Special Report

Hating America

On September 12, 2001, Jean-Marie Colombani, the editor of Le Monde, famously wrote, "Today we are all Americans." Three years on, it seems that we are all anti-Americans. Hostility to the United States is deeper and broader than at any point in the last 50 years. The Western Europeans, it is often argued, oppose U.S. ...

On September 12, 2001, Jean-Marie Colombani, the editor of Le Monde, famously wrote, "Today we are all Americans." Three years on, it seems that we are all anti-Americans. Hostility to the United States is deeper and broader than at any point in the last 50 years. The Western Europeans, it is often argued, oppose U.S. foreign policy because peace and prosperity have made them soft. But the United States faces almost identical levels of anti-Americanism in Turkey, India, and Pakistan, none of which are rich, postmodern, or pacifist. With the exception of Israel and Britain, no country today has a durable pro-American majority.

In this post-ideological age, anti-Americanism fills the void left by defunct belief systems. It has become a powerful trend in international politics today — and perhaps the most dangerous. U.S. hegemony has its problems, but a world that reacts instinctively against the United States will be less peaceful, less cooperative, less prosperous, less open, and less stable.

The wave of anti-Americanism is, of course, partly a product of the current Bush administration’s policies and, as important, its style. Support for the United States has dropped dramatically since Bush rode into town. In 2000, for example, 75 percent of Indonesians identified themselves as pro-American. Today, more than 80 percent are hostile to Uncle Sam. When asked why they dislike the United States, people in other countries consistently cite Bush and his policies. But the very depth and breadth of this phenomenon suggest that it is bigger than Bush. The term "hyperpower," after all, was coined by the French foreign minister to describe Bill Clinton’s America, not George W. Bush’s.

Anti-Americanism’s ascendance also owes something to the geometry of power. The United States is more powerful than any country in history, and concentrated power usually means trouble. Other countries have a habit of ganging up to balance the reigning superpower. Throughout history, countries have united to defeat hegemonic powers — from the Hapsburgs to Napoleon to Kaiser Wilhelm and Hitler.

For over 50 years, the United States employed skillful diplomacy to fend off this apparently immutable law of history. U.S. administrations used power in generally benign ways, working through international organizations, fostering an open trading system that helped others grow economically, and providing foreign aid to countries in need. To demonstrate that it was not threatening, the United States routinely gave great respect and even deference to much weaker countries. By crudely asserting U.S. power and disregarding international institutions and alliances, the Bush administration has pulled the curtain on decades of diplomacy and revealed that the United States’ constraints are self-imposed: America can, in fact, go it alone. Not surprisingly, the rest of the world resents this imbalance and searches for ways to place obstacles in America’s way.

But an equally important force propelling anti-Americanism around the world is an ideological vacuum. Political scientist Francis Fukuyama was right when he noted that the collapse of the Soviet Union also meant the collapse of the great ideological debate on how to organize economic and political life. The clash between socialism and capitalism created political debates and shaped political parties and their agendas across the world for more than a century. Capitalism’s victory left the world without an ideology of discontent, a systematic set of ideas that are critical of the world as it exists.

There is always a market for an ideology of discontent — it allows those outside the mainstream to relate to the world. These beliefs usually form in reaction to the world’s dominant reality. So the rise of capitalism and democracy over the last 200 years produced ideologies of opposition from the left (communism, socialism) and from the right (hypernationalism, fascism). Today, the dominant reality in the world is the power of the United States, currently being wielded in a particularly aggressive manner. Anti-Americanism is becoming the way people think about the world and position themselves within it. It is a mindset that extends beyond politics to economic and cultural realms. So, in recent elections in Brazil, Germany, Pakistan, Kuwait, and Spain, the United States became a campaign issue. In all these places, resisting U.S. power won votes. Nationalism in many countries is being defined in part as anti-Americanism: Can you stand up to the superpower?

Much has been written about what the United States can do to help arrest and reverse these trends. But it is worth putting the shoe on the other foot for a moment. Imagine a world without the United States as the global leader. Even short of the imaginative and intelligent scenario of chaos that British historian Niall Ferguson outlined in this magazine (see "A World Without Power," July/August 2004), it would certainly look grim. There are many issues on which the United States is the crucial organizer of collective goods. Someone has to be concerned about terrorism and nuclear and biological proliferation. Other countries might bristle at certain U.S. policies, but would someone else really be willing to bully, threaten, cajole, and bribe countries such as Libya to renounce terror and dismantle their WMD programs? On terror, trade, AIDs, nuclear proliferation, U.N. reform, and foreign aid, U.S. leadership is indispensable.

The temptation to go its own way will be greatest for Europe, the only other player with the resources and tradition to play a global role. But if Europe defines its role as being different from the United States — kinder, gentler, whatever — will that really produce a more stable world? U.S. and European goals on most issues are quite similar. Both want a peaceful world free from terror, with open trade, growing freedom, and civilized codes of conduct. A Europe that charts its own course just to mark its differences from the United States threatens to fracture global efforts — whether on trade, proliferation, or the Middle East. Europe is too disunited to achieve its goals without the United States; it can only ensure that America’s plans don’t succeed. The result will be a world that muddles along, with the constant danger that unattended problems will flare up disastrously. Instead of win-win, it will be lose-lose — for Europe, for the United States, and for the world.

Fareed Zakaria is the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and the author, most recently, of Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World. Twitter: @FareedZakaria

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