Commentary Magazine


America and the World

To the Editor:

Daniel Johnson begins his discussion of anti-Americanism by heaping well-deserved praise on Andrew Kohut and Bruce Stokes’s America Against the World [“America and the America-Haters,” June]. That book presents a highly readable summary of the results of more than 91,000 interviews on attitudes toward America and Americans in more than 50 countries, including America itself.

But Mr. Johnson goes on to take the authors to task for putting a biased spin on the polling data. Portraying them as Clintonites who are determined to show that America’s fall from grace is largely attributable to policies of the Bush administration, he pushes things too far when he states:

Even if the United States were inclined to countenance appeasement of its enemies, as Kohut and Stokes all but explicitly advise, the demands of its anti-American critics are too numerous, too self-contradictory, and too all-consuming to be satisfied by anything less than an utter American abasement and, indeed, defeat.

In fact, Kohut and Stokes do not recommend steps that Americans and their government ought to take to reduce anti-Americanism, even though the authors have been closer to the mindset of America’s detractors than most. They are content to describe important warning signs. For example, they point out that two of America’s greatest strengths—individualism and self-confidence—can result in hubris that ignores the interests of others. At any rate, if the U.S. government were to accept Mr. Johnson’s notion that adjusting its approach in response to critics is tantamount to going down in defeat, we would see more of the unrelenting unilateralism that is already turning America into a fortress.

Mr. Johnson contends that “pragmatic” anti-Americanists, whose hostility results from personal observations of unsettling incidents (like a British general in Iraq who harshly criticized American colleagues for their John Wayne-like soldiering), may be persuaded to change their views. Later, however, he admits that “in practice . . . few people find it easy to admit error.” Which is it?

Even more questionable is Mr. Johnson’s belief that the remaining antagonists are “fundamentalists” whose anti-Americanism is based on intractable religious convictions. Mr. Johnson goes so far as to say that “anti-Americanism has become a continuation of anti-Semitism by other means.” He gives little heed to the many other reasons that have inspired anti-American attitudes around the world—U.S. troops stationed on holy Muslim soil, poverty, lack of opportunity, and inflammatory schooling among Muslim youths, to name a few.

Mr. Johnson’s proposal for “more vigorous public diplomacy on the part of Washington and its friends” is a weak rejoinder to the violent growth of anti-Americanism. He feels that “a shift in American foreign policy is unlikely to reverse or even affect the tide of anti-Americanism,” noting that America’s humanitarian response to the tsunami in Asia did not significantly reduce anti-American attitudes there. But one-time decisions related to humanitarian assistance do not constitute shifts in American policy.

As I argue in my book America on Notice, realistic modifications to our foreign policy could change hostile attitudes toward the U.S. Such changes might include: a new emphasis on job creation in foreign aid; expanding educational opportunities and encouraging the adoption of modern university curricula, especially in the Muslim world; greater support for the global effort to control infectious diseases; halting the regime-change policies that have justified military interventions; ending the double standard of increasing our own nuclear capabilities while denying others the use of such technology for peaceful purposes; strengthening the role of the United Nations to prevent international security crises; and more assertive efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Glenn E. Schweitzer

National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council

Washington, D.C.

 

To the Editor:

I relished a great deal of Daniel Johnson’s “America and the America-Haters.” Sixteen months of living abroad have exposed me to all manner of contradictory and far-fetched anti-American conspiracy theories. My favorite is the suggestion that the U.S. will soon invade Turkey in order to establish a beachhead for subsequent invasions of Russia and China.

Two points, however. First, I kept waiting for Mr. Johnson to twist the knife in the argument by the likes of Andrew Kohut, Bruce Stokes, and Madeleine Albright that anti-Americanism could be reversed if the U.S. just changed some controversial policies and had more sensitive (read: Democratic) political leaders. The task of persuading Americans that they ought to change their policies and views in order to win over foreign approval has—so far—been utterly futile and Sisyphian. There is a reason that the GOP scored points in 2004 by calling attention to John Kerry’s insistence that American action pass a “global test.”

