Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007


 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

Considering the Decent Opinion of Mankind

So, do fewer people around the globe hate the United States than you might think from what you see on television? Is the world against us more than ever?  The last five years certainly have been a study in calculated in-you-face defiance of the opinions of other nations and public opinion abroad (and at home, of course). There's hardly any need to discuss that in any detail - our go-it-alone "we really don't care what you think" foreign policy has been covered by so many for so long there's not much to add.

Not that this way of dealing with "others" is new - something that bubbled up after September 11, 2001.  It's just been more overt since then. No one in this administration even bothers to pay lip-service to seeking the support of the "decent opinion of mankind" - the word now seems to be that history, somewhere down the road, will judge our actions, and the ephemeral outrage of the present, if you will, is no more than the carping of the feminized wimps who will not take action when taking action is what needs to be done.  Someday, somehow, history will judge us as having done the right thing.  That's the president's latest stance.

There's always been a bit of this defiance in us, of course. It's not just this president.  Randy Newman captured it all nicely in 1968 in Political Science from his first album, Sail Away -

    No one likes us; I don't know why
    We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try
    But all around, even our old friends put us down
    Let's drop the big one and see what happens

    We give them money, but are they grateful?
    No, they're spiteful and they're hateful
    They don't respect us, so let's surprise them
    We'll drop the big one and pulverize them …

You can hear him sing the piece, with updated graphics, in this flash animation - and that about sums up the American frustration with others being ungrateful when what we do gets a whole lot of other folks killed. Screw them all.

President Bush, interviewed on CBS' 60 Minutes on 14 January, actually said - "I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude."

He was mildly miffed.  And then came some data via the Washington Post -

    The United Nations mission in Iraq said today that more than 34,000 civilians have been violently killed nationwide during the past year, an average of nearly 100 a day, in a death toll that dwarfs recent casualty estimates made by the Iraqi government.

    The U.N. report focused on the civilian death toll on the same day that consecutive explosions killed as many as 60 and injured more than 100 outside Baghdad's al-Mustansiriya University. The car bomb exploded by the school's main gate, where students gathered to wait for rides home; afterward, a suicide bomber struck near a second gate, killing people as they fled the scene of the first explosion.

    … "Without significant progress in the rule of law, sectarian violence will continue indefinitely and eventually spiral out of control," said Gianni Magazzeni, the chief of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq, during a press conference in the convention center in Baghdad.

Well, they're not seeing the bigger picture, it seems. It's all good, somehow.  And we'll eventually get there, where there is, with that "rule of law" stuff. Our position is that everyone should be more patient.

But with all the dead and with being called feminized wimps who will not take action when taking action is what needs to be done, one can understand a bit of anti-Americanism here and there - actually, pretty much everywhere.  And the ephemeral outrage of the present moment isn't all that ephemeral.  It's real.  Add too that while the administration may in some odd way enjoy having turned the United States into something approaching a pariah nation - a mixture of pride and playing the noble victim - and wants us all to join in those feelings as the new basis of intense patriotism - than stance makes getting much done in the world all the harder.

Many worry about that - allies are damned useful, and the more the better. The father, with his Secretary of State, James Baker, knew that - and worked hard to assemble such, the most obvious example being the coalition that was assembled for the first Gulf War. We even got other nations to provide most of the funds for that. But the son seems to have something to prove - to actually finish off the bad guy the father let be, and do it without all the fancy diplomacy with the girlish small talk - and we're all along for the ride. 

That frames things as a family spat - the world paying a sky-high price for one family's internal quarrel, an oedipal drama played out with hundreds of thousands of lives smashed to prove some incredibly narrow personal point or other - but as the Newman piece expresses, the conflict has always been part of who we are. We are a generous and open people, and resentful as hell and fond of playing the noble and sadly misunderstood victim.  No wonder the world had trouble figuring us out.

But the now deeper than ever anti-Americanism is a problem.  At the very least, it just limits us. It's basically inefficient.  And we don't like inefficiency at all.

What this administration needs is someone - say a panel of sociologists - to find that anti-American sentiment is much more varied and less widespread than everyone thinks.  And wonder of wonders, that's what they get in the "everyone should just calm down" book from Robert O. Keohane and Peter J. Katzenstein - Anti-Americanisms in World Politics (Cornell University Press).

Neil Gross, an assistant professor of sociology at Harvard, reviews it and finds it interesting, and somewhat useful.

