Understanding Anti-Americanism

Understanding Anti-Americanism


There is sharp disagreement over the”root causes” of contemporary anti-Americanism—over how much instigated by U.S. foreign policy, for example, and how much results from envy, misplaced grievances, from the output of Hollywood or the impact of corporate America. Nevertheless, America’s critics can be grouped into various typologies that help explain much of the current outbreak of anti-Americanism, especially in Europe and the Muslim world.

The Liberal Idealists
This criticism comes from those who believe that America is failing grievously to live up to its democratic ideals. They see an America that gives unconditional military and economic support to dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia; that fails to aggressively support democracy movements in oppressive states such as Egypt; and that refuses to act decisively to prevent genocide, as in Rwanda. Unless America’s economic interests are threatened, the argument goes, the United States sits on the sidelines as its democratic principles are shredded. Moreover, liberal idealists emphasize the use of diplomacy and “soft power” to confront international threats: In their eyes, America’s eagerness to use military power presents the most serious threat to international peace and security.

The Social Justice Activists
Many democratic societies, especially those of Western Europe, have developed a vision of just societies that differs markedly from that of the United States. Many Europeans are repelled by America’s comparatively modest welfare state, its gap between rich and poor, and its ideas about self-reliance and civil society. Similarly, the move toward a more assertive European Union, common currency, and managed economies stands in sharp relief to America’s emphasis on de-regulated, free-market economies.

Post-Colonial Solidarity
Although the United States was never a colonial power, the nations that secured their independence in the twentieth century, particularly in Africa, form an international voting block that remains deeply suspicious of American influence. Most African democracies, for example, tend to support African dictators such as Robert Mugabe when they come under US criticism for human rights abuses. This reflex can be seen as a result of cultural and regional solidarity rather than a principled opposition to US foreign policy.

The Post-National Europeans
Europe has been described as being in a ‘post-national’ stage: European states have allowed the political project of the European Union to compromise their national sovereignty, yet they have failed to offer their citizens a sense of common cultural identity (as the debate over the European Constitution made clear). As a response to this crisis of identity, some Europeans seek to define themselves in terms of opposition to the United States and American power.

It is an instinctive part of human nature to show some degree of resentment against the global hegemon. This was the case as far back as ancient Rome. However much the Romans provided in terms of good government, material benefits and peace, they faced much hatred from the Spaniards and the Jews of that day. The British Empire was also hated by the French, the Germans and the Russians. Although elites in these countries accepted that the British Empire was good for the native peoples, they hated Britain’s empire nonetheless for the same basic motivation: it was us and not they who were doing the ruling.

This explanation for anti-Americanism helps account for why those parts of the world which have derived greatest direct benefit from American power have often shown the most hostility. American foreign policy, through NATO, kept peace in Western Europe for decades, yet even in January 1983, a Newsweek poll in five countries found fewer than 40 percent of Europeans trusted American President Ronald Reagan more on arms control than Soviet dictator Yuri Andropov. Since the 1820s, America has aimed through the Monroe Doctrine to prevent South America being carved up by competing imperialist powers. In 1898, the United States went to war with Spain to secure Cuban independence. Nonetheless, resentment of America is a major force in South America Latin America, with America’s Vice-President of the day meeting with rioting in Caracas on his visit to Venezuela in 1958. Many of Latin America’s politicians define themselves largely opposition to America, most obviously in cases such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

The Devotees of Multilateralism
Many states feel alienated from the corridors of global political power, namely, the U.N. Security Council, dominated by its five permanent members, the United States, Great Britain, France, China, and Russia. As a result, they have become deeply invested in the UN’s democratic universalism—the vote of the smallest and weakest state may thwart the political will of the strongest. Their core foreign policy principle is multilateralism, because it allows them a veto over US power.  In addition, many see American reluctance to participate in international treaties and institutions—such as the International Criminal Court—as further evidence of its go-it-alone mentality. A leading American pollster summarized the international mood this way: “The complaint that the United States has turned unilateralist and has abandoned its commitment to working with allies and the United Nations—the hallmark of US foreign policy since World War II—is probably the sharpest criticism leveled at the country over the last few years.”

