In all of our briefings, our authors aim to make a reasonable case and supply the facts and referencing to support the argument made. But some briefings make a more controversial case than others. We consider this one of our more controversial briefings.
Another America in the World briefing looks at the different forms of anti-Americanism that exist. This briefing examines the main strategies for addressing those different forms.
A combination of poor communications and controversial overseas interventions have reduced America’s global standing to a sorry state under President George W Bush. The election of either John McCain or Barack Obama will give America something of a fresh start in the eyes of fair-minded observers. Barack Obama is likely to produce the most positive short-term effect but some of his policies on trade and Iraq, for example, may bring new problems. The 44th American President – whoever he is – will need to realise that anti-Americanism existed before George W Bush and will exist after he has gone. There are many sources of anti-Americanism. Resentment of American political, military, economic and cultural hegemony will bedevil all administrations for the foreseeable future.
more multilateralist America
One of the increasingly persistent criticisms of America is its alleged lack of respect for multilateral institutions, especially the United Nations. Multilateralists believe that the 2003 invasion of Iraq would have been avoided if President Bush had respected the authority of the United Nations. The idea of Bush as a unilateralist does need heavy qualification, however. The ‘coalition of the willing’ that supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq actually included nearly fifty nations. By contrast the French government promised to use its veto to prevent member states of the UN passing any resolution authorising force. On other fronts – Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea, for example - President Bush has acted multilaterally but with very uneven patterns of success. It is far from clear that multilateralism would, in the long-run, produce either a better world or a more respected America. Many nations have cause to despair of multilateralism. Rwanda, Darfur (Sudan), Srebencia (Bosnia), Burma and Zimbabwe have bled on massive scales while waiting for the so-called ‘international community’ to act. The crude body count of episodes of ‘unauthorised’ intervention (Iraq, Kosovo, Sierra Leone) versus episodes of non-intervention (Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia) does not favour the multilateralists.
American withdrawal from Iraq
Most global populations wish that America had never invaded Iraq but does that mean that America should now withdraw quickly from Iraq? If Iraq descended into civil war without American troops, anti-Americanism might take on new and virulent forms. An America that built on the progress overseen by General David Petraeus could win (grudging) respect, if not love, as a nation that does not run away from its responsibilities. America remains, for the moment, the nation that is best-placed to be the world’s policeman. A policeman that has retreated beaten and enfeebled from Iraq could easily produce a much more dangerous world. It is notable that when America was perceived as strong – as it was in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Iraq - we saw Syria leave Lebanon, Libya disown its WMD and the nuclear exchange programme of Dr A Q Khan exposed. A world where America submits to multilateral institutions like the UN may not be as safe as a world where America acts decisively against threats to freedom.
American leadership on global warming
George W Bush has become more consensual on the issue of climate change as his presidency has progressed and was part of the July 2008 meeting of the G8 that pledged to cut greenhouse gases in half by 2050. Although generally seen as a foot-dragger on multilateral action President Bush did form the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development that sought to share America’s significant expenditure on green technologies with India, China and other nations. Both John McCain and Barack Obama are more likely to follow the kind of multilateral path favoured by advocates of the Kyoto-style approach to climate change. Those expecting radical action may be disappointed, however. The June 2008 defeat of the Lieberman-Warner ‘Climate Security Act’ by the Democrat-controlled Senate suggests that high expectations of radical US-led action on the environment are unlikely to be realised.
American help for the third world
Many in the world would like to see an America that is as generous as it is strong. Observers would like to see America giving much more to the poorest nations. Barack Obama has promised a doubling of development expenditure. Such an increase would build on a major increase in spending by George W Bush. Bob Geldof has described Bush's achievements in Africa as the "the unannounced, unheralded good legacy of (his) administration." The achievements also explain why President Bush enjoys particularly good approval ratings in Africa. More significant than the overseas aid of the American state is the overseas private giving of its people which, The Economist notes, dwarves that of other rich nations. An America that trades freely and reduces agricultural protectionism will be at least as important for the health of developing nations.
Closure of Guantanamo and an end to rendition, waterboarding
The attention given to civil liberties in the USA by international human rights organisations like Amnesty is in many ways unfair. So-called ‘abuses’ in America receive disproportionate attention compared to much greater abuses in other nations. But complaining about this disproportionate attention is no more use than complaining about the weather. Those awful images from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, detainment-without-trial at Guantanamo Bay, the procedure of extraordinary rendition and the use of the aggressive interrogation technique known as waterboarding have dominated international newspaper frontpages and become the subject of many documentaries and films. Each individual example can be excused or justified but together they have stained America’s image as the home of liberty and as former Bush speechwriter David Frum has argued: “If American power is not seen to be constrained by American law, then non-Americans will yearn to see it constrained by some force outside the United States”.. Both Barack Obama and John McCain are pledged to deal with each of these issues and progress on this one front, at least, might be very rapid under America’s 44th President.
tougher line on Israel
America’s support for Israel is one of the leading contributors to anti-Americanism, particularly in the Middle East and much of Europe. A more critical policy towards Israel would be welcomed by most of the world’s foreign ministries but a radical shift in policy is unlikely. Both John McCain and Barack Obama have pledged strong support for Israel on the campaign trail.
