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February 18, 2005

"People are turning off America" 

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Feb 17th 2005

George Bush will encounter a more complex animosity than is often
portrayed when he ventures abroad next week

EVER since the days of the Founding Fathers, America has regarded what
George Washington called "the foreign world" with a degree of
suspicion, and the foreign world has often reciprocated. Never more
than now, it seems. Under George Bush, anti-Americanism is widely
thought to have reached new heights--and, in the view of the Pew
Research Centre, a Washington surveyor of world opinion, new depths.
Its latest report says that "anti-Americanism is deeper and broader now
than at any time in modern history." But though anti-Americanism spans
the globe, the phenomenon is not everywhere the same. It mutates
according to local conditions, and it is seldom straightforward.

No wonder. Most people's feelings about America are complicated.
"America", after all, is shorthand for many other terms: the Bush
administration, a Republican-dominated Congress, Hollywood, a source of
investment, a place to go to study, a land of economic opportunity, a
big regional power, the big world power, a particular policy, the
memory of something once done by the United States, a set of political
values based on freedom, democracy and economic liberalism, and so on.
It is easy to be for some of these and against others, and some may wax
or wane in importance according to time, circumstance, propaganda or
wishful thinking. So it should be no surprise that some people can hold
two apparently contradictory views of America at once. The incandescent
third-world demonstrator, shrieking "Down with America!" in one breath
and "Can you get me a green card?" in the next, has become a

As Mr Bush may discover when he meets his French counterpart over
dinner on Monday, no country contains this mixture of attitudes in
greater abundance than France. France is a longstanding ally of the
United States (since 1778); it gave America the Statue of Liberty; it
conferred honorary citizenship on Madison; it was the country of
Lafayette (American revolutionary hero), of Montesquieu (profound
influence on Jefferson) and of L'Enfant (designer of Washington, DC).
Yet France is also the country that rails against American
HYPERPUISSANCE (hyperpowerdom), cheers when rustic thugs lay waste
McDonald's and laps up books like "11 Septembre 2001: l'Effroyable
Imposture", whose thesis, that the attacks on the twin towers were "an
appalling deception" to justify American adventurism, won it sales of
100,000 in its first week of publication. France, moreover, is the home
of Gaullism, a form of nationalism saturated with anti-American
bilge--and the well-spring of Mr Chirac's political creed.

All this has made France the LOCUS CLASSICUS of anti-Americanism. Yet
many ordinary French people, as distinct from their more
politically-minded countrymen, are rather pro-American. They go to
American movies, take holidays in the United States, eat in McDonald's
(rustics permitting) and shop in places that look much like American
giant stores. In a poll conducted in 21 countries by the BBC World
Service last month, only a small majority (54%) of those interviewed in
France said they viewed American influence unfavourably--not much more
than in Australia (52%), and rather less than in Mexico (57%), Canada
(60%) and Germany (64%).

So what explains France's reputation for anti-Americanism? The main
answer is that it is proclaimed bombastically by so many of those in
France who strike political attitudes. They do this partly because of
the rivalry between France and America, based on their remarkably
similar self-images: the two countries both think they invented the
rights of man, have a unique calling to spread liberty round the world
and hold a variety of other attributes that make them utterly and
admirably exceptional. Jealousy also plays a part. America is often
better than France at activities that the French take great pride in,
such as making movies or even cooking--at least if popular taste is the
judge. And French politicians are not blind to the value of criticising
someone else in order to divert attention from their own failures:
French anti-Americanism tends to rise when France has just suffered a
setback of some kind, whether defeat at the hands of the Germans, a
drubbing in Algeria or the breakdown of the Fourth Republic.

Not many countries share all these characteristics, but several have
some of them. Take Iran, where political diatribes, religious sermons,
rent-a-mob demonstrations and heroic graffiti regularly denounce the
Great Satan and all his doings. Anti-Americanism is central to the
ideology of Iran's ruling Shia clerics. Yet Iranians at large, like the
French, are not noticeably hostile to America. The young in particular
seem thoroughly pro-American, revelling in America's popular culture,
yearning for its sexual freedoms, some even hoping for an American
deliverance from their oppression. Whether the affection runs deep is
another matter: pro-Americanism among the young is a form of
anti-regime defiance that might evaporate quickly if their country were

Yet why should the clerics bang on so relentlessly about the United
States when the British were just as deeply involved in the overthrow
of Mohammed Mossadegh's regime in 1953, when Iraq under Saddam Hussein
posed a much greater threat, and when, recently at least, America has
shown itself ready to get rid of the Baathists next door and pave the
way for a Shia-led government in Iraq? The main explanation, as in
France, is rivalry. Iran's theocratic regime has clear ambitions to be
a leader not just of the Middle East but of the entire Muslim world.
America, now avowedly bent on spreading democracy across the region, is
in the way.

