Friday, March 07, 2008

Anti-Americanism isn't quite what people think it is

Michael Gerson examines certain premises of the theory that Bush has made America more hated across the globe. While we have definitely become more unpopular in parts of Europe and the Middle East, that isn't the complete picture. And it isn't at all clear that swapping the Bush administration for some other leader would change our position in the world.
First, listening to the Democrats, one would assume that America in the Bush era is universally despised. The reality is more complicated.

According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, the United States is very popular in sub-Saharan Africa, where President Bush has just finished a triumphant tour. (People in Kenya, the Ivory Coast and Ghana have a more favorable view of America than Americans do.) India and Japan are strongly pro-American. America remains popular in parts of "new Europe," as well as in Mexico, Peru and even Venezuela -- though there has been some erosion in both Latin America and Europe in recent years.

Pew's general conclusion is that anti-Americanism has grown "deeper but not wider." And it is deepest in "old Europe" and the broader Middle East.

The second premise of this Democratic argument is that American popularity in these regions could be increased, easily and permanently, by overturning Bush policies.

It is worth noting that American relations with European governments have rebounded strongly in the last few years with the elections of Angela Merkel in Germany and Nicolas Sarkozy in France. And the next president, Republican or Democrat, is likely to close Guantanamo and sign legislation to restrict American carbon emissions, mollifying two justified European criticisms.

Yet the tensions between American and European worldviews ultimately have little to do with specific policies. Europe is an increasingly pacifist continent -- which is an improvement upon its bloody history, but a source of inevitable tension with a superpower that must occasionally enforce world order. European governments generally view international institutions as a way to constrain American power. Any future American president will continue to view those institutions as a way to amplify our influence in keeping the peace.

And the broader Middle East is an even more difficult case. A close look at the Pew poll shows that appeasing public opinion in this region would require not merely leaving Iraq but also leaving Afghanistan, abandoning the war on terror and ending our support for Israel.
As Gerson does go on to remind us, for all of Kennedy's popularity in Europe, he couldn't stop De Gaulle from pulling France out of military participation in NATO. And for all of Reagan's deep unpopularity in Europe, but now even Europeans recognize his role in bringing an end to the Cold War. So don't assume that inaugurating a President Obama or Clinton wouldn't suddenly make those who resent America's strength and policies start to like us. Being well liked won't simply be a result of changing presidents. There will always be those who hate us because of our economic and military power, whether we're exercising it or not.
And we have seen a good example in our time. The January 2007 decision to surge American troops in Iraq was clearly at odds with world opinion. But retreating from Iraq in failure would have earned global contempt for American weakness instead of global popularity. And the turnaround in Iraq has restored at least some of our standing and leverage in the Middle East.

The real lesson in the years since 9/11 is different from what the Democratic candidates imagine: It is easy to be loved when you are a victim. It is harder to be popular when you act decisively to protect yourself and others.

A successful president should strive for America to be liked -- and expect, on occasion, for America to be resented in a good cause.