Kagan on Anti-Americanism

Robert Prather, writing over at James Joyner’s ‘Outside the Beltway’ has an interesting post up on anti-Americanism. It’s a riff on a column by Robert Kagan in the Post and concludes:

My own theory about these resentments includes the fact that, yes, we have done some things that were hurtful, but generally when our choices weren’t good in any case. One instance is our interference in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. We were engaged in an existential struggle with communism and, as part of that struggle we opposed communist dictatorships and supported other types of dictatorships. It is clearly resented in Latin America, but I can’t say I would do things differently given what we were facing. The whole world was a chess board with us playing the Soviet Union in a series of proxy conflicts, at least in part because if we fought one another, the outcome would have been horrendous.

My other theory is that much of this comes from envy. Some of it is relatively benign, like French politicians using the U.S. as a whipping boy to get elected. I’m sure that stuff doesn’t go unnoticed, but most people understand that’s how politics works. The other things, like the African dictator’s son damning us for acting in one instance (Bosnia) and not in another (Rwanda) is simply throwing up things to see if they will stick. There is a market for this kind of nonsense in Europe and elsewhere, and given the detachment from reality and/or stupidity of the accusers, I’m not overly concerned with that either. We will be resented by someone no matter what we do simply because of our current place in the world.

One instance that demonstrates what we should do is the tsunami. We figured out the right thing to do, and we did it with the help of Japan and Australia. We had ships on the scene shortly after the catastrophe to help by flying people out of soaked areas, bringing fresh water and food to others and various other things. While we were doing this, to distract from their own incompetence, the UN had Jan Egeland complaining that we didn’t give enough of our GDP to international institutions. While they were having conferences about setting up more conferences, we were helping people. That’s how I believe we should handle these matters: Decide the right thing to do and do it; let others bicker over insignificant side issues. We should probably accept that no gratitude will be forthcoming when we do help. It’ll be another reason to criticize us later on.

We should help anyway.

In case you’re wondering, I agree.

But I also think that we have to be working toward international institutions that work as they should and have some measure of effectiveness and legitimacy.

24 thoughts on “Kagan on Anti-Americanism”

  1. We won’t keep this up forever. Someday we are going to return to letting the world deal with it’s own problems. We have spent 50+ years giving our wealth and our young peoples lives and we get spit on in turn. Isolation is our future.

  2. I’m not so sure that isolation is our future. After all, we tried moving that way at the beginning of the Bush administration, but isolation only works, as we found out on 9/11, if others leave you alone. Oh, and lest we forget, we were roundly criticized for disengaging, too.

  3. Isolation is a pipe dream in the 21st century. We’re stuck with them and they’re stuck with us.

    I too would like to see some workable and legitimate international institutions, not for some love of large governments, just out of a sense that the world is headed there anyway, we might as well get ahead of the curve.

    The problem is that the UN, being a treaty organization and having no direct representation from the world people, does not have the foundation to be such an organization. In addition, there is absolutely no sense of checks and balances, no forced rotation of representative positions (since there are none), and no clearly defined limitations on who has the power to do what. The UN may be a fine club for totalitarian regimes, but it ain’t much in the way of actually being helpful. It was made to prevent a nuclear WWIII. In that, it succeeded. Let’s not get too carried away with it.

    I honestly don’t see any option except to scrap the UN and try again. Either that, or set up each institution individually apart from UN ownership. The UN is a mess, and like a crazy uncle, we should smile and pat them on the head a lot and make things happen some other way. Some other effective way.

  4. The problem with international organizations is that most nations are dictatorships.

    It fouls the chain of command.

    The other problem is resources. Who you going to call when you need an aircraft carrier? France?

  5. I read the Kagan piece, which seemed to be an attack on Beinart. While Kagan is right, theres plenty of antiamericanism that preceded 9/11, and has roots in many things other than the current admins attitude toward international institutions, I think he missed the point. I havent yet read the Beinart book, but I dont think Beinart was saying that more multilateralism would eliminate ALL antiamericanism – it wouldnt win over african marxists, or latin american leftists. I think his goal is more modest, to win over the fence sitters around the world, who WOULD be pro-US if we were a tad more tractable.

  6. I think his goal is more modest, to win over the fence sitters around the world, who WOULD be pro-US if we were a tad more tractable.

