Samuel Lowenberg - Independent Journalist biography articles articles


Congressional Quarterly Global Researcher  March 2007

Between Fear and Desire

Soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the cover of Newsweek pictured a turbaned child holding a toy machine gun. The headline read: “The Politics of Rage: Why Do They Hate Us?”
Since then, versions of that question — simultaneously plaintive and rhetorical — have been repeated throughout the U.S. media. The most common answer often reflected the views of Harvard scholar Samuel P. Huntington, who described an inevitable schism between Christianity and Islam in his seminal 1993 essay, “Clash of Civilizations.”

But America's critics are far more diverse, and their criticisms more differentiated, than can be explained away by a simple East vs. West conflict. Today not only radical Eastern Islamists but also more and more Latin Americans and former close allies in Europe are finding America and its policies reprehensible.

Some of the most outspoken voices come from Europe, where dismissive attitudes about the mixing bowl of people in the New World have long been a staple of intellectual preening. Since the 17th century, America has been depicted as a haven for uncouth debauchers, religious zealots and puffed-up nationalists. Only after World War II, when America emerged into a position of military and economic might, did it became an object of both desire and envy.

As the United States flexed its muscles over the subsequent decades, others began to perceive it as a threat to their own national sovereignty and identity. America was too big, too influential, too sure of its virtues. Protesters around the world began to attack all three facets of American influence - economic, political and cultural.

By the end of the Cold War, the United States was the only remaining superpower, and even more vulnerable to accusations of arrogance and bullying. By 2003, as the United States led the invasion into Iraq, America was regularly being pilloried as an international villain, damned for its military excursions and held up as a convenient target for all sorts of global discontent. The indictment against America, writes Andrei S. Markovits, a Romania-born professor of comparative European politics at the University of Michigan, “accuses America of being retrograde on three levels”:

Moral: America is viewed as the purveyor of the death penalty and of religious fundamentalism, while Europe abolished the death penalty in favor of rehabilitation and adheres to an enlightened secularism;

Social: America is viewed as the bastion of unbridled “predatory capitalism,” as former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt put it, while Europe is the home of the considerate welfare state;

Cultural: America is viewed as common, prudish and prurient, Europe as refined, savvy and wise. Those bleak assessments of the United States have played out in innumerable protests in recent years. When tens of thousands of leftist protesters from around the world gathered in Porto Alegre, Brazil, during the World Economic Forum in February 2002, they waved signs declaring “No blood for oil,” and “Bush is #1 Terrorist.” Raucous anti-globalization protests have followed the meetings of the World Trade Organization and the G8 from Doha to Davos to Seattle. When 70,000 protesters gathered in Berlin's Alexanderplatz in March 2003, a banner proclaimed: “We Aren't Allowed to Compare Bush to Hitler. Too Bad!”

When 2,000 Pakistanis in Islamabad rallied against Danish cartoons that had caricatured the Prophet Muhammad in 2006, they also shouted “Death to America!” and torched an effigy of President George W. Bush, as if Bush himself had commissioned the works.

This was a long way from the moment after the 9/11 attacks, when the globe was in brief solidarity with the United States, as epitomized by the famous banner headline in the French newspaper Le Monde, “We are all Americans.” Something had changed.

In just a few years, what once seemed to be a clash of two halves of the globe had metastasized into a clash between America and the rest of the world. These sentiments were not coming from isolated pockets of religious fundamentalists but from America's longstanding allies throughout the world. In Europe, anti-U.S. sentiment had reached record levels.

The Iraq invasion “did not create anti-Americanism but it increased it and gave it form,” according to Professor Gérard Grunberg, deputy director of Sciences Po, a political institute in Paris. Many clearly think that negative attitudes toward the United States are now at an all-time high. “Anti-Americanism is deeper and broader now than at any time in modern history. It is most acute in the Muslim world, but it spans the globe, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press. In another Pew poll, Europeans gave higher approval ratings to China than to the United States.

Yet much of the anti-American hostility disguises the fact that many of the most vociferous European critics really don't know much about the USA. As British scholar Tony Judt, director of the Remarque Institute at New York University, points out, Europeans complain about their own governments' policies by saying they have been influenced by America. But on both sides of the Atlantic, says Judt, even in the supposed age of “globalization,” there is a massive ignorance about the reality of politics, and of everyday life. “We don't actually understand each other any better than we did in the 1930s.”