The regime has other reasons as well, no doubt: to divert attention
from its many failures; to keep alive the thought that the wicked shah,
restored to power in the 1953 coup, was the creature of the Americans,
even though memories of his rule glow ever more brightly for many older
Iranians; and, inevitably, to exploit the widespread feeling among
Muslims almost everywhere that the United States is pro-Israel,
anti-Palestine and indeed anti-Islam, a feeling that has intensified,
according to the polls, since September 11th 2001. Pew says
anti-Americanism is nowhere more acute than in the Muslim world.

Even here, though, the picture is not uniform. In Indonesia, the
biggest Muslim country, anti-Americanism is largely an armchair affair.
People are happy to curse the United States--a current rumour suggests
it could have given warning of the December tsunami but chose not
to--yet none of the recent terrorist attacks in Indonesia seems to have
been directed at Americans. In Arab countries, by contrast, some people
are clearly ready to take up arms in pursuit of al-Qaeda's JIHAD.

Arab anti-Americanism is a much younger phenomenon than its European
counterpart. Although it shares with European left-wingery much
claptrap about the wickedness of American materialism, it became
widespread in the Middle East only with America's open support for
Israel after the 1967 six-day war. Eleven years earlier, Arabs had been
all for the United States: it had just put a stop to the Suez affair,
the British-French-Israeli attempt to overthrow the Nasser regime in
Egypt. But since 1967 America has been considered by Arabs to be
incomprehensibly pro-Israeli. The potency of this view probably owes
more to Arab failures than to anything else--failures to deal with
Israel, to establish democracies, to create modern economies, to
produce heroes in virtually any field of respectable human endeavour.
This must be someone's fault. Whose? Why, the local thug (Israel) and
its sponsor (America), of course.

A seminal event, akin to the 1967 war for Arabs, may be found in plenty
of other places where anti-Americanism flourishes. In Greece it was
America's backing for the rule of the colonels (1967-74). In Spain, it
was the support--implicit, if not explicit--of the Franco regime that
came with America's military bases in the 1950s. Some say Spain's
dislike for America dates back to the Spanish-American war of 1898, but
in truth that made little impact on the left, which saw the war as an
agent of Spain's modernisation. When American soldiers arrived at
Torrejon and other bases in the 1950s, though, the Spanish left saw
them as collaborators, not liberators.

Most of the far left in Europe is still anti-American, for familiar
reasons: America is materialist, imperialist, interventionist, etc. But
right-wingers, too, are sometimes hostile. The ideas of the American
revolution have inevitably challenged ANCIENS ReGIMES and
anti-democrats of any stripe (including Franco's, until the bases). As
conservatives have come to terms with democracy, those who have taken
against America have done so mostly for snobbish or cultural reasons:
hence the antagonism of such British writers as Evelyn Waugh and
Kingsley Amis.

Latin Americans may think they have better reasons to harbour a grudge.
Mexico, for instance, lost about half its territory to the United
States in the war of 1846-48. In the BBC survey last month, only 11% of
the Mexicans polled had a mainly favourable view of the influence of
their northern neighbour, less even than the proportion of Argentines,
who are in other respects even more hostile. Cubans have resented the
United States ever since 1898, when their hard- and long-fought war of
independence against Spain was in effect stolen from them by the
YANQUIS prosecuting the Spanish-American war.

The United States then made some 30 military interventions in and
around the Caribbean in the next 30 years, many of them under Smedley
Butler, a marine corps general, who summed up his career thus: "I
helped make Honduras "right" for American fruit companies in 1903. I
helped make Mexico...safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped
make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to
collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central
American republics for the benefit of Wall Street...I helped purify
Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in
1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar
interests in 1916. In China, I helped to see to it that Standard Oil
went its way unmolested."

For most of the 19th century, Latin Americans--including their great
liberator, Simon Bolivar--had drawn inspiration from the American
colonists' anti-British revolt. But the war of 1898 and the
interventions that followed turned most of them against the great power
next door. The hostility remains, in varying degrees, though 15 years
of democratisation, emigration to and trade with the United States have
done much to soften attitudes, especially in Central America.

Other nations that have experienced American meddling also continue to
resent it. For evidence, just go to Congo, where Mobutu Sese Seko ruled
imperiously for decades courtesy of the United States, or to Angola,
whose long wars were drawn out by the superpower sponsorship of its
local tyrants. Yet anti-Americanism in such places does not seem to run
deep. This is not just a matter of distance. The Philippines is hardly
adjacent, yet its experience as an American colony for half a century
has left it with a persistent strain of anti-Americanism--as well as an
infatuation, among the young at least, with basketball and country

That suggests that the intensity of the American experience may be the
decisive factor in the creation of lasting anti-Americanism. It would
explain why Indians, for instance, though their governments were long
hostile to America in foreign policy, have never shown much antagonism
in other ways. Yet the intensity test certainly does not provide an
iron rule. On the one hand, Canada, which has never suffered anything
worse from its neighbour than cultural imperialism, ignoration and
disdain, is perpetually critical of the United States. If it were
not--if it did not define itself in opposition to its
neighbour--Canada, it seems, would have no reason to exist. On the
other hand, Vietnam, less than 30 years after a long war against the
Americans in which it lost about 5m of its people, seems to harbour
little hostility towards its old foe. Perhaps it is just too busy to