    Okay I’ll ask the question – who are these “fence sitters” who would be “pro-US” if we were a “tad more tractable” and what do they have to offer us that would make altering our “tractability” more worthwhile?

  7. That the UN gives the dictatorship equal footing as the democracy within its walls proves that it will never be a legitimate organization.

    I’ve long ago quit caring about what other nations think of the US, and I feel healthier having done so. Europe still refuses to come to grips with the role it has played in shaping the world today. It still continues to point to the “colonies” and say “look at all the harm you’re doing” when most of the time we are having to deal with a mess they created. The issue of Israel and Palestine is the perfect example, as are the current warring factions within nearly all of Africa.

  8. But I also think that we have to be working toward international institutions that work as they should and have some measure of effectiveness and legitimacy.

    Amen to that! Can I hope this means you also think that step 1 is either getting rid of the UN entirely, or at the very least renaming it “The Useless Debating Society” and moving its headquarters to Ouagadouga? (With apologies to the good people of Burkina Faso, who as far as I can tell haven’t done anything to deserve having those vultures descend on them…)

  9. Great post.

    _we have to be working toward international institutions that work as they should and have some measure of effectiveness and legitimacy._

    I’ll second Kirk’s response on this – with the additional caveat that (resources being limited) it is far more important to work towards *national* institutions that work as they should and have some measure of effectiveness and legitimacy. While I’m glad that we have the surplus resources and infrastructure to help the world when we can, there’s still a lot to do here (Porous borders, corruption and government over-expansion, etc.) that dwarfs the challenge of building legitimate international institutions in a world of illegitimate (in the sense that they don’t represent their populace) governments.

  10. 8

    europeans other than the minority of far leftists, for starters. Plenty of folks in Canada and elsewhere in the anglosphere. Even a few folks in the muslim world.

    Having them support us would make it more likely wed get support in many of the things we are trying to do, from sanctioning Iran, to dealing with Somalia, to getting troops for Afghanistan.

  11. _My other theory is that much of this comes from envy. Some of it is relatively benign, like French politicians using the U.S. as a whipping boy to get elected. I’m sure that stuff doesn’t go unnoticed, but most people understand that’s how politics works._

    Not exactly, in my humble opinion.

    European Socialist politicians (that is, most of the politicians in Europe) see the Anglosaxon culture of Freedom as a direct danger to their power. The issue is not that the US or the UK’s GDP grows faster than the average continental European, but that it shows a better way of doing things beyond Socialism. It is a threat for them, and many of them hate the US for it.

    Of course, there are pragmatic leftist politicians that know that they can not follow a path that keeps them far appart from the support of the world’s hyperpower, but as I have said, there is a clear ideological (translated into economic) threat against their power from America that they cannot ignore.

  12. Disagree. Disagree with the last line of over-arching “we should help” at any rate. Why should we help re-build failed states like Indonesia from their repeated earthquakes and tsunami’s when they turn around and release terrorists like Jemaah Islamic Abu Bakar Bashir. How can that *possibly* help us?

    Or Pakistan and *its* devastating earthquake when at the least it’s been harboring Taliban fugitives for three years now, and at most it’s been sheltering binLaden himself. As a taxpayer, *why* would I want to “help” this country recover from what could be seen as its Allah-induced retribution?

    Why should we continue to poor funds and relief effort into Africa when that continent has had decade after decade after decade of murderous dictators, drought and famine, booming AIDS epidemics, and now genocide with nary one success story to prove that the natives are interested in helping themselves. And yes, I’ll include South Africa in that list of failed nations.

    I’m trying to think of one single place where our “help” has actually mattered. It mattered and made a difference when we rebuilt Germany and Japan, but that was because we were doing it “the American way”, and not funneling money to the locals to rebuild like we’ve done in Kosovo. It remains to be seen whether or not Iraq will be a successful self-help project. I would tend to think right now that Iraq will be better than any other Middle East country, but on an American scale of standards, it will be a failure … no matter how many billions of dollars and thousands of American lives we spend trying to “help” them into better lives.

    So that ultimately, if we are to ever be able to change world-wide anti-Americanism it would appear to me that buying their love by “helping” is not the way to do it.

    If it’s not working, change it. Intervening by over-throwing dictators didn’t work, so we changed it to trying to buy their love by “helping”. That hasn’t worked either. Time for Plan C, and not continuing to pretend that “helping” is effective either politically or socially.