How did America go, in the eyes of many, from being the symbol of democracy, freedom and opportunity - an ideal to strive for - to an example to be avoided? Judt calls anti-Americanism the “master narrative” of the current age, in which declared opposition to the United States became a uniting factor for disparate critics of economic, cultural and foreign policies around the globe. In America they had found “a common target.”

But these days, the overwhelming source of anti-American sentiment, not only in Europe but also throughout the world, is U.S. foreign policy, especially the Bush administration's pursuit of the war in Iraq. Resentment of the policies and personalities in the Bush administration cannot be overstated. Even President Richard M. Nixon's transgressions were mostly identified as domestic problems (the Watergate scandal), while the Vietnam War was seen as part of larger Cold War politics and did not evoke the same strong anti-American sentiment as Iraq does today.

Although there certainly was European criticism about the American war in Vietnam, Americans did not hear about it on a daily basis, as they do with criticisms of the war in Iraq. Instant television reporting and the Internet bring the war as well as its critics into homes every hour.

Now, says Judt, “Whatever catastrophes the Americans are involved in overseas are immediately visible, with no time lag.” Another foreign conflict strongly identified with the United States and a recurrent theme at anti-war protests around the globe is the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.

European and Middle Eastern criticism of U.S. support of Israel ranges from humanitarian concerns about Palestinian rights to demagoguery invoking a Jewish-American-capitalist conspiracy. “This didn't come from nothing,” says Markovits. In his new book, Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America, he traces the origins of anti-American sentiment to the 19th century, when European elites feared the pugnacious, young country.

For Americans, it is easy to dismiss criticism of U.S. policies as simply an irrational ideology, Markovits writes. But the term “anti-Americanism” is misleading, he says, because it lumps together rational criticisms, whether one agrees with them or not, with a disembodied, ideological opposition to an idea of America, in which the country stands as a symbol for a variety of foreign, cultural and political discontents.

As Markovits notes, “Anti-Americanism is a particularly murky concept because it invariably merges antipathy toward what America does with what America is - or rather is projected to be in the eyes of its beholders.” In contrast to classical stereotypes, which usually depict powerless minorities, the United States does, in fact, have great political, economic and cultural power. This makes it especially difficult to disentangle the perception from the reality. Critics of America assume that the expansion of this power, rather than a more benign exercise of it, is always the top priority of the American government. This is particularly true when it comes to the view, shared by much of the globe, that the United States is too tightly connected to Israel.

As Beirut's Daily Star said after the United States deposed Saddam Hussein: “It will deny others a say in shaping post-war Iraq, and it won't withdraw its forces on request . . . . Israel, of course, will be an exception, and is the only U.S. partner whose participation in shaping post-war Iraq is 'guaranteed.' That is because Israel was the main reason for which the war was waged.”

Trying to sort out real criticisms of the United States from the political symbolism that makes up much anti-Americanism is a daunting task. But for America's many critics around the globe, the daily carnage in Iraq has confirmed that America, having found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, is now on a reckless crusade.

In the week after the Sept. 11, attacks, Bush declared, “this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.” While the term “crusade” went largely unnoticed in the United States, it alarmed many around the world with its evocation of the ancient wars between Christianity and Islam.

American Exceptionalism

Americans' self-image has been rooted in the certitude that their country is different - a beacon of personal, political and economic freedom in the world. This idea really came of age during World War II, when American industrial power, along with Soviet manpower, liberated Europe. Then the Yanks were cheered and admired, but some scholars believe that the roots of anti-American feelings by many Europeans stem from this U.S. “salvation.”

A residue of that feeling remains in France, which truly had been liberated. Germany, however, had been the enemy, and even during the height of the Cold War in the 1960s and '70s, many West Germans deeply resented the presence of American military bases.

Even though the American army's airlift of supplies had saved West Berlin, few thought of the United States as having saved them from the Nazis or the Soviets, says Claussen, at Leibniz Hannover University, and West German politicians were loath to suggest that “America has liberated us.”

Spain until recently was America's closest ally in continental Europe, but enmity toward the United States has existed since the 1950s, says Powell Solares, at Madrid's Elcano Royal Institute. Spain never viewed America as a liberator because the country was largely uninvolved with World War II. Instead, they tend to condemn the U.S. for supporting fascist Gen. Francisco Franco as part of its Cold War policy.

