In "On Being Disliked", Victor Davis Hanson makes the case for anti-Americanism as a barometer for what we're doing right, based on who opposes it and the reasons for that opposition. He starts by asking the oft-repeated question, "Why do they hate us?"
In short, who exactly does not like the United States and why? First, almost all the 20 or so illiberal Arab governments that used to count on American realpolitik's giving them a pass on accounting for their crimes. They fear not the realist Europeans, nor the resource-mad Chinese, nor the old brutal Russians, but the Americans, who alone are prodding them to open their economies and democratize their corrupt political cultures. We must learn to expect, not lament, their hostility, and begin to worry that things would be indeed wrong if such unelected dictators praised the United States.
The United Nations has sadly become a creepy organization. Its General Assembly is full of cutthroat regimes. The Human Rights Commission has had members like Vietnam and Sudan, regimes that at recess must fight over bragging rights to which of the two killed more of their own people. The U.N. has a singular propensity to find flawed men to be secretary-general — a Kurt Waldheim, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, or Kofi Annan. Blue-helmeted peace-keepers, we learn, are as likely to commit as prevent crimes; and the only thing constant about such troops is that they will never go first into harm's way in Serbia, Kosovo, the Congo, or Dafur to stop genocide. Even worse, the U.N. has proved to be a terrible bully, an unforgivable sin for a self-proclaimed protector of the weak and innocent — loud false charges against Israel for its presence in the West Bank, not a peep about China in Tibet; tough talk about Palestinian rights, far less about offending Arabs over Darfur. So U.N. anti-Americanism is a glowing radiation badge, proof of exposure to toxicity.
The EU is well past being merely silly, as its vast complex of bureaucrats tries to control what 400 million speak, eat, and think. Its biggest concerns are three: figuring out how its nations are to keep paying billions of euros to retirees, unemployed, and assorted other entitlement recipients; how to continue to ankle-bite the United States without antagonizing it to the degree that these utopians might have to pay for their own security; and how not to depopulate itself out of existence. Europeans sold Saddam terrible arms for oil well after the first Gulf War. Democratic Israel or Taiwan means nothing to them; indeed, democracy is increasingly becoming the barometer by which to judge European hostility. Cuba, China, Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah — not all that bad; the United States, Taiwan, and Israel, not all that good. Personally, I'd rather live in a country that goes into an anguished national debate over pulling the plug on a lone woman than one that blissfully vacations on the beach oblivious to 15,000 elderly cooked to well done back in Paris.
Mexico, enjoying one of the richest landscapes in the world, can't feed its own people, so it exports its poorest to the United States. Its own borders with Central America are as brutal to cross as our own are porous. Illegal aliens send back almost $50 billion, which has the effect of propping up corrupt institutions that as a result will never change. Given its treatment of its own people, if the Mexican government praised the United States we should indeed be concerned.
Of course, no country, even one as powerful as the US, can thumb its nose at the world. For strategic reasons, we should not only work with friends across the political spectrum (i.e. conservative Republicans rooting for Labour socialist Tony Blair), but also figure out ways to work in concert with geopolitical players whose interests appear to be in direct conflict with our own (the Saudis come to mind); or less-than-savory autocrats (Vladimir Putin or General Pervez Musharraf); or fellow democracies who are working to increase their own leverage at US expense (more wine, Jacques?). Finding common cause, even with adversary regimes like Communist China is the raison d'etre for diplomacy.
But that doesn't mean that we must reflexively berate ourselves every time we see a poll recapping how unpopular US policies are around the world. For one thing, the criticism will come no matter what we do. We used to be criticized for coddling dictators in the Middle East; now we're being criticized for refusing to coddle them. We used to be seen as hypocritical for championing democracy at home but ignoring democratic aspirations abroad; now we are criticized for being obsessed with democratization and midwifing denocracy in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. And we are criticized for not being multilateral enough in our approach to Iraq, but for being too multilateral in our approach to North Korea.
And anti-Americanism did not spring into being on Day One of the Bush administration. It has been a political given throughout my lifetime; much of it directed at a large, infuriatingly rich and successful nation bordered by vast oceans and inward-looking for much of its history, which has the arrogance to see itself as a light unto other nations. A nation with a system of government founded on high ideals, but having nonetheless an imperfect record and a checkered history in its relations with the indigenous population and its complicity in slavery and institutionalized segregation. A nation of unabashed capitalists who have profited through exploitation of global resources. Yet, the same nation that helped end the First World War and subsequently saved the world from Nazism and hastened the demise of Communism: these are all part of the mixed legacy of the American power so resented by the rest of the world.
In the end, the realpolitik of the Cold War era was in conflict with the ideals of the US as a free, open and tolerant society that champions those same freedoms for people the world over. I usually consider it lame to do Star Trek references (where's Jonah Goldberg or James Lileks when you need them?), but the words of Jean-Luc Picard seem entirely appropriate in this context: "If we're going to be damned, let's be damned for who we really are." Amen to that.