The handling of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath was an international public relations disaster for America. Many Anti-Americans used the poverty of New Orleans’ black Americans to confirm their view that the USA was an institutionally racist society. Gun crime, inequalities in general and access to healthcare, in particular, are also used by America’s critics as ammunition. Michael Moore’s films – Bowling for Columbine and Sicko – portray a particularly negative view of America. American citizens have their own personal experiences which they can set against the films of Moore - and of the wider Hollywood - but for overseas observers they are often unchallenged propaganda. There are occasional attempts by opinion-formers to put contentious subjects into context – as the BBC’s Justin Webb recently did in his defence of America’s record on gun crime – but these are exceptional. Those committed to combating anti-Americanism need to reflect on the contributions of (1) misperceptions of domestic policy and (2) failures of domestic policy.
Better public diplomacy and better international media management
Regardless of the policy of future American administrations there is certainly scope for better communications. A good starting point would be the appointment of Ambassadors who are best-placed to understand and represent an administration’s policy – rather than Ambassadors who have given generously to the President’s election campaign. George W Bush’s two Ambassadors to London were both major donors to his election campaign and were not particularly effective. This is not just a Republican problem. Democrat Presidents have used postings to major cities like Berlin and Paris as rewards for political friends. Other issues that should be addressed include the need for a dedicated international press unit at the White House. The BBC, in particular, needs to be recognised as the world’s pre-eminent international broadcaster. Its global leadership of the news agenda, both through its website and BBC World Service, means it plays an important role in informing how domestic American and wider international media outlets report America and its foreign policy. Al-Jazeera is also vital.
Communication of America’s noble purpose
Our final thought on combating anti-Americanism is arguably the most important. The restoration of the ‘idea of America’ could do most to restore America’s standing in the world. The ‘idea of America’ is of a nation where anyone can rise from the bottom of society to its top. It’s the land of the immigrant and of the free. The Statue of Liberty is the great symbol of this idea and inspired a recent column in London’s Times by Matthew Parris: “I don't think that the Statue of Liberty represents an entirely hollow idea, or that the words “Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses...” are without resonance. Or that they and the exalted spirit animating them could easily be attached to the name of any other nation on Earth.” Advertising guru Lord Saatchi has penned similar thoughts urging the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ of America to awake and once again advance its 'way' of self-determination, individuality and independence.
 'Coalition Members',
The White House, 27 March 2003, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/03/20030327-10.html
 See discussion of the “unreasonable veto” at ‘Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, The White House, 13 March 2003, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/03/20030313-13.html
 'Where has Bush got with jaw-jaw?', Tim Montgomerie, The Times, 22 November 2007, at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article2917468.ece
 See also ‘The world should be afraid of America’, YouTube, 9 January 2007, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHESw7MXYjA
 'G8 aims to halve greenhouse gases', BBC, 8 July 2008, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7494702.stm
 Web site at http://www.asiapacificpartnership.org/
 'Why the Climate Bill Failed', Eric Pooley, Time, 9 June 2008, at http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1812836,00.html
 'Barack Obama's worldview', BritainAndAmerica.com, 30 December 2007, at http://britainandamerica.typepad.com/britain_and_america/2007/12/barack-obamas-w.html
 'Bob Geldof travels with President Bush to Africa', Time, at http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1717300_1540599,00.html
 'Analysis: How George W Bush became an African hero', David Blair, The Daily Telegraph, 7 July 2008, at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/2262217/Analysis-How-George-W-Bush-became-an-African-hero.html
 'Overseas charity', The Economist, 13 May 2008, at http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?story_id=11333149
 Frum, David (2007), Comeback: Conservatism that Can Win Again, Doubleday
 'America's 'safety catch'', Justin Webb, BBC, 22 April 2008, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/7359513.stm
 'How to detoxify the noble American brand', Matthew Parris, The Times, 7 June 2008, at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article4083026.ece
 'Awake, Sleeping Beauty America', Maurice Saatchi, Financial Times, 3 July 2007, at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/30948ec4-2972-11dc-a530-000b5df10621.html