The Anti-Globalization Movement
Although globalization is a word loaded with ideological freight, certainly market capitalism is crucial to the dynamism associated with globalization’s influence on economics, politics, and culture. Yet this influence is seen in negative terms by anti-globalization activists, who resent the “creative destruction” associated with capitalism. Thus, the United States, which sustains the world’s largest economy, is at the storm-front of anti-globalization sentiment. Anti-US protests occur at virtually every meeting of the G-8 countries. Many political leaders and activists view America’s economic policies as an effort “to use globalisation as an instrument of neocolonial imperialist domination of the world.”

The Environmentalists
No international issue in recent years has seized the attention and the resources of scientific, political, academic, and media elites as the issue of global warming. Whatever one thinks of the merits of some of the arguments and predictions about climate change, the consensus is clear enough: (1) Human activity—especially energy production and consumption—is viewed as the most significant force behind global warming and (2) Because the United States remains a leading global polluter, its reluctance to submit to international treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol, which sets limits on energy consumption, offers another example of superpower arrogance.

The Arab Identity Crisis
Arab intellectuals have acknowledged a “freedom deficit” and a widespread sense of failure in the Muslim world. Indeed, as one Islamic scholar observes, almost the entire Muslim world is affected by poverty and tyranny. All of this has produced a crisis of confidence—and a search for scapegoats. “The distortion of the image of the United States has become a political objective for Arab governments in their struggle for survival,” writes Arab reformer Omran Salman, “and a tool to banish the specter of democracy and change in the Arab region.” Some blame American economic “exploitation” for Arab cultural decline, while others point to US support for Muslim autocrats allegedly propped up by American largesse.

The Islamic Jihadists
In February of 1998, Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States with his infamous fatwa, in which he claimed that America was at war against God and his messenger. Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network called for the murder of any American—military or civilian—as the “individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.” The terrorist attacks of 9/11 marked the culmination of Al Qaeda’s ideology of religious radicalism and totalitarianism. Though Islamic jihadists feed off the grievances in the Muslim world, their objective is not a change in US foreign policy, but rather thedestruction of the United States and her democratic allies.

The problem of anti-Semitism must be distinguished from legitimate criticism of the state of Israel. Nevertheless, there is a strong link between violent anti-Jewish feeling and anti-Americanism. Some of it is rooted in the grievances of Arabs who view Israel’s occupation of Palestine—with US backing—as morally abhorrent. Surely much is the result of a raw hatred of the political and religious ideals shared by the United States and Israel. It is significant that although anti-Semitism has been a staple of Middle East politics, the close identification of the United States with Israel in Arab eyes is a relatively new phenomenon. The ancient myths of the Jewish quest for global domination have been resurrected by the US-Israeli relationship: Now it is argued that the Jews—by allegedly controlling the American media, Congress, and the economy—are just steps away from ruling the world.

* The text above first appeared as “The Varieties of Anti-Americanism” (by AmericaInTheWorld.typepad.com).
* Original URL: https://americaintheworld.typepad.com/briefings/2008/08/the-varieties-o.html

Additional Resources:

The Varieties of Anti-Americanism
By AmericaInTheWorld.typepad.com

The Intellectual Origins of America-Bashing
By Lee Harris (Hoover Institution)
December 1, 2002

A Genealogy of Anti-Americanism
By James Caesar
Summer 2003

The Politics of Envy
By Paul Hollander
November 2002

Varieties of Anti-Americanism
By Peter J. Katzenstein and Robert O. Keohane
November 10, 2006

The Indictment of the West
By Bruce S. Thornton
Fall 2005

Loving Peace & Detesting America: What Makes the Antiwar Movement Thrive
By Paul Hollander
March 24, 2003

Hating America
By Bruce Bawer
Spring 2004

The Real Roots of Arab Anti-Americanism
By Barry Rubin
November/December 2002

Why Do Europeans Hate America? Jean-Francois Revel Explains
By Albert Mohler
November 11, 2003

The Falseness of Anti-Americanism
By Fouad Ajami
September/October 2003

White Guilt and the American Way of War
By Shelby Steele
July 30, 2006

6 Reasons to Believe the Left Hates America
By Dennis Prager


Understanding Anti-Americanism
By Paul Hollander

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