Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Carter's Canard

The opening night of the Democratic Convention looked like a good show (I was working so I didn't get to really watch). From what I read, a lot of the right people stepped up and said a lot of the right things.

But one thing irked me: Jimmy Carter repeating the false meme that America squandered the "goodwill" of the world that was ours after 9/11.

True, there was a reflex of sympathy in many places, especially Europe. But what made it remarkable was that it was so out of character. And it was doomed one way or another.

In many places, it never existed. The "Arab Street" danced in the streets of its capitals when our people died on Sept. 11. They hated us before the first Iraq war, and have hated us ever since. The Bush Administration has failed to spark much obvious good will in most places in the Middle East, but it's not like he lost anything we had in Carter's day.

And in fact, our position against Saddam and the Taliban has made America more popular in some parts of the globe. India certainly isn't complaining. And Eastern Europe still has the memory of repression fresh in mind, so it recognizes what we are trying to do.

But what Carter really meant was "Western Europe," which, to an American liberal intellectual's "New Yorker" cover world, certainly passes for the globe. He as much as said so when he said, "Unilateral acts and demands have isolated the United States from the very nations we need to join us in combating terrorism." [emphasis added] It's a safe bet he wasn't talking about, say, Honduras or Gabon.

And the sympathy that flowed for Americans from those places after 9/11 only lasted as long as we stayed flat on the ground, beaten and bloody. As soon as we stood up, dusted ourselves off, and started to do something about it, it vanished. It was the international political version of Monty Python vaudeville; the corpse of America wouldn't stay dead long enough for Old Europe to finish delivering its eulogy.

What Carter didn't go so far as to say, but many people I work with do say, is that the Europeans always loved America until mean ol' George Bush came along and made them hate us.

This is nonsense. Evidently, such people have never read Le Monde or Der Spiegel or The Guardian. French "sympathy" for the U.S. stood at 35% -- in 1996. It's hardly worse today. The French book with the title translated as The American Cancer wasn't published in the shadow of U.S. "hegemony" in the Middle East. It was published in 1930. Anti-American sentiment in Canada dates to (and still routinely invokes) the War of 1812. Jean-François Revel, author of L’obsession anti-américaine, tells of how someone who grows up reading the European media and the elite writers of the continent would naturally come to believe America is plagued by poverty, inequality, “no unemployment benefits, no retirement, no assistance for the destitute,” and medical care and university education only for the rich -- and he wasn't writing about the post-Iraq era. He grew up before the Vietnam War.

Bruce Bawer at Hudson Review has written a wrap review of the stack of recent books about America, many of them by European writers. His critiques are leavened with personal stories; as an American who has lived in Europe since 1998, Bawer knows the turf.

He also knows, as my co-workers seem to have forgotten, that the vintage of Old Europe's America-hating bile is a lot older than 2003.

To be sure, Western European intellectuals often claim, as Norwegian author Jens Bjørneboe did in a 1966 essay, “We Who Loved America,” that they once were pro-American but, owing to some social change in America or some U.S. government action, have altered their position. The current claim is that Europeans loved America until the Iraq War; before that, it was a truism that they loved America until Vietnam. But Bromark and Herbjørnsrud state flatly that “It wasn’t the Vietnam War that made European intellectuals, authors and academics anti-American. The truth is that they had been anti-American all along.” As early as 1881, the Norwegian author Bjørnsterne Bjørnson argued that Europe’s America-bashing had to stop; even earlier, in 1869, James Russell Lowell complained that Europeans invariably saw America “in caricature.” Indeed, nineteenth-century European aristocrats despised America as a symbol of progress, innovation, and (above all) equality, ridiculing it as a mongrel land of simple-minded Indians and blacks; later, avaricious Jews were added to the list. These stereotypes soon spread to Americans generally, resulting in today’s European-establishment view of Americans as materialistic morons.

And he didn't even mention Sydney Smith.