  13. #14,

    It will not be evident for decades if Iraq policy was sound. If it takes 20 years to bake this kind of cake giving up after 5 years is proof of nothing. And it hasn’t even been 5 years yet.

  14. Liberalhawk,

    I’m highly skeptical that spending more time at the UN will change anyone’s mind. Bush spent a ton of time there (annoying conservative hawks like me) and it hasn’t exactly paid big dividends. We had a bunch of countries with us going into Iraq and it was still “unilateral.”

    When I lived in Germany in 1999-2000, I constantly had to defend Clinton (which I did not enjoy, but I think politics does stop at the water’s edge) for: doing too much in Bosnia (killing all those innocent Serbs) while not doing enough for the Kurds (in Iraq and Turkey). And these, mind you, were arguments made by literally the same person. Now that Bush has done something for Kurds in Iraq, he’s damned for that as well as not doing enough in Darfur.

    (Oddly, the EXACT same arguments were used by protesters when Madeline Albright came to Seattle in 2000 or 2001.)

    My point is just that I don’t think most US critics have coherent position. Bush goes to the UN: he’s bullying it. Bush ignores the UN (well, actually he hasn’t done that yet, so who knows what would happen). Bush assembles a coalition for Iraq: he’s acting unilaterally. Bush acts unilaterally (after the tsunami) and he’s criticized for lacking the “moral legitimacy” to, um, deliver drinking water to thirsty people, which obviously requires the UN seal of approval. Bush insists on multilateral talks with North Korea: he ought to be willing to act unilaterally. What’s he need China at the table for?

    Clinton goes to Bosnia: he’s a war criminal. Clinton doesn’t go to Rwanda: he’s criminally ignoring genocide.

    We can’t win this argument because the rule is: whatever we do is wrong. War is wrong, not acting is wrong, sending free food is wrong.

    I’m willing to listen to serious critics, but there are very few.

  15. Can I hope this means you also think that step 1 is either getting rid of the UN entirely, or at the very least renaming it “The Useless Debating Society” and moving its headquarters to Ouagadouga?

    Wait a minute, why not move the UN headquarters to Jerusalem? In fact, persuade israel and palestine to give Jerusalem to the UN. It would be hard for them to stop fighting over it. But the UN can preserve everybody’s religious sites, and spend a lot of money, and everybody wins.

    Jerusalem is a cosmopolitan international city, a lot like New York. I can hardly think of a city the UN more deserves to operate from. Mogadishu? Too harsh. Grozny? Too isolated. Pyongyang? Too backward. Ashgabat? Too capricious. No, Jerusalem is it.

  16. America is the world’s great protector of the Jews, and it is sharing the world’s ancient and unappeasable hatred of the Jews.

    After someone explains Why antisemitism? Why this terrible history? they can go on to say Now I’ve cleared all that up, you explain anti-Americanism!

    That would be fair enough. One person doesn’t have to do everything.

    But as long as antisemitism remains a mystery, I don’t think it’s fair to have to explain why not only the Jews but their friends and protectors as well are hated.

    In the meantime, I don’t think America morally has to say Please excuse me for breathing. We know that the kinds of people who drink up the Elders of Zion – popular in Egypt – answer that request No! And they mean it.

  17. #16 from Rob Lyman hits it out of the park. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Anti-Americanism is bigotry and is not rational, just like anti-Semitism. And the bigger although entirely overlooked question is do we WANT to be well liked by large segments of the world? If the US nuked Israel pro-Americanism would certainly skyrocket in many parts of the world. To me, all of the anti-Americanism in the world is a reason to be proud of our country.

  18. Try looking at other nations and see where the differences come from.

    What about anti-swiss sentiment? The swiss are as democratic as we are, and nearly as rich. (Their percapita GDP isn’t as high, but they don’t tolerate poor people.) They’re legally more free than we are, though their calvinist middle-class culture leaves them less free in practice.

    Why isn’t there more anti-swiss feeling? Their foreign policy has been “pragmatic”. Like, they sold valuable war material to the nazis until germany was weak enough not to be a threat to them, then they stopped. They don’t seem to proselytise much. They’ll be swiss and you can be something else. They’ll do sharp business with people who’re going to lose anyway, and they’ll trade quite fairly with those who’re competent enough to stay around and do repeat business.

