Restoring America’s Persuasiveness

Restoring America’s Persuasiveness

To hear some people tell the story, anti-Americanism will end now that Barack Obama has been elected president, bringing with him a traditional American respect for foreign cultures, international law, and multilateral diplomacy. The Bush legacy will fade from view, and Americans will once again be beloved around the globe, especially in Arab countries.

The world, however, is not so simple. Anti-American riots first filled the streets of foreign nations more than a century ago, as the United States became a global power. They continued through the Cold War and beyond. Anti-American terrorism is not new, either. While some argue that the Arab-Israeli conflict is a major motivator for al-Qaida, some of al-Qaida's first actions against the United States -- the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar al-Salaam -- came at a time when the United States was relatively engaged in Arab-Israeli peacemaking. The facts are clear: Anti-Americanism long pre-dated the Bush Administration, and it will long survive it.

There are many reasons for anti-Americanism. Some resent the United States as a power reinforcing an unacceptable status quo. An Arab friend's comment to me a few years ago is typical -- he complained that his country's president did not derive his legitimacy from the tens of millions of citizens in his own country, but rather from a handful of officials in Washington, D.C. The juggernaut of U.S.-led globalization offends and frightens others, who see their own traditional cultures and their long-held norms of social, religious and sexual behavior being swept away. Many object to long-standing U.S. policies, whether on the Arab-Israeli conflict, toward religious parties in government, or the presence of U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf, and still more complain that the United States uses its power solely to accrue more power for itself rather than to relieve human suffering.

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