- Canadian Wimps?
Them vs. U.S.
Star-Telegram ^ | Jan. 19, 2003 | Robert Sibley
The headline in a recent National Review magazine was certainly an attention-grabber: "Bomb Canada: The Case for War." But such rhetoric was perhaps justified by the magazine cover, which showed four red-coated Mounties on horseback above a banner that read "Wimps!"
Naturally, I bought the magazine to find out about "Canada's whiny and weak anti-Americanism."
I didn't take the article too seriously. I took statements such as "nothing would be better for Canada than a rabble-rousing, American-style democracy" and Canada is "not a serious country anymore" for what they were: a sardonic poke at the sanctimoniousness of Canadians who, even as they pretend to be a moral superpower, shelter beneath the U.S. military and economic umbrella. But then along came prime ministerial spokeswoman Francoise Ducros and the "moron affair."
It was not just the intellectual inanity of the Ducros remark that made it so embarrassing, but the intellectual obtuseness it reflected. In calling President Bush a "moron," she implied that the United States is somehow wrong to defend itself as it sees fit against terrorist attacks, and, indeed, that it is somehow at fault for those attacks.
But to hear such an inherently anti-Americanist sentiment at the highest levels of the Canadian government was disturbing not only because of the ignorance it betrayed but because such attitudes can lead to policies harmful to our relationship with the United States.
There is nothing new about Canadians' anti-Americanism, of course. Historically, "not being American" is a cornerstone of our identity. Resenting Americans allows us to feel good about our inadequacies.
Throughout the Cold War, many Canadians were convinced that the United States would be responsible for starting a nuclear war. (Why nobody thought the Soviets equally or even more likely to touch off the nuclear holocaust always puzzled me.)
The anti-Americanism we see now, however, seems particularly virulent and widespread. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that the image of the United States is increasingly tarnished everywhere, but especially in the Middle East and in Central and Southeast Asia. Considering the high Muslim populations in these regions, such hostility is understandable, if misinformed.
But why would someone like British playwright Harold Pinter declare the United States "the greatest source of terrorism on Earth"? How those who know better can regard the United States as an evil empire when the weight of historical evidence shows such views are unwarranted is an intellectual obscenity.
The anti-American intelligentsia conveniently forget it was the United States that stopped the slaughter of Muslims in the Balkans while Europe's politicians dithered. That same intelligentsia warned that the Russians would never accept NATO expansion, yet NATO now includes nearly every former Soviet satellite. All the best minds mocked the anti-communism of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. And where's the Soviet Union now?
As British journalist Brian Appleyard once observed: "The Americans saved Europe from barbarism in two world wars. After the Second World War, they rebuilt the continent from ashes. They confronted and peacefully defeated Soviet communism, the most murderous system ever devised by man."
Muslims might argue that none of this applies to them, that the United States has always been hostile to Arab countries. But this, too, is a distortion of history.
When Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956, the United States intervened to stop Britain, France and Israel from overthrowing the Nasser regime. During the Cold War, the United States supported Islamic regimes such as Saudi Arabia against radical Arab nationalism.
In 1973, the United States came to Egypt's rescue when it forced the Israelis to accept a cease-fire that ended the Yom Kippur War. Today, the Americans supply Egypt with billions in aid, asking only that it keep the peace with Israel.
In 1982, the United States even saved Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from Israel's wrath by arranging to get him safely out of Beirut. When Arafat backed Iraq during the Persian Gulf War, the United States continued to sponsor him as the only one who could negotiate a peace with Israel. Finally, the United States aided Muslims fighting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
As Middle East specialist Barry Rubin writes in his book Anti-American Terrorism and the Middle East, "Arab anti-American radicals have distorted the record, ignoring all the positive examples and focusing only on U.S. support for Israel."
So why, against all sense and evidence, is anti-Americanism so prevalent? Oddly enough, French intellectuals provide the most credible answer.
Jean-Francois Revel, in his new book L'Obsession anti-americaine, and Philippe Roger, in his book L'Ennemi americain, argue that anti-Americanism is not necessarily connected to anything people fear the United States might do, but rather to their own inadequacies. The inability of Europe to repeat the economic success of the United States, the failure of European social policies, the fracturing of national identity in the face of immigration and a post-imperial malaise born of waning global influence have all engendered an inferiority complex among European intellectuals. For them, the economic and military supremacy of the United States is a discomfiting reproach to Europeans' presumed cultural superiority.
Revel argues that the geopolitical rise of the United States is directly linked to Europe's abandonment of its responsibilities to defend Western values. "American unilateralism," he writes, "is the consequence, not the cause, of the reduction of power in the rest of the world."
Arab leaders also readily adopt anti-American attitudes as a way to divert attention from their own economic and political failings. As Rubin says, "For years now, anti-Americanism has served as means of last resort by which failed political systems and movements in the Middle East try to improve their standing."
However, anti-Americanism also exposes a deep anxiety at the heart of Muslim culture. Throughout the Middle East, modern ideas and practices are perceived as a threat to traditional ways of life. Notions of privatization, equality for women, institutions of civil society and freedom of speech run counter to deeply rooted patterns of social conduct and religious verities.
Not surprisingly, such modern ideas are associated with the United States. Thus, anti-Americanism is a protest of modernity, a response to the conflicts of a world in which long-established values and concepts no longer protect people from a sense of rootlessness and loss of meaning. As sociologist Paul Hollander explains in a recent essay in The New Criterion, "Much of what people fear or dislike about American society and culture is synonymous with modernity."
So what should the United States do about this? The answer is: nothing. The fact is that nobody likes a hegemon. The city-states of ancient Greece objected to Athens' overlordship. The Roman imperium was hated by subjects even as they enjoyed the security provided by legionnaires fighting on the frontiers. Even the British Empire, which offered the most enlightened imperial rule ever seen, was often resented.
Now it is the turn of Americans to suffer the consequences of resentment and envy. Presumably, they are sufficiently confident in their cause to take the anti-American posturing for what it really reflects: the congenital inability of others to examine their own self-inflicted failings.
In truth, "American imperialism" offers the Arab world a better future than anything available to them from their own leaders. It is well to recall that in the months before the Afghanistan campaign in 2001, the so-called experts warned of an explosion in the "Arab street." What actually happened was that the Arab world went very quiet at the demonstration of U.S. power, while on the streets of Kabul, Afghan women greeted American soldiers as liberators.
Given this, it would a mistake for the United States to fret about its unpopularity. As Middle East analyst Fouad Ajami writes in Foreign Affairs, "It is the fate of great powers that provide order to do so against the background of a world that takes the protection while it bemoans the heavy hand of the protector." What matters in the end is whether the United States, in pursuit of its own valid interests, furthers the cause of global security such that all people ultimately benefit.
Even whiny Canadians.
Robert Sibley writes for the Ottawa Citizen.email@example.com