Monday, March 8, 2010

Do America's allies deserve us?

Neo-neocon has an interesting post up about the damage that Obama is doing to the country. In it, she says something very interesting, that's picked up and amplified in the comments:

I think the worst damage Obama has done is that, until now, America has always been a solid and somewhat predictable commodity, both domestically and internationally. There have been many fluctuations, of course. Presidents came and presidents went. Some were Republicans and some Democrats, some conservative and some liberal. But there remained a certain commonality and dependability that Americans and the rest of the world—our allies and our enemies—could depend on.

... But Obama has become a loose cannon, and American is suddenly not the rock it used to be. And I wonder if we ever again will be regarded in the same way.

She's certainly right that we've been a stabilizing force for decades, at least for the big issues. She may also be right about permanent damage - what's going on with our diplomacy with the UK right now is a travesty. But time will tell, and that's not what I'm wondering about. Is America the world's "rock"? If so, why so much anti-Americanism?

Anti-Americanism is a disease that permeates Europe, so much so that it's institutionalized. It's not at all a "left" vs. "right" thing - I stopped subscribing to the London Times when we lived over there because the editorial page was a sewer of anti-Americanism.

Latin America has a long and sordid history of Anti-Americanism, too. We certainly have a sorry history of messing in their affairs, but this is actually an excellent illustrative point: Anti-Americanism isn't driven by American foreign policy.

Case in point: Western Europe. We saved them from the Soviet Union, after rescuing them from Hitler. We based hundreds of thousands of our young men in harm's way - and at our expense - to stare down the Soviet Bear. Then we got out of their affairs. While we didn't draw down our troops as fast as most of us would have liked (mostly at the request of European governments, who liked the infusion of American cash), we left the Balkans to the Einsteins of Brussels to deal with. That turned out poorly, but it was the Europeans who screwed that up, not us.

Case in point: Latin America. Yes, we intervened to a shameful level, to build canals and prop up fruit companies. But head south - Argentina, Brazil, Chile - what's with them? These are the powerhouses of South America, and anti-Americanism is alive and well there without anything like the history further north. OK, for Chile, I'll see your Allende bid and raise you one Prague Spring. Where's the matching anti-Russianism?

You don't see it. So back to my question: what's with the hating on America? I have a theory, which is that anti-Americanism pays, which is why it doesn't go away. We make a handy "other" for local elites to use to keep in power. From Kensington to Buenos Aires, from Brussels to Brasilia, there are many comfortable elites who don't want their cozy power structures shaken up. The USA is the "land of opportunity", where power structures are shaken up all the time (look at Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, Sam Walton, and Steve Jobs for examples spanning the 20th Century).

If you're a comfortable elite, change is by definition bad. Can't have the proles wanting what Americans have.

Also, a common external adversary goes a long way towards rallying the undecided middle to your cause, whether you're a Brussels apparachik with visions of a super state, or an Iranian Mullah. We're a convenient target.

If this is true, then anti-Americanism will not go away. We don't want to change our national dynamism (although the Obama administration seems to be trying its best). Foreign elites don't have any other plausible replacement for us.

As someone who likes Europe and Europeans (and South America and Latin Americans), this is dismaying. Quite frankly, if most Americans knew the type of casual, unthinking, dare I say viscous anti-Americanism that's the daily ration in the European media, you'd see a repeat of the 1920s, where we turned our backs on the rest of the world.

And so, the real question to ask Neo-neocon is would it be such a bad thing for America if you're right?

And this isn't hurt feelings, or sour grapes. Do we have any business in being a permanent punching bag for foreign elites with a stake in bringing us down? Feel free to discuss. Don't forget that some of them - especially the Brits, but the Aussies and others - are shedding their blood with us in the war.

UPDATE 8 March 2010 17:51: If this is true, then there's one "ally" who doesn't deserve our help.


Bob said...

Will Rogers, after a tour of the world in 1934 or so (not long before his tragic death) said that the only way that the Europeans could hate us more was if we were to save them in another war. Quite prophetic, looking back on it. Personally I think we need a long period of isolationism, with our bases withdrawn worldwide and foreign aid ended, so that we can more easily fund projects at home.

bluesun said...