“And that means that Spaniards have never associated the U.S. with freedom and democracy,” says Powell Solares, citing polls from the 1960s and '70s in which Spaniards viewed the United States as a bigger threat to world peace than the Soviet Union.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the former republics of the Soviet Union and its satellite nations emerged with more solidarity with the United States than most of the countries of Western Europe. Except for Great Britain, Eastern European nations have contributed more troops per capita to the Coalition Forces in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Several have allegedly allowed controversial secret CIA prisons on their soil.

When U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld distinguished between the “Old Europe” and “New Europe” in 2003, he was paying homage to the willingness of the newly liberated nations to aid the United States, in contrast to the recalcitrance of Germany and France - Old Europe. French officials labeled the secretary's bluntness as “arrogance.”

Anti-Americanism got only a short reprieve in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

“Initially, there was a spontaneous outpouring of sympathy and support for the United States,” Pew researchers found. “Even in some parts of the Middle East, hostility toward the U.S. appeared to soften a bit. But this reaction proved short-lived. Just a few months after the attacks, a Global Attitudes Project survey of opinion leaders around the world found that, outside Western Europe, there was a widespread sense that U.S. policies were a major cause of the attacks.”

Missteps and Failures

Because of their self-proclaimed virtues and their emphasis on human rights, Americans are often held to higher expectations on the world stage than are other nations. When they fail to perform to those standards, they are doubly condemned. Many who see U.S. foreign policy floundering are as disappointed as they are angry.

Some of the criticisms of the United States - such as the allegations that the government was behind the 9/11 attacks - are so irrational that there is no way to answer them. But there are inescapable realities that will not go away. America's credibility on human rights has been severely damaged by prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, the U.S.-run Baghdad prison for terrorism suspects, and alleged mistreatment at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, as well as by CIA renditions and secret detention camps in Eastern Europe. Its reputation for competence has been trampled by revelations that Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction had been trumped up by an overeager White House yearning for battle. Most jarring of all is the bloodshed in Iraq that has claimed at least 34,000 Iraqis and more than 3,000 American troops.

After the revelations at Abu Ghraib, Patrick Sabatier of the French newspaper Liberation wrote, “One can lose a war in places other than battlegrounds. The torture that took place in the Abu Ghraib prison is a major defeat for the U.S. The photographs fan the fires of anti-American hate in the Arab world. Elsewhere they trigger reactions of disgust, and take away from the coalition's small dose of moral legitimacy, gained by toppling Saddam's regime.”

Even Americans themselves no longer defend the U.S position in Iraq, Pew researchers found. “As to whether the removal of Saddam Hussein from power made the world a safer place,” the survey said, “views are also lopsidedly negative. In no country surveyed, including the United States, does a majority think the Iraq leader's overthrow has increased global security.”

Another strike against the American war in Iraq is its duration - longer now than World War II. And the carnage can be seen daily on television. “If the war had had a quick or favorable ending, people would have forgotten about it. But it is in the news every day,” says Vallespin, at the Sociological Research Centre of Spain.

Support for Israel

For many Americans and Europeans, Israel cannot be forsaken. It is a place of immense historical and spiritual importance, and was established to right grievous historic wrongs. This is felt not only by America's 3 million Jews but also by an overwhelming number of the country's Christians.

Muslim nations, however, and many other non-Muslim countries, see Israel as a regional bully propped up by the United States. Pew surveys found that many people “suspect the United States of deliberately targeting Muslim nations and using the war on terror to protect Israel,” as well as to gain control of Middle East oil.

Clear evidence of a biased relationship was seen in the fact that the United States announced a $10 billion military-aid package to Israel on the same day that the U.S. military began its assault on Iraq in 2003.

“To announce this package on the same day that Iraq is bombed is as stupid as it is arrogant,” said Nabeel Ghanyoum, a military analyst in Syria. “This is effectively telling the Arab world, 'Look we are bombing Iraq as we please, and we are giving Israel as much financial aid [as] it wants.' ”

In his study of the links between anti-Israeli sentiment and anti-Americanism, the University of Michigan's Markovits found that the crucial link was made after the Israeli victory in the 1967 war, while America was embroiled in Vietnam.