One may not agree with him, but in any event, his January 14 Boston Globe review opens with the expected -

    Last week, Venezuela swore in for a third term President Hugo Chávez - a man who routinely denounces US "imperialism" and who referred to President George W. Bush as the devil in a speech before the United Nations. Chávez's reelection caused some commentators here to fret about the so-called "pink tide" of socialism that is sweeping Latin America, from Bolivia to Brazil, but there has been no sense of shock or outrage that a politician spouting fiery anti-American rhetoric could win 63 percent of the votes in his country.

    In part, this is because Americans have grown used to the idea that much of the world hates us. Indeed, in the years since Sept. 11, 2001, we have gone from having the world's sympathy to being perceived as the world's bully, denounced on the streets of Caracas, Tehran, Paris, and even London for our unilateralism, aggressive military stance, and free-market economic policies.

But the new question is now in play. Is anti-American sentiment as rampant as it seems?   And what he sees in the new book is that "a distinguished group of social scientists" isn't so sure how much of it there really is out there, or even if anti-Americanism is any one thing at all.

What Gross says is the core insight is this - "Anti-Americanism is not a single, unitary phenomenon."

Nope, there are four distinct strains of it. The implication is, then, that it isn't all that bad after all. What Gross doesn't consider is that you could see the problem as, then, four times worse than anyone was thinking it was. Analyzing a problem, breaking it down into its component parts, can make it even scarier.

In any event, the breakdown in the book in question gives us, first, the classic "liberal anti-Americanism" that you get in France and England.  That's what you would expect, the same-old stuff -

    Here opposition to American policies often involves the charge that the United States is being hypocritical by not living up to its professed values and ideals - values its critics share. When Europeans express outrage over the treatment of prisoners by US military personnel in Guantanamo Bay, or in secret detention centers abroad, these are examples of liberal anti-Americanism. How can a country that says it stands for freedom condone such obvious abuses of human rights?

Ah, they admire us so much they hate to see us be so unlike what they admire, and it's sad, and so on.

The flip-side is from our friends who actually don't admire us at all - "social anti-Americanism" from places where Adam Smith and the "invisible hand" of capitalist competition have not become fetishes worshiped in boardrooms, and where "let the individual thrive without rules and let the irresponsible sink and die without support" does not, oddly, determine government policies.  These folks - supporters of the social welfare state - "oppose American economic policy because it promotes laissez-faire ideals and erodes welfare state protections."  Gross mentions Bolivian President Evo Morales, who "rails against American-led globalization on the grounds that, among other things, it exposes people to the vicissitudes of the market."

This second strain of anti-American thought we most easily dismiss, of course. Those who can't compete - because they're incompetent or lazy or whatever - always whine and say everyone else is mean.  But we know life is competition - there are winners and losers - and that's just the way it is. Suck it up and be a winner.  That's what we teach our children, after all - "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser." Societies that value cooperation and mutual support just seem odd to us.  That's nice stuff of course, but minor stuff nevertheless.  We find such people quite odd.

Of course that's all small potatoes. The editors of the book say we should really worry about "sovereign-nationalist anti-Americanism" - think parts of Latin America and Asia.  Here we are seen as a threat to "geopolitical and cultural dominance" - we threaten both the national identity of this nation or that, and their strategic interests. China does not like our support of Taiwan one bit, for example - we have no business over there. And even worse is what the authors call "radical anti-Americanism" - Islamic fundamentalism asserting that "America's identity" must be "transformed, either from within or without."  There's not much you can do with that, is there?

This is, then, the result of quantitative evidence from large-scale social surveys, not just anecdotes.

What Gross takes away from all this is this -

    First, fewer people around the globe hate the United States than might be imagined. As political scientist Giacomo Chiozza notes in a chapter analyzing data from a survey carried out in 44 countries in 2002, 43 percent of respondents worldwide said they had a "somewhat favorable" view of the United States, and 21 percent said they had a "very favorable" view. To be sure, anti-American sentiment is strong in some countries and regions. In the Middle East, for example, three quarters of respondents had negative views of the United States overall. But in France and Germany, more than 60 percent of respondents had positive views of the United States.

    What's more, even where anti-American sentiment is high, people often express appreciation for aspects of American society. While 70 percent of respondents in the Middle East held negative views of the United States war on terror, only about one-quarter said they did not admire the advances made by the United States in science and technology. Similarly, while 57 percent of Egyptians said they disliked American popular culture, a third said they appreciated American ways of doing business. Radical anti-Americanism, encompassing dislike of the United States on all fronts, is rare, and in general there is more dislike for American policies than for the American people.

