Monday, 11 July 2011

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. 

Nevertheless, the Obama administration represents continuity in US foreign policy in so far as the Middle East is concerned. There has been no major policy move to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, the US military role in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan and the new war in Libya reflects continuity rather than change. The on-going Cold War against Iran and Syria under turmoil also falls in the same category of foreign policy continuity. Therefore, anti-Americanism remains a major issue owing to US foreign policy in Muslim countries.

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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