2003-04-26 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular by Stuart Mirsky

The Rockaway Irregular by Stuart Mirsky

Why Do They Hate Us?

Since September 11th, 2001, we have been a different country. Initially recovering from the shock of a perfidious attack upon the homeland, we promptly struck back by unseating the rogue Taliban regime in Afghanistan, a regime that had given aid and comfort to (and made common cause with) the Middle Eastern terrorist entity and avowed American enemy, al Qaeda. Riding an upsurge of international sympathy, the United States rigorously went about the business of extirpating the al Qaeda terrorist network and its sympathizers, winning an important victory with the overthrow of the Taliban’s Mullah Omar. And yet, when the time came to turn our attention to another regime historically affiliated with Middle Eastern terror, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, everything seemed to fall apart before our eyes.

All over the world, populations on every continent turned against us and decried our expressed aim of dealing preemptively with Saddam or replacing him, if necessary, with a more stable, democratic and representative government. Those we had long thought our allies and friends were among the most vocal. Nations whose very independent existence in today’s world we made possible (France, Germany, Belgium), and others we had thought new friends after decades of Cold War enmity, like Russia and China, led the charge to tie our hands and preserve the status quo. Even in countries whose leaders supported us, the polls showed marked popular opposition to America’s expressed policy of dealing with Saddam. British Prime Minister Tony Blair still faces serious problems from within his own party because of the unpopularity, among the British populace, of his support for American policy.

It’s not hard to see why the shift has occurred internationally, whether justified or not. There are all the usual suspects: fear and envy of another’s apparent power; dislike of the American political, economic and cultural systems; competing geopolitical interests, etc. But what may have been the most surprising turn of all was why so much of this resonated inside the United States, as well.

Although there was some national breast beating on the part of many media pundits after 9/11, Americans did not become deeply divided over the rightness of the Administration’s expressed policies until Afghanistan was safely behind us and Iraq loomed ahead. With the lengthy delay that kicked in when President Bush acquiesced to advice he seek and secure U.N. support before acting in the matter of Iraq, a powerful anti-war momentum took hold in this country, manifesting in a virtual re-birth of the old anti-war movement of Vietnam days. Many of the same crew of protestors "took to the streets", mostly older now but still sporting grotesque presidential masks and slogans (shades of Johnson-Nixon) and spouting the usual shrill denunciations of America’s government and policies. Hollywood’s intellectual policy elite swarmed into the fray, too, just like the old days, while the Old Left, which despises America’s capitalist economic system on principle, turned up the volume on all its familiar complaints.

America, we were told, was arrogant and imperialistic, a threat to the rights and freedoms of other nations. Our expressed aim of freeing populations from a ruthless dictator was no more than a smokscreen. What we really lusted for was their oil and to reinstate colonial control! And it wasn’t only the Old anti-American Left that bought into and promulgated this viewpoint.

Indeed, a whole basket of sometimes mutually exclusive reasons to avoid conflict were trotted out. Many of the trotters had their own agendas: the Old Left despises America’s global primacy, of course; the Democrats despise Republicans in power; and much of the media just distrusts the government in principle (but especially when it’s run by Republicans)! And yet the surprise in all this is not that these various quarters have these views. It’s that they found such a receptive audience among the American public. Back in the heady days after World War II and right up to the Vietnam debacle, Americans instinctively lined up with "their side" in matters of global policy. Not anymore. Vietnam’s legacy and the Watergate scandal that followed have so soured Americans on their own government that many are ready, at the drop of the proverbial hat, to disbelieve their leaders and assume the worst. Indeed, this view seems embedded in our very culture these days, along with the sense that we should feel embarrassed by American power or the occasional need to exercise it. We are all so politically correct that many of us think it almost criminal to speak in terms of America’s national interests or to imagine we have any right to act in the world without the consent of others. We are a Gulliver so sappy as to beg the Lilliputians to tie us up in knots lest they cease to like us! Somewhere between the trauma of Vietnam and the rise of al Qaeda’s crazies, we forgot how to be the nation we once were.

Part of this, of course, is just reflective of the fact that we are such a diverse body politic, with so many cultures and national histories behind us, that we want to be all things to all people. But, in the end, we cannot be that. If we are to sustain and protect ourselves, we have to restore the sense of national cohesion we once had. Diversity is not an impediment if we are wise. It is an opportunity because it gives us such a rich pool of human resources on which to draw. And an instinctive understanding of, and cultural link with, all the far-flung lands that have contributed to making us what we are.


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