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Last Updated: Friday, 6 June, 2003, 21:50 GMT 22:50 UK
The roots of anti-Americanism

By Steve Schifferes
BBC News Online, Washington

The growing anti-Americanism around the world can be explained by the special character of American nationalism.

Bush and Chirac after talks
The US and the rest of the world do not always see eye-to-eye
In the wake of the Iraq war, the image of the United States among many nations around the world has plummeted.

A new survey from the Pew Research Center found that the number of people with a favourable view of the US has dropped sharply in the last two years, especially in the Muslim world.

Now a scholar at an influential think tank argues that it is American nationalism itself that is to blame.

Minxin Pei of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says that American nationalism, because it is based on the appeal of its supposedly universal democratic institutions, does not appreciate the power of nationalism abroad.

USA: 72%
India: 71%
UK: 49%
France: 40%
Italy: 39%
Percentage saying they are 'very proud' of their country
2000 World Values Survey

Mr Pei argues that in other countries national pride is based on history, ties to the land, or religious, ethnic and religious links.

in contrast, America prides itself as a "melting pot" of diversity, but asserts that its political institutions are the unique repository of universal values like democracy and the rule of law.

Mr Pei argues that US nationalism is based on grass-roots civic activism, and the private use of symbols like the flag, the national anthem, and pledge of allegiance has no parallel in other countries where the government itself promotes nationalism.

And US nationalism is forward-looking and triumphalist, deriving its meaning from victories and with a short collective memory.


As a result, Mr Pei argues that the US has difficulty understanding why other countries feel nationalistic.

[Some] reject American nationalism as merely the expression of an overbearing, self-righteous and misguided bully
Minxin Pei
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

And its idealism appears to others as hypocrisy.

"Many admire its idealism, universalism and optimism... others reject American nationalism as merely the expression of an overbearing, self-righteous and misguided bully."

In a lively debate, Professor Francis Fukuyama, former head of the state department's policy planning staff, argued that hypocrisy was necessary for the conduct of foreign policy.

But, he said, American idealism had played a crucial role in creating the world institutions that were now under question, such as the UN, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organisation.

And he argued that the US foreign policy elites were no more parochial or moralistic than other countries.

According to Mr Fukuyama, the moral message was needed to convince domestic audiences to accept US foreign policy goals.

He suggested that this was the price of democracy, and a function of the greater scrutiny of the executive by democratic institutions in the US.

Patriotic not nationalistic

Mr Pei points out that only one in five Americans have been abroad, and that nationalism is viewed with disdain, in contrast to patriotism.

And he said there was a deeper contradiction, which was that, for Americans, a commitment to the rule of law stopped at their national borders.

Mr Fukuyama agreed that the US was reluctant to delegate sovereignty to other organisations which lacked democratic legitimacy in the case of national security - as in the often-heard comment, "who elected the UN?"

But he argued that Europe's desire to share sovereignty was just a much a product of its history, and a desire not to repeat the wars of the 20th Century.

And he said that the US was, in practice, the only country that could supply the "global public good" of security which Europe was not prepared to pay for - even if he would prefer it was done in a more multilateral framework.

Deep-rooted split

The differences between Mr Pei and Mr Fukuyama reflect differing evaluations of how deep-seated the split is between the US and much of the rest of the world over how to conduct foreign policy.

If Mr Pei is right, the more successful US foreign policy is, the deeper the split in perception will become - and the growing misunderstanding will be a real problem in international politics.

For Professor Fukuyama, such differences are inevitable but not fundamentally as serious.

The US does not have an empire, and the rest of the world will choose voluntarily to support, if not embrace, US efforts to curtail global terrorism.

And the doctrine of "pre-emption"- which Mr Fukuyama argues was introduced solely to deal with the case of Iraq - will not become the ruling principle in US foreign policy.

It will probably not be until the next crisis is resolved - whether it is Iran, Syria or North Korea - that it will become clear who was right.

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28 Oct 02  |  Archive

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