Vol. 4 Num 177 Fri. November 21, 2003  

Straight talk
It's not anti-Americanism, it's anti-Republicanism

I don't often find myself in agreement with much that pop stars have to say about the state of the world, but British singer Elton John's words at a benefit concert last month hit the nail right on the head.

Dennis Miller the one-time comedian from Saturday Night Live who has bizarrely chosen to reincarnate himself as the Bush administration's court jester had just finished one of his typical sets in which he denigrated liberals, Arabs, Muslims, and non-Americans in general.

Before he sat down to perform, John remarked, "This night is about charity -- not washing your dirty political laundry. I love America, but if you want to know why the world hates America, I can give you two words: Dennis Miller."

To which I would like to add two more: Charles Krauthammer.

Krauthammer is the reliably conservative commentator whose screeds against liberalism and tolerance regularly darken the back page of Time magazine. His latest turn is a relentlessly ill tempered and bile-filled outpouring in this week's Time entitled: The US Gets No Sympathy. Should It Care?

Krauthammer's piece is a classic of unintended irony. It is filled with arrogance and contempt and condescension and is an unwittingly brilliant illustration of what it is about America that the rest of the world dislikes. Krauthammer is ostensibly writing a piece on why everyone hates Americans, all the while remaining utterly unaware of his own healthy contribution to this phenomenon.

Ever since 9/11 Americans have been asking themselves why so many people around the world seem to hate them. But for the likes of Krauthammer, the answer is simple:

"The fact is that the world hates the US for its wealth, its success, its power. They hate the US into incoherence. The search for logic in anti-Americanism is fruitless. It is in the air the world breathes. Its roots are envy and self-loathing -- by peoples who, yearning for modernity but having failed at it, find their one satisfaction in despising modernity's great exemplar."

That's it. That's his analysis. That's his considered judgment on the subject. I don't need to embellish a thing -- his words speak for itself. Krauthammer quite simply oozes arrogance and contempt for the rest of the world.

He dismisses out of hand the notion that anyone could conceivably have a legitimate grievance against the US or have a problem with the way it conducts its foreign policy. The only possible reasons he can see for dislike of the US are the envy and self-loathing of all those losers in the world who are just sick with jealousy that they have failed where the US has succeeded.

Let me reiterate: this is why people dislike Americans.

But let's get one thing straight. Most people are able to draw a distinction between Charles Krauthammer and all Americans. We realise that thankfully he doesn't represent the whole country. We realise that the US is filled with people of good conscience and generosity who do not share Krauthammer's smug certitude or intemperate xenophobia.

It's not really America that we dislike. It is a certain conception of America personified by the likes of Dennis Miller and Charles Krauthammer that we dislike.

The America that most people dislike is the America that is arrogant and xenophobic and says to hell with the rest of the world.

It is the America that conducts its foreign policy in a tone that seems calculated to offend and has nothing but disdain for world opinion.

It is the America that dismisses all criticism of America as the product of envy and self-loathing.

In short, what most people dislike is not Americans so much as it is the attitude that is embodied by a certain kind of American. And this certain kind of American has found a home for the past half century in the Republican party.

Now, this is not to say that all Republicans are rabidly anti-foreigner. But the party does pander to the electorate's basest instincts and just as it is home to the bigots and racists and homophobes so it has also opened its arms to the arrogant and intolerant xenophobic America-firsters who despise anything non-American and feel that the US should do as it pleases and not be constrained by opinion beyond its borders.

It is this kind of American that most people around the world have a problem with.

Most people have no grievance against the US as a country per se or Americans as people in general. Bill Clinton was hugely popular around the world because he embodied a face of the US that people found reassuring, and, not coincidentally, America's stature in the world was never higher than during his presidency.

Under Clinton people felt that the US saw itself as a part of the world community. Under Clinton people felt that the US respected world opinion and that it could potentially use its massive power for the common good.

But the kind of American I am writing about wants nothing to do with what Krauthammer contemptuously dismisses as "the Clinton administration's hyperapologetic, good citizen internationalism."

And it is this attitude -- not being American per se -- that people around the world don't like. It is the Republican mind-set that pours scorns on multilateralism and sensitivity to world opinion and takes comfort from the bullying and the bluster of the Bush administration.

It is important to make this distinction between anti-Americanism and anti-Republicanism. If the sole problem the US faced in the world today were the anti-Americanism of those who are filled with envy and self-loathing, as Krauthammer imagines, then he would be correct in his belief that there isn't much Americans can or should do about it.

But that's not the only problem. The US is facing a huge problem of lack of support in the twin wars it is waging against al-Qaeda and in Iraq, and if it wants to win these wars then it needs as many people on its side as it can possibly muster. If it takes the attitude that people who are opposed to it are opposed to it through blind hatred then it will never make the adjustments necessary to win people over.

To win hearts and minds, the US must understand that many of the people who oppose it are not anti-American but merely anti-Republican, and that it would not be difficult at all to enlist their help. All that is necessary is little less hubris and a little more respect.

It must be nice to live in as simplistic a world as Krauthammer's. It must be nice to be able to determine that if no one likes you then it is their fault not yours. It must be nice to be so certain of your own rectitude and so contemptuous of others that you never have to question yourself or your own actions.

But the problem with this attitude is that it precludes the possibility of anything ever changing and is ultimately self-defeating. It isn't a particularly helpful or illuminating perspective to take if one is truly serious about addressing so-called anti-Americanism.

The search for logic in what he calls anti-Americanism is far from fruitless, and for Krauthammer it should be easier than most to locate. He can find it every morning looking back at him from his bathroom mirror.

Zafar Sobhan is an Assistant Editor of The Daily Star.