Second, Mr. Johnson touches on the irrationality and pervasiveness of anti-American attitudes and concludes that the best solution is more vigorous public diplomacy and a vague “counteroffensive.” All well and good, but somehow, this feels insufficient. The world’s elites from London to Cairo have embraced a faith-based moral inversion that they perceive as the hallmark of their sophistication. Under their philosophy, a mere simpleton cheers the death of a Hamas terrorist; a cosmopolitan recognizes that any Israeli response perpetuates a “cycle of violence.” To them, democracy in Iraq is good within a child’s morality; a true elite denounces his government’s cooperation with the U.S. in fighting terrorism and donates “ten euros for the resistance” in Iraq. They sympathize with violent demonstrations over Danish cartoons, but cannot stifle yawns at the story of Abdul Rahman, the Afghan who had to flee his country after converting to Christianity.

If the movers and shakers abroad are determined to see good as bad and bad as “an understandable reaction to the legacy of colonialism,” there is not much we can do about it. What we can do is expand the clear-thinking majority of the American public that recognizes just how little the approval of “world opinion” is worth. America’s well-being can easily survive vehement anti-Americanism at the editor’s desk of the Guardian. It is more important to prevent seepage of these beliefs into mainstream American thought.

Jim Geraghty

Ankara, Turkey

 

Daniel Johnson writes:

Glenn E. Schweitzer seems to be a little confused. He acknowledges that I give Andrew Kohut and Bruce Stokes their due for carrying out the most extensive survey ever done of attitudes toward America, but then he complains that I draw different conclusions from theirs. Is that surprising, considering our different viewpoints?

Mr. Schweitzer evidently shares the assumption of Kohut and Stokes that global anti-Americanism is a rational response to the Bush administration’s foreign policy, which he caricatures as “unrelenting unilateralism.” A radical change in policy, they seem to think, would ameliorate, if not eliminate, this hostility. I do not believe either of these propositions. I contend that, like anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism is fundamentally irrational, and cannot be appeased.

Going down Mr. Schweitzer’s list of “reasons that have inspired anti-Americanism,” one cannot help noticing their shaky logical foundation. U.S. troops were withdrawn from the “holy Muslim soil” of Saudi Arabia without the slightest effect on anti-Americanism there. If poverty and lack of opportunity were indeed “reasons” for anti-Americanism, then the corrective would be a foreign policy that promoted democracy, the rule of law, free trade, and capitalism—which is more or less what the U.S. has been doing since (and before) 9/11. “Inflammatory schooling among Muslim youths” does indeed blame the United States for the failings of Islamic states and societies; that, however, reinforces my argument, not Mr. Schweitzer’s.

Muslims and others who have been indoctrinated with fundamentalist anti-Americanism, which is almost invariably laced with anti-Semitism (“Jews and crusaders,” etc.), are rarely susceptible to rational persuasion. The West must certainly exert all its influence to urge Muslim countries not to indoctrinate their youth to hate us, but experience suggests that promises to desist from such propaganda, even by “pro-Western” Islamic governments like those of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are honored more in the breach than in the observance. Mr. Schweitzer’s “realistic modifications to our foreign policy” are for the most part a rehash of the discredited policies of the Clinton era, which did nothing to halt the rising tide of Islamist ideology and other expressions of anti-Americanism. Even the Clintons, however, are not so naïve as to suppose that Iran genuinely requires nuclear technology “for peaceful purposes.”

I am grateful to Jim Geraghty for his appreciative comments and for his testimony to the anti-American conspiracy theories that proliferate in countries like Turkey. I agree that the United States has only limited means at its disposal to combat anti-Americanism, and that it is more important to stick to the right policies than to seek the approval of global elites. But a policy of American isolation, however splendid, would only encourage the enemies of the United States. To take the most obvious example, the insurgency in Iraq has undoubtedly been fueled by the Islamist assumption that a divided West can be easily overwhelmed.

A counsel of despair is not the right response to anti-Americanism. U.S. public diplomacy—which, by the way, is too important to be left to the diplomats—ought to be directed at nations like Britain, where anti-Americanism is now at its worst level ever, despite Tony Blair’s support for George W. Bush. The latest figures from the 2006 Pew Survey confirm this deterioration among the closest allies. America has a good, even overwhelming case—but it is being lost by default.

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