Saturday, 9 July 2011

ANTI-AMERICANISM ---antecedents & the future of Pax Americana

PART I: Historical Antecedents
Is the world less anti-American under the Obama administration and will it become less unsympathetic toward America as the financial and political elites hoped when they facilitated the election of the first African-American president? Of course, we will not know the definitive answer until the end of the presidential term. However, there are signs that the symbolic significance of Obama combined with emblematic and moderately substantive-policy changes, which have been necessitated by the multifaceted realities of the mini-depression, have convinced people from around the world and from across the ideological spectrum that America may readjust its Pax Americana conduct, just as it did during the Great Depression. 

Anti-Americanism has been a reality for America’s southern neighbors since the Spanish-American War, and for reasons that range from ideological and geopolitical, to economic and racial. Some would argue that the genesis of anti-Americanism dates back to the Polk administration that took the first step to put into practice the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny. However, it was really after the Korean War and the start of the non-aligned movement that US foreign policy and America’s role in the world came into question as outwardly ‘democratic’ (invariably defined by the electoral system) at home, but essentially imperial abroad. 

During and immediately after WWII, much of the world had residual goodwill and a positive image of the US. However, from the end of the Korean War until the controversial 1968 election taking place during the Vietnam War, the US lost a great deal of its popularity, not only with its nemesis the Communists around the world but with most countries. And this loss of popular goodwill despite the polarizing Cold War and secret deals foreign governments cut with Washington. 

Contrary to the distorted liberal view and one often cited for anti-Americanism, most if not all countries were and still are far less exercised about the nature U.S. domestic institutions per se and far more concerned about ‘American Exceptionalism’ and ‘US Transformation Policy’ that has negatively impacted the lives of the majority of people around the world since 1945. Total power that ranges from military and economic to political and cultural, with the intent of shaping the world after its own image is at the core of anti-Americanism that has evolved in the past sixty years. 

US meddling on behalf of anti-democratic regimes in countless overt and covert operations throughout the world for more than half a century are a major source of anti-Americanism that transcends all ideological, ethnic, racial, cultural, religious and political boundaries. Support for Marcos in the Philippines, Suharto in Indonesia, Shah of Iran, Salazar in Portugal, Franco in Spain, the colonels in Greece, apartheid in South Africa, Rhodesia, Angola, Mozambique, quasi-apartheid Israel against the Palestinians, and military dictatorships in Latin America and Caribbean, all in the name of ‘freedom & democracy’ amid the Cold War, constitute sufficient proof that the US was a global empire and a threat to the sovereignty of smaller countries reduced to client states. 

International Financial Institutions (IFIs) - the IMF & World Bank - were also in the service of Washington and Wall Street to keep client states in line and to impose ‘transformation policy’ upon them. French anti-Americanism, in essence the attempt of Charles De Gaulle to affirm nationalism and preserve French identity by accusing the Americans of Exceptionalism was an affirmation of France (eventually and essentially Europe) coming of age and able to stand on its own feet without having “Cold War-Mother America” influencing everything from defense and foreign policies to commercial relations and cultural trends. 

But even before De Gaulle awakening Europeans to the reality of lessening dependence on the US and asserting their own direct influence in the Third World, Latin America from the overthrow of Guatemala’s president Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 to the CIA involvement in Chile and Allende’s overthrow in 1973 marked a period of anti-Yankee sentiment that was a reflection of Latin Americans resenting US interference in everything from trade unions and World Bank-funded development projects to influencing national elections. 

After the Nicaraguan and Iranian revolutions of 1979 and especially after September 2001 various US agencies became interested in identifying the sources of anti-Americanism, all with the ultimate goal of eradicating as they did the Communist Bloc. Departments of State, Defense, and various intelligence agencies wanted to pinpoint specific areas where they could improve America’s image in the world to combat terrorism, but also for commercial/financial and political considerations. 

Consulting companies and individual scholars provided massive material to government agencies, much of it attention grabbing from academic perspective. However, hardly any of that material has been very practical in reversing anti-Americanism in the world and eradicating it, not just among Muslims but all people regardless of faith or ideological/political orientation. The reason for the failure of studies that US government agencies have relied on is the underlying assumption that there is something fundamentally ‘amiss’ with the anti-Americans just as there was with the former Communists who must be converted to the true faith through a PR campaign that points the road to PAX AMERICANA.
PART II: Anti-Americanism & Obama
Hollywood and the American entertainment industry have helped mold the view of American society, values, and perceptions within and outside the US. Therein may rest some of the sources of cultural and political anti-Americanism when civilizations clash, as in the case of traditional Islam v. the hedonistic/Christian-dominated West. Besides the web that allow a percentage of people to determine for themselves what goes on in all facets of American society, the masses are invariably influenced by popular culture as the corporate-owned media depicts it throughout the world. 

Of course, it is not US per se, but inhumane US values and policies that are the core target of critics from all ideological perspectives in the world. These may involve everything from US positions on climate change to privatization of public services that make products and services less affordable for the poor especially in the Third World. In some cases, centrists - believers in the electoral process and some variation of liberalism - are the most important anti-Americans because they are invariably in power and conduct policy. 

Although nationalists of all ideological/political persuasions have been and remain arch-critics of Pax Americana, it is important to note that the most militant anti-Americanism emanates not from the left but from the right as in the case of Muslims as well as many Europeans, Latin Americans, and Asians. Nevertheless, hyperbolic anti-American rhetoric and some symbolic acts in politics and media is a cultural trait demonstrating despair with local/national conditions. 

For example, when the US is behind the World Bank’s privatization of water resources to the benefit of a a half dozen water multinationals and links immense development loans, local/national social, political, media protests assume the phase of anti-Americanism. Therefore, anti-American rhetoric and demonstrations are part of how local and national activists react even if the US as a target may be indirectly involved as the ideological and policy force, while the beneficiaries may by French-owned multinationals. At the same time, political parties and governments in many countries use anti-Americanism to distract from their own incompetence, systems swimming in corruption, or simply to win elections. 

Governments and political opposition also use anti-Americanism to criticize a neighboring government that may have received more US aid, or greater diplomatic backing from Washington, etc. In short, anti-Americanism has various domestic political dimensions and it is a reflection of regional issues not always directly related to anti-Americanism as form of protest against Washington per se. As significantly, we must distinguish between anti-American inflammatory rhetoric that is more typical in the Third World, and the reality of the social elites and broader middle classes in the world emulating the American lifestyle that is a more important export than any single product or service. 

Of course, it will take many years, more than a single administration, and above all substantive policy changes – from imperious to real co-existence – on the part of the US to reverse global anti-Americanism that reached its zenith under Bush-Cheney. The well-publicized reports that the Bush-Cheney team had ordered the CIA to get results from Muslim prisoners by systematically torturing them did not help improve America’s image at a time US officials appeared puzzled about ‘outsiders hating our freedom’. – another clear case of American Exceptionalism justified by liberal ideology. 

Interestingly, at the time that the US was violating the basic human rights of prisoners and violating the Geneva Convention, it expected all others to abide by it – yet another case of American Exceptionalism that ran counter to the very expensive PR campaign to assuage the root causes of anti-Americanism in the world. Nor does it help that the rhetoric and strategy seems to be pointing toward co-existence and multilaterialism, but the ultimate goal remains global hegemony. Is fear of the ‘democratic America’ (Washington’s projected self-image) the overriding concern of people around the world as the Bush-Cheney ideologues claimed as they were spending billions to ‘democratize Iraq and Afghanistan’? 

Or is it the arrogance and abuse of US government and corporate power that results in the misery of billions of people whether it is in protracted low-level Middle East wars, or in impoverished Africa and Latin America where the World Bank is using loans to superimpose privatization and deprive people of basic products and services at affordable cost? The world is justifiably less afraid now that Obama is in the White House. There is an assumption that the Bush-Cheney resounding failures in the Middle East culminating in the 2008-09 US-based financial crisis will force Washington to engage in multilateralism whether on the issue of world trade, financial restructuring, finding solutions to nuclear proliferation, the Palestinian-Israel conflict, etc. 

Part of the lessening of anti-Americanism under Obama is the absence of hawkish adventures. That the Obama administration has refrained from manufacturing scenarios to create crises as did the previous regime, and that it has opted for a managerial instead of a hard-line ideological approach with regard to Russia, Iran, Cuba, and to a small degree even North Korea is indicative that it could move toward more substantive changes as a means of keeping its global leadership position. Just as FDR, the Obama administration has proved that anti-Americanism can be mitigated with palatable rhetoric and high visibility acts of some import. However, only substantive policies will determine if Pax Americana is currently under adjustment and if the world will become less anti-American for the duration and the degree to which the US will enjoy global preeminence or gradual decline.

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