That may be cold comfort.  Recently our policies, and actions based on those policies, seem to have tipped the scale. The good is getting outweighed by the bad, rapidly, and the data points are old. Individual Americans may be "good folk" and that's fine - but the "good folk" did reelect the crew that pursues the hated policies, and now lots of other nations do good science and technology.  What do we have going for us?

And there's this -

    Second, in most countries, anti-Americanism involves more distrust than outright bias. The distinction is crucial. Where there is distrust, people may be skeptical of US motives and claims, but are open to considering the American point of view. Anti-American bias, by contrast, occurs when policies and actions undertaken by the US government and American corporations are seen as expressions of an unchangeable national identity and character, such that dialogue over disagreements is deemed to have no value.

    It is distrust rather than bias that seems to characterize Chinese anti-Americanism, for example. Political scientists Alastair Johnston and Daniela Stockmann, who contributed the China chapter, observe that Chinese "amity" toward the United States is in decline as China asserts itself as a budding superpower. However, Chinese dislike for US economic and cultural power is "still quite distant from the level of hatred and bias" the Chinese direct at Japan and the Japanese.

    Likewise in the Middle East, according to political scientist Marc Lynch. Although "America rarely gets the benefit of the doubt with Arab audiences," in countries like Egypt "relations with the United States are openly, intensely debated" - a fact that suggests anti-American attitudes "have not yet hardened into a rigid, taken-for-granted consensus."

So make the distinction. They don't really hate us deep down.  They just deeply, deeply distrust us.  Somehow that's not particularly comforting. But then, "dialogue with those who express radical anti-American sentiment and would take up arms against us may not be possible or desirable."  At least we can talk to those who distrust us.  That's something.

But we won't.  And there's the problem.

Anti-Americanisms in World Politics

Cornell University Press (November 9, 2006)

ISBN-10: 0801473519 / ISBN-13: 978-0801473517




Introduction: The Politics of Anti-Americanisms - Robert O. Keohane and Peter J. Katzenstein


Part I. Anti-Americanism and Americanism

Chapter 1. Varieties of Anti-Americanism: A Framework for Analysis - Peter J. Katzenstein and Robert O. Keohane

Chapter 2. Imagining America: The Promise and Peril of Boundlessness - David M. Kennedy


Part II. Public Attitudes toward the United States

Chapter 3. Anti-Americanism in Europe during the Cold War - Pierangelo Isernia

Chapter 4. Disaggregating Anti-Americanism: An Analysis of Individual Attitudes toward the United States - Giacomo Chiozza


Part III. Anti-Americanism in Different Societies

Chapter 5. The Distinctiveness of French Anti-Americanism - Sophie Meunier

Chapter 6. Chinese Attitudes toward the United States and Americans - Alastair Iain Johnston and Daniela Stockmann

Chapter 7. Anti-Americanisms in the Arab World - Marc Lynch


Part IV. Dynamics of Anti-Americanism

Chapter 8. Anti-Americanism as Schemas and Diacritics in France and Indonesia - John Bowen

Chapter 9. Legacies of Anti-Americanism: A Sociological Perspective - Doug McAdam


Part V. Consequences and Conclusions

Chapter 10. The Political Consequences of Anti-Americanism - Robert O. Keohane and Peter J. Katzenstein



Anti-Americanisms and the Polyvalence of America - Peter J. Katzenstein and Robert O. Keohane

A comment from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis - in Paris of course -

"Last week, Venezuela swore in for a third term President Hugo Chávez - a man who routinely denounces US "imperialism" and who referred to President George W. Bush as the devil in a speech before the United Nations."

I agree with the academics. When amigo Hugo mentions 'imperialism' it isn't because he hates the United States, it is because he thinks America acts imperial toward other countries because it does act imperial. Americans seem to think rape victims should love their rapists. Foreigners recognize that the Yankee rapists can't help themselves. Foreigners recognize that America only gives lip-service to democracy abroad. Few foreigners are aware that there is scant democracy in America. Were they aware they would not be so demoralized by the export version.

"How can a country that says it stands for freedom condone such obvious abuses of human rights?"

It is a good question. The obvious answer is that the United States obviously 'condones' human rights abuses in America. The poor, the homeless, the sick, the underpaid, the unemployed - might not be worse off if they lived in Venezuela.

Off subject a bit - might not the new pinko democracies south of the border owe their present leaders to the fact that the United States has its hands full and attention focused on Iraq? On Afghanistan? While Bush plays, South America goes red? Where next? Canada?

On this note, a slogan: Keep the Northwest Passage Canadian!

This item posted - in its final version - January 21, 2007


Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik