PART I: Historical Antecedents
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 despite the polarizing Cold War and secret deals foreign governments cut with Washington. Contrary to the 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. 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 the source of anti-Americanism that has evolved in the sixty years. US meddling on behalf of anti-democratic regimes in 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, cultural, religious and political boundaries. Support for Marcos in the Philippines, Suharto in Indonesia, Salazar in Portugal, Franco in Spain, the colonels in Greece, apartheid in South Africa, quasi-apartheid Israel against the Palestinians, and military dictatorships in Latin America, all in the name of ‘freedom & democracy’ amid the Cold War, constitute sufficient proof to the entire world that the US was a global empire and a threat to the sovereignty of smaller countries reduced to client states. International Financial Institutions (IFIs) like the IMF and World Bank were also in the service of Washington and Wall Street to keep client states in line.
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 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 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. 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 a great deal of material to the government, most of it useful from academic perspective. However, hardly any of that material has been very practical in reversing anti-Americanism in the world, not just among Muslims but all people regardless of faith. The reason is the underlying assumption that there is something fundamentally wrong 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.
Although nationalists of all ideological/political persuasions have been and remain the 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 and Latin Americans. 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 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. 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. 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, 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’. 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 multilateralism, but the 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? 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 clearly 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. 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, Israel, 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 during its first term in office has proved that anti-Americanism can be mitigated with palatable rhetoric and high visibility acts even of some import. However, the trend changed toward the end of the first Obama administration owing to the following developments. 1. US interference in Arab Spring uprisings from 2011 until 2013; 2. US drone warfare - declared a war crime by human rights organizations - in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Africa; 3. the increasingly clear picture that the Obama administration was just as adamant about preserving Pax Americana as all previous presidencies; 4. blatant US intervention in Egypt and Libya resulting in a de facto civil war and a society as divided as Iraq and Afghanistan;
Public opinion polls indicate that anti-Americanism around the world is about at the same level today as it was under George W. Bush, one of the most hated US Presidents outside of the US. And while it is true that anti-Americanism is highest in Muslim countries, it has actually risen sharply across the world, including Southern Europe, though not in northwest Europe. There is still a global perception that the US is an aggressive imperialist power that deprives other nations of their national sovereignty whether in diplomacy, military domain or economic affairs. Of course, it is true that the expectation levels for Obama, even by Fidel Castro and the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, were very high to ameliorate relations with the rest of the world by abandoning the aggressive foreign policies of his predecessor.
Given that tactics changed, with substance only when absolutely necessary because there was no other choice - as the case of Syria proved - people quickly adjusted their perceptions of America under Obama as another PR president following the exact same goals as previous administrations. So what is the answer to lowering the level of anti-Americanism around the world? PR experiments have obvious limitations. Only substantive policies will determine if Pax Americana is currently under adjustment and if the world will become less anti-American and the degree to which the US will enjoy global preeminence or gradual decline. Will the US alter its goals and tactics so that there will be less anti-Americanism around the globe? Not unless it is absolutely necessary and it has no choice.