Last year the hysteria about the hostility toward the United States reached a fevered pitch. Everyone from Jimmy Carter to our Hollywood elite lamented that America had lost its old popularity. It was a constant promise of the Kerry campaign to restore our good name and “to work with our allies.” The more sensitive were going to undo the supposed damage of the last four years. Whole books have been devoted to this peculiar new anti-Americanism, but few have asked whether or not such suspicion of the United States is, in fact, a barometer of what we are doing right–and while not necessarily welcome, at least proof that we are on the correct track.
The Egyptian autocracy may have received $57 billion in aggregate American aid over the last three decades. But that largess still does not prevent the Mubarak dynasty from damning indigenous democratic reformers by dubbing them American stooges. In differing ways, the Saudi royal family exhibits about the same level of antagonism toward the U.S. as do the Islamic fascists of al Qaeda–both deeply terrified by what is going on in Iraq. Mostly this animus arises because we are distancing ourselves from corrupt grandees, even as we have become despised as incendiary democratizers by the Islamists. Is that risky and dangerous? Yes. Bad? Hardly
At the U.N. it is said that a ruling hierarchy mistrusts the United States and that a culture of anti-Americanism has become endemic within the organization. No wonder–the Americans alone push for more facts about the Oil-for-Food scandal, question Kofi Annan’s breaches of ethics, and want investigations about U.N. crimes in Africa. If we are mistrusted for caring about those thousands who are inhumanely treated by a supposedly humane organization, then why in the world should we wish to be liked by such a group?
EU bureaucrats and French politicians routinely caricature Americans, whipping up public opinion against the United States, even as they fly here to profess eagerness to maintain the old NATO transatlantic ties. Is it to our discredit that what Europe has now devolved into does not like the United States?
Mexico, we are told, is furious at the United States. Mexico City newspapers routinely trash Americans. Vicente Fox usually sounds more like a belligerent than the occasional visitor at the presidential ranch. That is not so bad either.
In short, who exactly does not like the United States and why? First, almost all the 20 or so illiberal Arab governments that used to count on American realpolitik’s giving them a pass on accounting for their crimes. They fear not the realist Europeans, nor the resource-mad Chinese, nor the old brutal Russians, but the Americans, who alone are prodding them to open their economies and democratize their corrupt political cultures. We must learn to expect, not lament, their hostility, and begin to worry that things would be indeed wrong if such unelected dictators praised the United States.
The United Nations has sadly become a creepy organization. Its General Assembly is full of cutthroat regimes. The Human Rights Commission has had members like Vietnam and Sudan, regimes that at recess must fight over bragging rights to which of the two killed more of their own people. The U.N. has a singular propensity to find flawed men to be secretary-general–a Kurt Waldheim, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, or Kofi Annan. Blue-helmeted peace-keepers, we learn, are as likely to commit as prevent crimes; and the only thing constant about such troops is that they will never go first into harm’s way in Serbia, Kosovo, the Congo, or Dafur to stop genocide. Even worse, the U.N. has proved to be a terrible bully, an unforgivable sin for a self-proclaimed protector of the weak and innocent–loud false charges against Israel for its presence in the West Bank, not a peep about China in Tibet; tough talk about Palestinian rights, far less about offending Arabs over Darfur. So U.N. anti-Americanism is a glowing radiation badge, proof of exposure to toxicity.
The EU is well past being merely silly, as its vast complex of bureaucrats tries to control what 400 million speak, eat, and think. Its biggest concerns are three: figuring out how its nations are to keep paying billions of euros to retirees, unemployed, and assorted other entitlement recipients; how to continue to ankle-bite the United States without antagonizing it to the degree that these utopians might have to pay for their own security; and how not to depopulate itself out of existence. Europeans sold Saddam terrible arms for oil well after the first Gulf War. Democratic Israel or Taiwan means nothing to them; indeed, democracy is increasingly becoming the barometer by which to judge European hostility. Cuba, China, Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah–not all that bad; the United States, Taiwan, and Israel, not all that good. Personally, I’d rather live in a country that goes into an anguished national debate over pulling the plug on a lone woman than one that blissfully vacations on the beach oblivious to 15,000 elderly cooked to well done back in Paris.
Mexico, enjoying one of the richest landscapes in the world, can’t feed its own people, so it exports its poorest to the United States. Its own borders with Central America are as brutal to cross as our own are porous. Illegal aliens send back almost $50 billion, which has the effect of propping up corrupt institutions that as a result will never change. Given its treatment of its own people, if the Mexican government praised the United States we should indeed be concerned.
Who then are America’s friends? Perhaps one billion Indians, who appreciated that at a time of recession we kept our economy open, and exported jobs and expertise there that helped evolve its economy.
Millions of Japanese trust America as well. Unlike the Chinese, who on script vandalized Japanese interests abroad in anguish over right-wing Japanese textbooks, Americans–who at great cost once freed China–without such violence urge the Japanese to deal honestly with the past. After all, the Tokyo government that started the war is gone and replaced by a democracy; in contrast, the Communist dictatorship that killed 50 million of its own and many of its neighbors is still in place in China. At a time when no one in Europe seems to care that Japan is squeezed between a nuclear North Korea and a nuclear China, the United States alone proves a reliable friend. The French, on spec, conduct maneuvers with the ascendant Communist Chinese navy.
Eastern Europeans do not find the larger families, religiosity, or commitment to individualism and freedom in America disturbing. Apparently, millions in South America don’t either–if their eagerness to emigrate here is any indication.
It is the wage of the superpower to be envied. Others weaker vie for its influence and attention–often when successful embarrassed by the necessary obsequiousness, when ignored equally shamed at the resulting public impotence. The Cold War is gone and former friends and neutrals no longer constrain their anti-American rhetoric in fear of a cutthroat and nuclear Soviet Union. Americans are caricatured as cocky and insular–as their popular culture sweeps the globe.
All that being said, the disdain that European utopians, Arab dictatorships, the United Nations, and Mexico exhibit toward the United States is not–as the Kerry campaign alleged in the last election–cause for tears, but often reason to be proud, since much of the invective arises from the growing American insistence on principles abroad.
America should not gratuitously welcome such dislike; but we should not apologize for it either. Sometimes the caliber of a nation is found not in why it is liked, but rather in why it is not. By January 1, 1941, I suppose a majority on the planet–the Soviet Union, all of Eastern Europe, France, Italy, Spain, and even many elsewhere in occupied Europe, most of Latin America, Japan and its Asian empire, the entire Arab world, many in India–would have professed a marked preference for Hitler’s Germany over Churchill’s England.
Think about it. When Europe orders all American troops out; when Japan claims our textbooks whitewash the Japanese forced internment or Hiroshima; when China cites unfair trade with the United States; when South Korea says get the hell off our DMZ; when India complains that we are dumping outsourced jobs on them; when Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinians refuse cash aid; when Canada complains that we are not carrying our weight in collective North American defense; when the United Nations moves to Damascus; when the Arab Street seethes that we are pushing theocrats and autocrats down its throat; when Mexico builds a fence to keep us out; when Latin America proclaims a boycott of the culturally imperialistic Major Leagues; and when the world ignores American books, films, and popular culture, then perhaps we should be worried. But something tells me none of that is going to happen in this lifetime.
–Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His website is victorhanson.com.