MANILA — In 1996 Samuel Huntington published his epochal work “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.” In it, he argues that, since the demise of the Cold War, cultural divides have become the focal points of international conflicts. Judging from recent editorials in American and other newspapers, I get the impression that humanity today is confronted with a new and very different clash — an increasingly bitter and highly emotional confrontation between supporters and opponents of the sole superpower.
I am not referring to the escalating conflict between the United States and its allies, with the “alliance of the willing” on one side and Iraq and other “axis of evil” rogues on the other. I am talking about the deepening split that runs straight through the community of democratic nations — a split that has also divided public opinion in all major democratic countries I can think of.
Whenever people talk politics — in private or public — these days, it does not take long before the role of the U.S. in international relations is brought up. If there were an international contest for the political word of the year, “anti-Americanism” would stand a good chance of making it to the top.
Central to the issue is the role of the U.S. in international affairs. “America’s rise as a unipolar power is a critical aspect of the recent wave of anti-Americanism,” says G. John Ikenberry of Georgetown University. Because of an absence of balancing powers following the downfall of the Soviet Union, “the U.S. is out of control,” argues the scholar.
The unipolar structure of the international system alone, however, does not explain the growth of what is often called anti-Americanism. For many analysts, the practice of the Bush administration’s treating international affairs in terms of black and white constitutes the main reason for the negative trend: “You are either for us or you are against us” — is the core of the doctrine. Worse still, those against “us” are not only foes but implicitly also “anti-Americans,” conclude advocates of this dogmatic approach to international relations.
In the debate over how the international community should deal with the dictatorship in Iraq, the U.S. approach of “you are either for us or against us” — which leaves no room for compromises and middle ways — has created a situation in which millions, if not billions of people all over the world, are defamed as “anti-Americans.” While this denouncement may not pose a problem for many (and may indeed be considered meritorious in some parts of the world), it is a precarious business to “excommunicate” whole societies — that have stood side by side with the U.S. for generations and share the same democratic and liberal values — for the sole reason that they collectively believe that there are solutions to the Iraq problem other than the military option favored by U.S. President George W. Bush and his team.
“In Europe, this paranoid, conspiratorial anti-Americanism is not a far-left or far-right phenomenon. It’s the mainstream view,” Robert Kagan opined in a recent commentary in The Washington Post. This author probably has done more to advance the notion that Americans and Europeans are growing apart than anyone else. Simplistic arguments such as his and the constant talk about so-called anti-Americanism may eventually turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. From an American angle, it may lead to identifying actual friends as enemies.
I call Kagan and like-minded authors simplistic because they equate concerns and criticism regarding specific U.S. foreign policies with anti-Americanism. In reality, rejecting U.S. policies at a given time and anti-Americanism are two very different phenomena.
The tradition of anti-Americanism in many parts of the world may be defined as a deep-rooted national stereotype and constitutes a mindset based on total rejection of U.S. principles and values. This is very different from what we perceive in most countries today: a rejection of U.S. policies toward Iraq and the arrogant U.S. habit of trying to push policies of global concern without taking into consideration the legitimate interests of other nations. Fortunately for the U.S., these critical and negative attitudes toward Washington’s policies tend to be limited in duration and scope. They may well disappear after a more sensible and sensitive leadership returns to the White House.
Often the prevailing negative sentiments toward policies of the Bush administration go hand in hand with positive attitudes toward other aspects of American reality. Take Germany, my native land, which a senior U.S. government official recently had the audacity to compare with Libya and Cuba. While only 9 percent of the German population support a U.S.-led war against Iraq, a nearly two-thirds majority answer affirmatively when asked “Do you like Americans?”
Another example is the Philippines, a former U.S. colony. According to a recent opinion poll commissioned by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, no less than 90 percent of Filipinos have a favorable opinion of the U.S. In this regard, the Philippines is the undisputed front-runner in Asia. At the same time, though, according to another survey, 70 percent of Filipinos think their country should be neutral in a war between the U.S. and Iraq, and only a meager 10 percent favor “total support” of Washington’s position. Should we seriously characterize all but these 10 percent as “anti-American”? I don’t think so. That would not only be unintelligent politically; it would also misrepresent the evidence.
In short, Anti-Americanism as defined here is more a fantasy of a group of American theoreticians and writers and less a fact of life, as numerous empirical surveys have shown. For Americans, this should be good news!
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