Some more thoughts on anti-Americanism

Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Instapundit points to this Clive Davis report about the BBC's American correspondant's claim that America bashing has gone too far.

A few days ago the reporter was duly hauled up in front of the Feedback programme in order to explain himself. Yet even after apologising for expressing himself "a little too warmly", Webb stood firm:

...What I was trying to do - and I would say this in mitigation - was puncture an atmosphere which developed, I thought, during this broadcast, and which I think occasionally does develop on the BBC and on other broadcasting outlets, where there is a kind of cosy feeling that somehow if only America would behave differently, then everything in the world would be fine. I think that is a view which does annoy and upset Americans, as I said it did. And it's not just the White House - it is a broader thing than that - and also a view which is, to put it mildly, open to challenge, and that's what I hoped to do....

Later, he went out of his way to reject the notion that he had, in that quaint British phrase, "gone native".
The Beeb's man (JW), after suitable groveling and penitence, went on to say:

JW. I don't think there's a double-standard at a conscious level. I don't think the BBC has a double standard. I've never been told what to say one way or the other

RB. But you're saying there's a greater readiness to criticize America than there is to criticize China, or perhaps Saudi Arabia or other countries in the Middle East?

JW. And the reason is , I think, that it's easier, that we have a problem reporting open societies, particularly in a time of great international turmoil and war. It's just easier to criticize, it's easier to get information, it's easier to find people within the society who are immensely critical of it Yet when you think of China, when you think of the Taliban...when you think of the situation in Iran it's just more difficult to get a handle on what's going on in those places. And I think there is a tendency, which we always have to guard against, of being tougher on democratic societies simply because it's easier.

Yeah, well, no kiddin', JW. Even with Chimpy McBu$hitler's Gestapo running the plantation nobody is going to string you up or disappear you.

Another take on rampant international anti-Americanism is available in Jan/Feb Foreign Affairs article David’s Friend Goliath by Michael Mandelbaum. I think there's some room to take issue with some of the assertions Mandelbaum makes but he's got the overall picture correct. It begins:

Everybody talks about the weather, Mark Twain once observed, but nobody does anything about it. The same is true of America’s role in the world. The United States is the subject of endless commentary, most of it negative, some of it poisonously hostile. Statements by foreign leaders, street demonstrations in national capitals, and much-publicized opinion polls all seem to bespeak a worldwide conviction that the United States misuses its enormous power in ways that threaten the stability of the international system. That is hardly surprising. No one loves Goliath. What is surprising is the world’s failure to respond to the United States as it did to the Goliaths of the past.

Sovereign states as powerful as the United States, and as dangerous as its critics declare it to be, were historically subject to a check on their power. Other countries banded together to block them. Revolutionary and Napoleonic France in the late 18th and early 19th century, Germany during the two world wars, and the Soviet Union during the Cold War all inspired countervailing coalitions that ultimately defeated them. Yet no such anti-American alignment has formed or shows any sign of forming today. Widespread complaints about the United States’ international role are met with an absence of concrete, effective measures to challenge, change, or restrict it.

The gap between what the world says about American power and what it fails to do about it is the single most striking feature of 21st-century international relations.

and ends:

In the end, however, what other nations do or do not say about the United States will not be crucial to whether, or for how long, the United States continues to function as the world’s government. That will depend on the willingness of the American public, the ultimate arbiter of American foreign policy, to sustain the costs involved. In the near future, America’s role in the world will have to compete for public funds with the rising costs of domestic entitlement programs. It is Social Security and Medicare, not the rise of China or the kind of coalition that defeated powerful empires in the past, that pose the greatest threat to America’s role as the world’s government.

The outcome of the looming contest in the United States between the national commitment to social welfare at home and the requirements for stability and prosperity abroad cannot be foreseen with any precision. About other countries’ approach to America’s remarkable 21st-century global role, however, three things may be safely predicted: They will not pay for it, they will continue to criticize it, and they will miss it when it is gone.

