Clive raises some excellent and important questions. There’s no doubt that the Bush administrations’ diplomatic style has been extraordinarily counter-productive. But, on these matters I find that I have more sympathy for the British/European perspective when I’m in the United States and for the US view when I’m in the UK or Europe. (Maybe I just like arguing against the grain…)
Visiting the UK for the first time in a year I’m struck by the amount of fatuous, knee-jerk prejudice from people intelligent enough to know better. That obviously doesn’t include radio presenters or the Independent. The cliche of Americans as a bunch of overweight, blundering, gun-toting red-necked rubes seems to have run amok, sweeping everything else aside. People who tend to dismiss crude stereotypes in most circumstances are only to happy to wallow in them when such prejudice is applied to the United States.
Doubtless some of this will pass with George W Bush. But much of it will linger, especially since America’s welath and power is likely to endure for some time. Just as well, frankly, given the utter lack of seriousness displayed in many european capitals and from much of the British intelligentsia.
Tony Blair’s comments in Dubai this week are worth mentioning:
There is a monumental struggle going on worldwide between those who believe in democracy and modernisation, and forces of reaction and extremism. It is the 21st century challenge. Yet a great part of our own opinion either thinks there is no common theme to it all; or if there is, is inclined to believe that it is our – that is America and its allies – fault that this is so.
In any other situation in which terrorists with almost incredible wickedness butcher completely innocent people, provoke sectarian conflict, spread chaos and despair, in almost any other situation we would say well our response should be to stand up and fight back. In Iraq, in Afghanistan, but seeping across the board, voices instead say: we shouldn’t be involved: better leave well alone; it is none of our business.
Here are elements of the Government of Iran openly supporting terrorism in Iraq to stop a fledgling democratic process, trying to turn out a democratically elected Government in Lebanon, flaunting the international community’s desire for peace in Palestine – at the same time as denying the Holocaust and trying to acquire a nuclear weapon capability: and yet a huge part of world opinion is frankly almost indifferent. It would be bizarre if it weren’t so deadly serious.
We have in my view to wake up. These forces of extremism – based on a warped and wrong-headed misinterpretation of Islam – aren’t fighting a conventional war, but they are fighting one against us, "us" being not just the West, still less simply America and its allies, but "us", as all those worldwide who believe in tolerance, respect for others and liberty.
Whatever his other faults, Blair’ gets this right.
Nontheless, my impression is that much of the anti-Americanism so prevalent in Britain today is predicated on the idea that Britain has, cravenly, subordinated its foreign policy to the United States. There’s something humiliating about that, perhaps and the sense that Britain is not an independent country seems to unite much of the left and the old Tory right against the upstart Americans.
Harold Macmillan’s quip that Britain would play Athens to America’s Rome was breezily complacent. But it also overlooked the fact that though Greeks would educate young Roman noblemen, they were also their slaves. That feeling of subordination to Washington – the sense that Britain really is th e51st state – seems widespread in Britain. (It’s not utterly nonsensicl either: "few people in Britain really understands how much we are almost part of the inter-agency process" a British official in Washington told me earlier this month.)
Let me throw something out there too. How about this: anti-americanism will not abate in Britain or europe until US hegemony is seriously threatened? ie, China becomes a global, strategic competitor and threat to western interests. That’s something to look forward to then…
On China, too, incidentally, we’ll see what Britain says next time the EU proposes ending the embargo on the sale of arms to Iraq. There’s a good chance the Germans will propose this soon and their position would privately, I think be supported by London. In public, however, it’s more likely that Britain will take the American view that this would be a bad idea.