Hatred of America unites the world
By Niall Ferguson
Being hated is no fun. Few of us are like those pantomime villains
who glory in the hisses and boos of an audience. And few people hate
being hated more than Americans. I wish I had a dollar for every time
I've been asked the plaintive question: "Why do they hate us?" and
another for each of the different answers I've heard. It's because of
our foreign policy. It's because of their extremism. It's because of
our arrogance. It's because of their inferiority complex. Americans
really hate not knowing why they're hated.
The best explanation is in fact the simplest. Being hated is what
happens to dominant empires. It comes - sometimes literally - with
the territory. George Orwell knew the feeling. As a young man he
served as an assistant police superintendent in British-run Burma, an
experience he memorably described in his essay "Shooting an
Elephant". Called upon to kill a rogue pachyderm that had run amok,
Orwell was suddenly aware "of the watchful yellow faces behind" him:
"The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those
two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and
reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if
that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh."
advertisementEric Blair, as Orwell was known then, could scarcely
have been better prepared for his role as a colonial official. Born
in Bengal, the son of a colonial civil servant, he had been educated
at Eton, where boys learn not to worry much about being hated. Yet
even he found the resentment of the natives hard to bear: "In the end
the sneering... faces of young men that met me everywhere, the
insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on
my nerves ... [It] was perplexing and upsetting."
That's a feeling American soldiers in Baghdad must know pretty well.
How does that old Randy Newman song go? "No one likes us - I don't
know why. / We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try."
But who hates Americans the most? You might assume that it's people
in countries that the United States has recently attacked or
threatened to attack. Americans themselves are clear about who their
principal enemies are. Asked by Gallup to name the "greatest enemy"
of the United States today, 26 per cent of those polled named Iran,
21 per cent named Iraq and 18 per cent named North Korea.
Incidentally, that represents quite a success for George W. Bush's
concept of the "Axis of Evil". Six years ago, only 8 per cent named
Iran and only 2 per cent North Korea.
Are those feelings of antagonism reciprocated? Up to a point.
According to a poll by Gallup's Centre for Muslim Studies, 52 per
cent of Iranians have an unfavourable view of the United States. But
that figure is down from 63 per cent in 2001. And it's significantly
lower than the degree of antipathy towards the United States felt in
Jordan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Two thirds of Jordanians and
Pakistanis have a negative view of the United States and a staggering
79 per cent of Saudis. Sentiment has also turned hostile in Lebanon,
where 59 per cent of people now have an unfavourable opinion of the
United States, compared with just 41 per cent a year ago. No fewer
than 84 per cent of Lebanese Shiites say they have a very
unfavourable view of Uncle Sam.
These figures suggest a paradox in the Muslim world. It's not
America's enemies who hate the United States most, it's people in
countries that are supposed to be America's friends, if not allies.
The paradox doesn't end there. The Gallup poll (which surveyed 10,000
Muslims in 10 different countries) also revealed that the wealthier
and better-educated Muslims are, the more likely they are to be
politically radical. So if you ever believed that anti-Western
sentiment was an expression of poverty and deprivation, think again.
Even more perplexingly, Islamists are more supportive of democracy
than Muslim moderates. Those who imagined that the Middle East could
be stabilised with a mixture of economic and political reform could
not have been more wrong. The richer these people get, the more they
favour radical Islamism. And they see democracy as a way of putting
the radicals into power.
The paradox of unfriendly allies is not confined to the Middle East.
Last week was not a good week for Americanophiles in Europe. Tony
Blair announced British troop withdrawals from southern Iraq, an
unfortunate signal on the eve of the American "surge". Meanwhile, in
Rome, his counterpart Romano Prodi had to resign because his
coalition partners would not agree either to keep Italian troops in
Afghanistan or to enlarge a US military base at Vicenza. Anti-
Americanism is nothing new in European politics, to be sure,
particularly on the Left. But there is something novel going on here,
which extends to traditionally pro-American constituencies.
Back in 1999, 83 per cent of British people surveyed by the State
Department Office of Research said that they had a favourable opinion
of the United States. But by 2006, according to the Pew Global
Attitudes Project, that proportion had fallen to 56 per cent. British
respondents to the Pew surveys now give higher favourability ratings
to Germany (75 per cent) and Japan (69 per cent) than to the United
States - a remarkable transformation in attitudes, given the
notorious British tendency to look back both nostalgically and
unforgivingly to the Second World War. It's also very striking that
Britons recently polled by Pew regard the US presence in Iraq as a
bigger threat to world peace than Iran or North Korea (a view which
is shared by respondents in France, Spain, Russia, India, China and
throughout the Middle East).
Nor is Britain the only disillusioned ally. Perhaps not surprisingly,
two thirds of Americans believe that their country's foreign policy
considers the interests of others. But this view is shared by only 38
per cent of Germans and 19 per cent of Canadians. More than two
thirds of Germans surveyed in 2004 believed that American leaders
wilfully lied about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction
prior to the previous year's invasion, while a remarkable 60 per cent
expressed the view that America's true motive was "to control Middle
Eastern oil". Nearly half (47 per cent) said it was "to dominate the
The truly poignant fact is that when Americans themselves are asked
to rate foreign countries, they express the most favourable views of
none other than Britain, Germany and Canada.
Back in the 1990s, Madeleine Albright pompously called the United
States "the indispensable nation". Today it seems to have become the
indefensible nation, even in the eyes of its supposed friends.
There are, admittedly, a few scraps of good news in the international
polls. Very few Europeans, for example, would welcome China's
becoming a serious military rival to the United States. There is
overwhelming European opposition to Iran's acquiring nuclear weapons.
And there is a surprising amount of hostility towards the Palestinian
radicals of Hamas in both France and Germany. But look again at some
of America's supposed allies. One in four Indians, two out of five
Egyptians and one out of every two Pakistanis favour a nuclear-armed
Iran. A third of Britons, half of all Indians and three quarters of
Egyptians welcomed the success of Hamas in last year's Palestinian
Orwell would have understood. Just as it was the educated
beneficiaries of British rule in Asia who were the most strident anti-
imperialists in Orwell's day, so the British Empire's most natural
allies - France and the United States - were anything but Anglophile.
For it turns out that power not only corrupts, as Lord Acton famously
observed, it also tends to isolate.
It's not for nothing that they say it's lonely at the top.
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