It may help, too, that Vietnam has not had any subsequent reason, real
or imaginary, to resent America. In many of the places where the embers
of anti-Americanism burn brightest, some event has taken place to
rekindle them. For Arabs, the war in Iraq is one. For Latin Americans,
it was the United States' support for Augusto Pinochet's coup in Chile
(and now its stomp-all-over-the-place war on drugs). For Greeks, it was
the American-led interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo--interventions on
behalf of Muslims, though many Muslims seem to forget it. The Greeks,
though, did not. They were outraged by NATO's attacks on the Serbs,
another Orthodox Christian people. In the Philippines, America was
considered far too friendly to the kleptocratic and ruthless Ferdinand
Marcos. In every country with American bases, any outrage by American
servicemen--the rape of a Japanese child, the running over of two South
Korean girls, the severing of an Italian cable-car's wires--tends to
strengthen latent hostility.

The vigour of anti-American feeling varies strongly even among peoples
who, to the casual observer, seem to have no good reason for their
differing reactions. The Japanese, for example, defeated in war--Tokyo
fire-bombed, Hiroshima and Nagasaki triturated with atomic bombs--seem
far more pro-American than the South Koreans, who owe much of their
freedom to American force of arms. Why? Perhaps because the Japanese
feel, rightly or wrongly, much more threatened by China and North Korea
than do the South Koreans, and are therefore much more grateful to a
protective Uncle Sam.

Certainly, hostility to America is often mitigated by feelings of
friendship and gratitude. Plenty of elderly Frenchmen remember
America's role in liberating their country. Plenty of Germans remember
the Berlin airlift. Plenty of elderly Iranians are proud that they once
studied in the United States. Many, if not most, of the reformist
democrats in Latin American governments have been to American
universities, as have several of their east and central European

An American diaspora may also have a mollifying effect in the old
country. France, which has sent few emigrants to North America since
before the European Enlightenment, is unusual in providing no
hyphenated Americans (which may help to explain why French
anti-Americanism is matched by American anti-Frenchism). Huge
communities of Latin Americans, Indochinese, Greeks, Koreans, Iranians,
you name it, have grown up in recent decades in the United States and
ensure that a constant flow of money, ideas and hope flow from America
to other parts of the world.

This background of ties, aspirations and shared values means that in
some places anti-Americanism can be dissipated quite quickly with a
visit (such as Bill Clinton's trip to India in 2000) or some other
gesture (debt forgiveness perhaps, or some post-tsunami assistance). In
other places, though, it would take much more to change attitudes: an
American-engineered peace between Israel and the Palestinians, say, or
a credible commitment to tackle global warming, and even these might
prove ineffective without other policy changes sustained over many
years. And in some places it may well be impossible for America to do
very much. The mere fact of being a great power ready to intervene (in,
say, Kosovo) is enough to make enemies. And then some states, like some
people, have chips on their shoulders. Anti-Americanism in Argentina
and parts of the Arab world has as much to do with the inadequacies of
these countries as with anything done by the United States.

Why, anyway, should America care if a bunch of foreigners dislike it,
or affect to? Maybe, as a military and economic power without rival, it
should not be too worried. Yet America needs the co-operation of other
governments if it is to conduct trade, combat drugs, reduce pollution
and fight terrorism. Moreover, Mr Bush is now committed to spreading
"freedom" across the Middle East, indeed across the world. If
foreigners, disillusioned with America, believe this is merely a
hypocritical justification for getting rid of regimes he dislikes, the
task may be harder. It is striking that Mr Bush's 49 mentions of
liberty or freedom in his inaugural address last month do not seem to
have struck the sort of chord round the world that Jack Kennedy's
quixotic commitments did in the 1960s.

That may reflect the greater cynicism of the worldwide audience 40
years on. But the polls suggest it also has something to do with Mr
Bush. Last month's BBC poll found that opposition to Mr Bush was
stronger than anti-Americanism in general, and that the particular had
contributed to the general. Asked how Mr Bush's election had affected
their views of the American people, 42% said it had made them feel
worse towards Americans.

That is the, perhaps short-term, view of some non-Americans. It is
accompanied by another view, increasingly common among pundits, which
holds that America is losing its allure as a model society. Whereas
much of the rest of the world once looked to the United States as a
beacon, it is argued, non-Americans are now turning away. Democrats in
Europe and elsewhere who once thought religiosity, a belief in capital
punishment and rank hostility to the United Nations were intermittent
or diminishing features of the United States now see them as rising and
perhaps permanent. Such feelings have been fortified by Mr Bush's
doctrine of preventive war, Guantanamo, opposition to the world
criminal court and a host of other international agreements. One way or
another, it is said, people are turning off America, not so much to
hate it as to look for other examples to follow--even Europe's. If
true, that could be even more insulting to Americans than the rise in
the familiar anti-Americanism of yesteryear.

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