Along the way he covers a good deal of ground. It is worth the few minutes to read. I take issue with his qualifier that efforts to "challenge, change, or restrict" the US must be "concrete" and "effective" or they are not real. The fact that the UN is feckless and corrupt does not mean it hasn't been seen, and used, in an attempt to - at the very least - restrict the US. Part of the EU's problems, IMO, are directly the fault of the organizational goal of challenging, changing, and restricting the US. And we certainly have seen determined (and somewhat effective) groupings of nations of the Middle East to challenge the Superhyperhegemon. But other than picking that nit...


RogerA said...

Wow--lots to digest Knuck; good synthesis.

I think that many observers misunderstand the current american political stance: I would argue that as much as I love President Bush, he is an anomoly in American History--we are fundamentally isolationists, and the only reason Bush's foreign policy is working is because it is in response to an attack on the homeland.

That said, I firmly believe that most other governments really dont understand us. While we may not do everything right, we generally mean what we say and try to do what we say. That posture is anathema to old europe and other ancien regimes.

It seems to me that while many in the world may not like us, they are (1) afraid of us (2) know we intend to do what we say, and (3) hope we do what we say without supporting us. There is simply too much empirical evidence to support the position that we are on the right side of history. Governments may not like us--but the people seem to, because they flock to our shores--they recognize the obvious.

I dont expect some ancien regime to applaud us, but in the end when we have slain the dragon of Jihadism, and brought bin Laden or his corpse to view, they will secretly applaud us for doing the heavy lifting they are unable to do.

Skookumchuk said...

It is the cumulative effect on us of the daily anti-American bashing, decade after decade, that concerns me. I grew up fascinated by European culture and history. And today I would much rather vacation in Arizona or Colorado than in Paris or Berlin.

chuck said...

And today I would much rather vacation in Arizona or Colorado than in Paris or Berlin.

I, too, feel that old isolationist pull, nor do I think I am alone. If Americans could simply tell the world to go to H*ll, I suspect we would do so. This isolationist urge could become a problem for any administration in the future.

Meanwhile, I wonder just how independent we could become of the rest of the world if we really put our minds to it? It didn't seem to work so well for the communist nations, China, Russia, Vietnam, and Cuba. What about us?

Knucklehead said...


I disagree with any claim that general international anti-Americanism has anything to do with understanding, or misunderstanding, current US political stance or policies. It really has nothing to do with policy. It is a reflexive thing that has existed, in US terms, virtually forever. We are the "un-Them" and they detest us (or at least loudly shout that they do) for it.

JW (I forget his name) makes the valid point - and a point that should not be lost on the sophisticates of Europe especially - that they are taking the easy shots. Not easy in the comedic sense - easy in the sense of "no danger or difficulty to us".

Clive Davis (unless I missed something) misses something. Consider for a moment JW's words:

It's just easier to criticize, it's easier to get information, it's easier to find people within the society who are immensely critical of it Yet when you think of China, when you think of the Taliban... And I think there is a tendency, which we always have to guard against, of being tougher on democratic societies simply because it's easier.

It seems to me that there's an unintended explanation here. First is the idea that it is the job of the media to "criticize" and "be tough on". Well, OK. I thought it was to inform but...

Note the recognition that it is easier to "criticize" and "be tough" when there's access. Implicit in this is the matter of danger. It is not only easier to critice the US because of easy access but also because it is not dangerous to do so. Ease... safety...

The desire to criticize and be tough in ease and safety is certainly understandable. But I don't think we owe these "journalists" anything such as, for example, our admiration for "speaking truth to power". They aren't after truth but only seek to criticize and be tough on. And they do it in ease and safety.

But there's something else here that remains unspoken and is particularly apt when speaking of European media in particular. They are tools of their own government far more so than the US media ever is. Dissenting domestic voices in France and Germany, for example, are few and far between. So criticizing the US is not only a matter of ease and safety but also of job security.

