide lingua franca" - a "key mobilising agent" for a common European identity. It has, quite literally, become the last acceptable prejudice, sanctioned by the highest levels of government. Europeans may bicker over an EU constitution, but they can agree on who they hate. They hate America.

Back in the 1980s, I visited my British relatives during the time that Ronald Reagan was walking out on Mikhail Gorbachev at the Reykjavik Summit. My uncle was positively gleeful at the idea of Reagan "looking like a buffoon" and America "being put in its place."

I looked at him and said, "We are Americans," much to my mother's mortification.

The current anti-Americanism is no different. We are all Americans and they--Europeans and their snobbish relations in other corners of the world--hate us.

More from Albrechtsen.
Anti-Americanism has less to do with US politics and policies and more to do with what Markovits calls the "perfectly respectable human need to hate the big guy". Half a century ago, Hannah Arendt commented on the same psychology of mistrust aimed at the US. It was, she said, the inevitable plight of the big, rich guy to be alternately flattered and abused, remaining unpopular no matter how generous they were.

And so Norwegian Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun hated the US for being too big and too fast. Anti-Americanism has morphed into a desire to bring America to heel, something that coincides with the goal of Islamists. But if the big, fast rich guy retreats, it's worth asking who will step up to the plate when the West needs things fixed. The dawdling burghers of Europe may recall that small and slow did not help the Kuwaitis, Bosnian Muslims, Kosovars, Afghanis or the tsunami victims.

Back in the 1990s, we tried not to run over the rest of the world, but let other countries take the lead. And we got Bosnia. We got the Srebrenica Massacre. But, I'm sure, that was our fault, too.

Back to Albrechtsen.
It would be churlish not to recognise that Bush Derangement Syndrome, a term coined by Charles Krauthammer, has a role to play here. Originally levelled at Democrats in Florida who raced off to their shrink, complaining of staring listlessly into space when Bush beat John Kerry in 2004, hating George W. is also a common affliction abroad. A few years ago our own John Pilger described the Bush administration as "the Third Reich of our times".

But anti-Americanism runs deeper than Bush. "Anti-Bushism," says Markovits, is simply the "glaring tip of a massive anti-American iceberg"...

Anti-Americanism cannot be explained simply by US policy stances or as anti-imperialism either. The US was hated during its isolationist periods and under its pacifist presidents. Under Bill Clinton, the US was a hyperpower according to French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine. (Clinton is now lionised by European elites as a effete kind of non-American). The hapless Jimmy Carter, so cautious of bloodshed that 52 hostages were held captive in the US embassy in Tehran for 444 days, was equally despised. Should he become president, even Barack Obama will also incur the anti-American wrath.

And, of course, US policy is not always right. Indeed, big countries make big mistakes. Pick a decade and you'll find a major stuff-up by American political leaders, from the passing of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act by US Congress in 1930 that led to worldwide protectionism, to the CIA overthrowing the government of Iran in 1953 which unleashed anti-American sentiment across the Middle East.

But the distinguishing features of anti-Americanism are its intellectual dishonesty and irrationality. US malevolence is assumed, not proven.

So the Islamic world will complain the US is anti-Muslim while overlooking Bosnia. Europeans regularly overlook the fact that American power, resolve and, yes, idealism, delivered them from both Nazism and communism. Nor, when they nip down to the corner store for some foie gras in their BMWs or Citroens, do they remember the contribution the Marshall Plan made to their postwar prosperity.

While Russian President Vladimir Putin was railing against US power at an international security conference in Munich on Saturday, a respectable case can be made that, as hegemonies go, the US is the most benevolent history has ever seen. Not perfect by any means, but certainly deserving of better treatment than the acid reflux and bile of Western elites. America is big, rich and makes mistakes. But for the past 50 years at least, it has been the ultimate guarantor of the Western way of life. Surely it deserves a more balanced press from its critics.

We're the only country on earth that will fight a country, win the war, rebuild the country, then give it back to the people who lost. It would be nice the critics of the U.S. remembered the good America has done in the world.