Well, pulling out completely would certainly take some wind out of their sails, but I don't know what would happen to the stability of the world. I also don't know if a bit of a shaking up would be a bad thing. The trick would be not getting involved for a long enough time.

Does the world need a scapegoat that they can take out their frustrations on relatively peacefully? Does it have to be us?

WoFat said...

Some years back, I spent a lot of time going to countries we supported - whose inhabitants hated us.

I recommend people resurrect the novel "The Ugly American."

Borepatch said...

Bob, I'm starting to think you may be right. I didn't used to, but sometimes it seems that the rest of the world needs to grow up.

Bluesun, we do know what would happen to the rest of the world - it would go to Hell. See what happened in Bosnia.

WoFat, me too. I liked those trips, and worked really hard NOT to be an Ugly American. On an individual level, I think that works. The problem is that the macro level incentive structure doesn't punish anti-Americanism, so there's no reason for restraint.

Atom Smasher said...

Why do people hate America? It's simple: because they can. We're not going to bomb them, or keep them out of our country, or refuse to sell them things, or attack their currency, or fail to show up with a hospital ship, just because they hate us or pretend to.

We're a very safe target, so we are the target.

As you so accurately point out, we accidentally kill one farmer while we're on a peacekeeping mission and we're ruthless clumsy tyrants. The Russkies use thermobarics in basements and flatten cities with artillery barrages invading Chechnya and nobody lets out a peep. Cuz the Russkies'll switch out your toothpaste with Plutonium.

bluesun said...

Yeah, but that's what I wonder about. Would letting the world go up in smoke for a while be good for them? Or is it just better for everyone if we just act the scapegoat?

Timmeehh said...

You want to see anti-Americanism? Just watch the CBC, whether it's news or comedy they always find a way to bash America, with our tax dollars footing the bill.

Just another reason I only watch movies on TV now.

Borepatch said...

Timmeehh, you're spot on. I'd add the following to the club: BBC, (Australian) ABC, and France 2.

If the American people had any idea of what passes for normal fare on these (government run) stations, it would be the end of NATO.

TOTWTYTR said...

Our only reliable allies over the years have been the Commonwealth nations and Israel. Other than that, it's erratic at best.

President Feckless has been weak in his support of Israel and has gone out of his way to insult the British.

The rest of the world, the nations whose collective butts he kisses, continue to hate us and now have the added enjoyment of laughing at him and at "us" for electing him.

The liberals say that G.W. Bush is a village idiot. Obama isn't even that good.

GuardDuck said...

War. Big war. Big stomach churning, nasty, pillaging, ravaging, terrorizing, decimating war is more often the result of rather than the cause of the collapse of empires.

I use empire not as a bad word, but rather as the stabilizing, law-giving force that cause countless peoples to want to be citizens of the Roman Empire, and similarly those who want to be citizens of the US. An empire that is strong enough, and willing enough to keep the barbarians outside the gates.

Sure, we could withdraw from the world. Watching them collapse upon themselves like unruly children, knowing that in the end they may have a better appreciation for all that we've done for them.

But the real question is: could we really sit back and watch the slaughter that ensues? Could we do that morally?

Even be selfish, a worldwide collapse would not fail to hurt us economically.

Word Verification: amegrate - Wow, how weird.

Amegrate - one who is ungrateful for aid and comfort given by America for the last 70 years.

bradley13 said...

Well, perhaps you exaggerate just a bit. As an American living in Europe, I don't see the “viscous anti-Americanism that's the daily ration in the European media” that you refer to. Also, please do not confuse the British press with the European press, just because it happens to be in English. Britain is culturally closer to America than it is to the rest of Europe.

Regarding criticism: During the years of GW Bush, America got lots of criticism: he was widely regarded as an out-of-control idiot, and his policies deserved all the scorn they received. Others may have a different opinion of him, fair enough. The point is this: criticism is generally directed at actions and policies, not at America in general.

I also would like to comment on the “we saved Western Europe from Hitler” stuff. Actually, no, we didn't – maybe our grandfathers did. Most of the people who fought in WWII are now dead, as are most of the civilians they freed. I still have family alive who fought in WWII, and when they visit Europe, they get all the respect their acts deserve. But when an American under the age of 80 says this, it is arrogant and irritating.