They are nothing but actors playing parts. They pretend to be the guardians and watchdogs but they are just wimps out for ease, safety, and job security like everyone else. They just happen to write a little or smile for the camera.

As for the ordinary citizens of other places... Skook make the point in his comment about his concern regarding the relentlessness of the anti-Americanism. It is tiresome to Americans. To non-Americans it is an outlet. In some cases they have the same concerns, especially the safety and job security part. But there is good bit of humanity that is, if not malcontents, chronic criticizers. If the level of animosity that Euros, as an example, directed at the US was, instead, directed against their own societies and governments they would be labeled lunatics and, probably, ostracized from polite company.

They are barraged by the "tough guy" media with criticisms of the US as well as their own nationalism. Criticism of home is not socially permitted to any great extent so the natural human tendency to criticism must be directed somewhere. PC doesn't allow it to be directed at the "exotics", so it is directed against the US.

Back to Skook's point. I was once interested in seeing any portion of the world I could see. I'm rapidly losing that interest. I'm so sick of the idiocy of the America bashers that I just no interest in seeing any of their countries anymore. They are so clearly, to me, idiots with not the slightest interest in thinking past their noses that I just have no desire to meet them. I'd rather go to a zoo or aquarium. I'm sick of them. There are times when I am tempted to join the Buchananites and call for the sandbagging of the borders and just leave the rest of the world to whatever whims and winds blow through it.

Skookumchuk said...

Well, for me it has slightly different roots. After years in overseas work, I've come to appreciate places where the tap runs with potable water and where the cops don't demand bribes. Those, by the way, are the places where official anti-Americanism is often the most strident. The people of course are much less so. And you get to these officially anti-American countries by transiting through the unofficially anti-American capitals of London and Paris and Rome. It's just a delight.

But I wonder what the effect on us - as Americans - is likely to be after decades of this. It might not be good.

On the other hand, our founders could have a pretty hard view of the outside world - and of its jealousies and concerns about the pernicious influences of the infant republic - and they did just fine.

ex-democrat said...

it's time for a blog symposium in which the likes of Tim Blair and Davids Miedentriek are asked to explain why they are not reflexively anti-american.

maybe they can supply the antidote?

Rick Ballard said...


If the naisance of the rationalist religion dates from Bacon - or at least Descartes and if its articles of faith have only been firmly theoretically refuted for about seventy years, although experientially refuted since the French made the first pass at implementation in 1793, why should we have any expectation of surrender until its current experiments collapse?

Their rulebook says that we should have disappeared by now and that they should be in ascendance rather than mired in second rate impotence. We'll be listening to the losers lament for at least another thirty years and nothing that the successful side says will sway the losers - their sophistry is too finely developed.

Barry Dauphin said...

At least part of the anti-Americanism (not all) exists because they know they can get away with it and not really suffer very much. The smug, Euro anti-Americanism plays well in parts of the world where one "plays by those rules" (i.e., thugocracies). America is the great protector, but, in historical terms, is quite the permissive parent towrds its protected charges. Like most "kids" of indulgent (rich) parents, they are spoiled brats.

For a period of some years, the Euros get to have their cake and eat it too. Knowing that Americans worry too much about European approval, they can tsk tsk Americans while sucking up and kissing the a** of the Arafats, Saddams, Norks, Iranians, and every name your barbaric ruler out there. But the clock is ticking to the end of that fantasy, and atomic clocks are the world's most accurate.

Syl said...

And I think there is a tendency, which we always have to guard against, of being tougher on democratic societies simply because it's easier.

It's also lucrative.

Look at the NGO's. Where do they get their funding? From the internal critics in the West. There ain't no money to be had from the Afghani people under the Taliban nor from Chinese peasants.

Also from whom do they get results? Criticize Israel for human rights abuses, and Israel changes something. Same with America. Criticize China and you get squat--no results at all.

So they can feel good about themselves because they 'changed the world'. Ha!