    I guess there are some people who’re antiswiss, but the swiss don’t much care.

    So what’s the difference? Well first, we kind of act like we want everybody else to be America too. We tell poor nations that we want them to be rich like us, and we try to help them turn rich but it doesn’t work. We tell everybody we want them to be democratic like us, but we get mad at the democratic ones when they don’t do what we want. We claim we’re better than other countries. That’s enough right there for some people to want to argue that we aren’t, to argue that we’re hypocrites (whether we are or not, but it happens to some extent we are).

    And we try to make other countries do what we want. That’s enough to generate a lot of resentment. We strongly tend not to join in things that other countries start no matter how good they are, we mostly want to start things ourselves and expect other countries to follow our lead. Of course that would generate some resentment.

    So, did these europeans resent the USSR? Sure. Did they talk about the bad things that happened there, the purges, the gulags, the censorship, the hypocrisy? Sure. They didn’t do much about it, but they talked about how bad the USSR was and they set up defenses specifically to protect themselves if the USSR invaded them. They didn’t set up defenses in case we invaded, they cooperated with us against the USSR. They clearly thought we were better than the USSR. And they complained about us too.

    Suppose we were more like the swiss. The swiss aren’t isolationist. They do a lot of world trade, they do some foreign aid, they participate in the UN, etc. They don’t invade anybody, they don’t have foreign bases. Their defense is set up on a beehive strategy — everybody’s supposed to fight the enemy wherever the enemy goes, to make him pay for every bit of land he takes, and make that land worthless to him when he takes it. The nazis could have beat them, or the USSR, or we could, etc. They don’t try to be unbeatable, they try only to make it cost more than it’s worth.

    I think if we were more like the swiss we wouldn’t get so much criticism. And we wouldn’t much care if we did. “We’re America and we like it. You can be anything else.”

    But if we were like that, we wouldn’t be America after all. We’d be some other kind of America. And some of us strongly believe that the kind of America we are is the only kind that can survive. If we wait until some empire tries to control the whole world before we rise up and stop them, next time we’ll lose. We have to control the whole world so we can stop that empire before it gets started. It would cost too much and require too much sacrifice the other way, and we’d lose. We have to spend whatever it takes and sacrifice whatever it takes now to keep that from happening.

    Of course not everybody likes us doing that. But they aren’t ready to sacrifice much to stop us. They aren’t like us that way, and it’s probably just as well.

  19. I’ve made one small change to these paragraphs, which I think does not alter the truth of them one bit.

    Well first, we kind of act like we want everybody else to be [France] too. We tell poor nations that we want them to be rich like us, and we try to help them turn rich but it doesn’t work. We tell everybody we want them to be democratic like us, but we get mad at the democratic ones when they don’t do what we want. We claim we’re better than other countries.

    And we try to make other countries do what we want. That’s enough to generate a lot of resentment. We strongly tend not to join in things that other countries start no matter how good they are [or we drop out of them, like NATO], we mostly want to start things ourselves and expect other countries to follow our lead.

    Is that not a good description of the French? And of course, when the French want to re-invade their old colonial possessions, they don’t bother with any of that UN nonsense, they just do it.

    So where’s the virulent anti-French sentiment in Europe, Asia, etc.? (We’ve got it here in the US, of course). When was the last time some idiot left-winger filed a war-crimes complaint aginst Chirac for invading the Ivory Coast?

    (And there’s no anti-Swiss feeling because the Swiss are largely irrelevant to everyone except the Pope and buyers of pocket knives. The US can’t help being important, even if, frankly, most of us would rather be like the Swiss.)

  20. So where’s the virulent anti-French sentiment in Europe, Asia, etc.?

    Good question. I can imagine anti-french fervor dying down in asia since they aren’t very active there just now. Is there much antifrench sentiment in africa? I haven’t been paying much attention to what africans think, generally.

    The french aren’t generally very effective at making other nations do what they want. That might cut down the annoyance some.

    When was the last time some idiot left-winger filed a war-crimes complaint aginst Chirac for invading the Ivory Coast?

    I dunno. I’m not sure I’d notice if they tried that. American media pay a whole lot more attention to people who criticise the USA than people who criticise france. Reasonably enough.

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