In reality, many Europeans have always looked up to America as a land of opportunity and freedom. However, in recent times: the irresponsible federal debt (thanks GW Bush, and did Obama really have to double-down?), the lack of personal responsibility (it's not my fault, who can I sue), the destruction of childhood (sexting kids charged with felonies, NCLB, federal nannies, drugging male children into passivity), the abandonment of fundamental American principles (Patriot Act, TSA, warrantless wiretaps, Guantanamo, etc.). Seen from Europe, this is all enormously sad – the beginning of the inevitable, unstoppable fall of a giant. This goes largely unmentioned in the European press, because it is just so bloody depressing, and there is nothing anyone here can do about it.

Borepatch said...

Bradley13, we lived outside London from September 1996 through August 1997, and went all over Western Europe on holiday (I've posted some pix of the kids from those days).

Even then - during the Clinton years, before GWB - the London Times was unreadable due to its casual, unthinking anti-Americanism. The sneers would drip off the page, as they did on the BBC.

While the coastal elites got a pass, the rest of the country was repeatedly condemned as backwards, ignorant, and unsophisticated. Back then, I still saw myself as a member in good standing of the coastal elite, and this still bugged me.

GWB took this and turned it up to 11. Quite frankly, I think that Europe went insane during those years.

Net/net, I'm not sure I agree with your statement that the criticism was about actions. I think there is a very large under current of class warfare in play, that thinks we should be much more deferential towards european-style cultural elites. All that happened during the GWB years was that the mask slipped.

As to the Patriot Act, TSA, and the rest - no argument from me. I do notice that the Obama Administration isn't doing anything differently, though. That's another data point suggesting that this wasn't GWB, but rather a deeper clash.

Borepatch said...

One more thing, Bradley13 - the British press is actually less anti-American than the continental press. Der Spiegal is horrible, as is Le Monde (to name only two).

Le Monde in particular is instructive: that famous "We're All Americans Today" 9/11 story managed to blame America for what happened. Go back and read it.

I very much like Europe and especially Europeans, but I think it's important for Americans to stop viewing the continent through rose colored glasses. Until we do, the current dysfunctional conditions will persist.

bradley13 said...

Borepatch, thanks for the thoughtful response. Obama is doing one thing different: he's taking us down the "big government" road even faster. The only good side of this is that he may accidentally go fast enough to shock the sheeple out of their complacency. Well, one can hope...

The DO said...

I lived in England from 2001 to 2003 and I've been in Hungary for the last year. Both times I've lived and shopped on the local economy. I managed to develop an insane crush on bacon crips (avoiding the prawn!) and now I've discovered Goulash really is fantastic. And it's soup, go figure. So I'd have to say that I have a leg to stand on when I talk about how the Europeans feel towards us, and I have to say it seems to come down to a major self esteem issue.
Think back to high school. Remember that really popular guy that was so popular that he didn't even know he was popular? Everyone loved him? Or, that is, everyone love him except for those that hated him because they couldn't be him. If you know what I'm talking about, then you understand Europe.
We actually win wars; we've had a stable economy for generations; we were never invaded by a shortguy that thought he was king of the world. Or by a guy with a funny 'stache that thought he was king of the world.
We are that guy, except we know we have it better then everyone else. We move easily through the world, with the devil-may-care attitude that whatever happens it doesn't matter cause we're AMERICAN. We aren't cocky, we are confident and therefore we are offputting to those that can't compete. And I'm not making light, I'm serious.
The Europeans have struggled for centuries to gain the stability, prosperity and world power that we've gained over 200 short years. When they see us they are forever reminded of either what they once were and are no longer, or of what they never were and never will be.
I drive my PT Cruiser and buy my groceries and somehow I'm showing off. Er... No, that's normal life for us, boring life in fact, yet for them I'm so sort of freak that can't keep my arrogance to myself.
In an attempt to make themselves feel better they turn bully, and we are the target. Yes, because we won't fight back. Mostly we don't care to 'cause, really, who cares what Germany thinks. But for the bullies the lack of a fight is all they need to cry out "see, we were right!" And yet, if we fight them we are arrogantly forcing our world views on someone else.
Typical bully/victim behaviour.