“Israel became little more than an extension of American power to many, especially on Europe's political left,” he wrote. “Israel was disliked, especially by the left, not so much because it was Jewish but because it was American. And as such it was powerful.”

A Good Neighbor?

There have been positive moments in the past few years. The Council on Foreign Relations' Simon says that there was an upsurge in America's standing in 2004, when it provided substantial aid in the wake of the devastating Southeast Asian tsunami. The perception that this aid was “unconditional,” he said, had a “sharply positive effect” on perceptions of the United States.

Noor at the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies in Berlin disagrees. He says he visited storm-damaged areas of Indonesia and Pakistan after the disaster and perceived even this seemingly altruistic venture was a public-relations disaster for the United States.

“They showed up on aircraft carriers and other warships,” he says, “and the soldiers sent to help the victims were still wearing their combat fatigues from the Iraq War.” It would have been far wiser to send civilian aid workers rather than the military, he says, who were regarded by many storm victims as emissaries of the imperial United States. “America is now seen [there] as something alien.”

The Remarque Institute's Judt says that the U.S. government's disdain for international institutions has had a lasting negative effect, particularly among America's longtime allies. The Bush administration created an “in-your-face America,” he says, that conveyed the message: “Not only do the things we do annoy you, but we don't care. We are going to do what we do, and you can take it or leave it.”

For example, during his short stint as U.S. envoy to the United Nations, Ambassador John Bolton was criticized - and also praised - for his straight-from-the shoulder diplomacy, including his disparagement of the United Nations itself. “The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories,” he famously once said. “If it lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.” Bolton was blamed by some U.N. officials for quietly sabotaging the organization's reform initiative by stirring differences between poor and rich countries.

“He sometimes makes it very difficult to build bridges because he is a very honest and blunt person,” said South Africa's ambassador, Dumisani Shadrack Kumalo, chairman of a coalition of developing nations. He said it sometimes appeared that “Ambassador Bolton wants to prove nothing works at the United Nations.” Bolton resigned in December 2006.

In addition, both Noor and Latin America expert Sweig at the Council on Foreign Relations say the U.S. reputation for generosity has been hurt by drastic cuts in foreign-assistance programs under the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), as well as cuts in funds for libraries, scholarships and other cultural activities. Private giving by Americans remains the highest per capita in the world, and American foreign-development aid is the highest in the developed world in pure dollar terms, but the level of aid sinks very low when measured as a percentage of GDP.

Such aid programs in many cases were replaced by “War on Terrorism” initiatives, including a $300 million propaganda campaign from the Pentagon. The psychological-warfare operation included plans for placing pro-American messages in foreign media outlets without disclosing the U.S. government as the source.

Alarmist rhetoric is a poor substitute for help, says Noor, because the United States no longer has people on the ground in Muslim countries who know the cultures and the languages. When they were in effect and fully funded, he says, U.S. aid programs were so successful that Islamist movements in those countries have mimicked them. “They borrowed the tactics of the Peace Corps.”

Missed Opportunities

By linking Israel and the United States into a single, fearsome conspiracy, anti-American activists have created strange bedfellows: fundamentalist Muslims, socialists and Western pacifists. Left-leaning groups used to find common cause in socialist ideals. Now, “anti-Americanism is the glue that holds them together, and hatred of Israel is one aspect,” said Emmanuele Ottolenghi, a research fellow at the Centre for Hebrew and Jewish studies at Oxford University in England.

While America's close relationship with Israeli was often questioned outside the United States, the U.S. role in opposing the Soviet Union during the Cold War more than outweighed it, says Georgetown University's Kupchan. Now, he says, the old bonds don't count for so much.

“The World War II generation is dying off; the reflexive support of the transatlantic partnership of that generation is disappearing. You have a new generation of Europeans for whom the United States is not the savior from the Nazis and the Soviets that it was for their parents,” says Kupchan.

Meanwhile, even with a new U.S. presidential election nearing, fears remain strong in Europe about the actions of the Bush administration in its remaining months. Of particular concern is the possibility of a dangerous new U.S. offensive against Iran, which says it will continue developing nuclear energy.

“We think that the growing tensions between the two countries are made more dangerous by George Bush's detachment from the electorate: There's a real risk that he may strike at Iran before he leaves power,” John Micklethwait, editor of The Economist, recently wrote.


This has been an excerpt from the complete report, available here:

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