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There are many conversations and explanations on why America has encountered an anti-American backlash in recent years. In reading Andrew Kohut’s America Against The World, I found it particularly useful to debunk the misconceptions that current foreign policy makers and news personnel both –explain as the reason why America is being viewed in such a negative light. Kohut’s book is a collection of statistics, graphs, and opinion polls from the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project and U.S. Gallop Poll Studies; he gives the reader a crash course in where Anti-Americanism came from, and why it has come to the fore front of politics recently. The rise of anti-Americanism in Kohut’s book seem to derive from American self interest in all global matters, American interference in State matters, and of course poor diplomacy. He explains the basic need as to why the general public should be aware and concerned about the rise of anti-Americanism, why it is growing and what this means in regard to policy changes at home and aboard.
Currently the world does not focus on Washington being the center of bad policy choices, but on the American people themselves for their lack of attention and concern for others in the world. While many in America are still waking up to the complexity of a more aggressive anti-American sentiment in the world; with constant threats of terrorist attacks in the U.S. and on it’s establishments abroad, Andrew Kohut writes about the need for an end to the long standing idea of “American exceptionalism”. (American exceptionalism- is the idea that the U.S and the American people hold a special place in the world, by offering opportunity and hope for humanity, derived from a unique balance of public and private interests governed by constitutional ideals that are focused on personal and economic freedom; also can mean moral superiority.) With these core principles espoused by America’s past, American exceptionalism today is seen by many surveyed in the Pew Attitude Polls, more as a bullying affect on other countries. If the U.S. would examine its foreign policy over the last 30 years, it would find itself morally bankrupt, on account of the American interest and self determination to dominate the world. The U.S. having a great military power and being among the richest nations in the world has led many to believe the growing definition of American exceptionalism to mean American superiority in all contexts.
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The statement Kohut presents of an “American Empire” correlates in what many policy analyst have described as an aggressive direction of American foreign policy from the Bush administration on global interest. Andrew Kohut goes on to describe the Bush White House where anti-American sentiment was fueled to the highest point in U.S. history with the invasion of Iraq. Kohut uses the Iraq invasion as an illustration of the American “go it alone” attitude no matter what other world leaders think. President Bush had received a surplus of world wide sympathy and support following September 11, 2001. The French daily paper Le Monde declared that: "in this tragic moment…we are all Americans" (15). This pro-American interlude did not last. By the time the United States invaded Iraq with out the global communities support in 2003, both the American foreign policy stance and the American people were increasingly unpopular, even among longtime allies.
With this shift in international public opinion it is critically important to gage why America and Americans have fallen so low on every world wide attitude poll conducted since the invasion of Iraq to the infamous “Axis of evil” address. Andrew Kohut explains this phenomenon as arising out of the events leading to the siege of Baghdad in 2003: including failure to find weapons of mass destruction, that were the principal justification for the war, U.S. credibility has declined with, many countries believing that the Bush administration lied about weapons of mass destruction, and had ulterior motives of controlling of oil resources and many Arab nations think the protection of Israel. This credibility problem extends beyond the war in Iraq to the war on terrorism, why it led to Afghanistan, and most importantly what was the principal reason for the attacks on the U.S. in regards to the U.S. foreign policy. The way President Bush handled the war and the procedures he maneuvered around to go to war is seen as direct disrespect for the international community.
Another factor for the shift in public opinion is from the U.S. position it is “spreading Democracy;” however, when the U.S. goes into a region and helps set up a democracy like in Palestine and Iran, where the U.S stated it was to spreading democracy, when the people took to the polls to vote for a President, but did not pick the choice the U.S. wanted, the U.S. simply did not recognize the winner, but set up a pro American leader instead. The book also points out this same phenomenon in regards to the Guatemala coup in 1953, then the Colombian coup in the 1970’s. You can see other examples of how the U.S. was not really interested in spreading democracy, but in spreading its own bottom line. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “The love of wealth is….at the bottom of all that the Americans do…It perturbs their minds, but it disciplines their lives.” President Calvin Coolidge put it more politely in the 1920s, “the chief business of the American people is business” (132). Ironically after President Bush’s State of The Union address and his call for greater democracy in the Middle East and all the U.S. aid for tsunami victims in South Asia all these action did little to improve the U.S. image (29). The Pew poll asked people around the world to judge Americans on seven character traits, three of them positive and four negative the results are as followed-- negative traits: greedy, violent, rude, and immoral; Positive traits: hardworking, inventive, and honest (31). But as shown, the generosity following the Tsunami disaster did little to boost U.S. popularity. Kohut concludes: until a new president comes into office and the U.S. sets up a new foreign policy agenda very little can boost the current views of the U.S. and its people.
In fact Anti-Americanism had been emanating from globalization well before Bush’s presidency. Kohut points out that in the Gallup polls conducted in the early 1980’s in correlation with the rise of international corporations, (business who conduct business in cities around the globe), international resentment of American culture (movies, McDonald's, music) and business practices (long work hours) started appearing. American “soft power” had been a leading source of resentment globally as American culture had been exported to all walks of life with little to no regard to the impact upon those countries unique culture and preference. America in the 1980’s had begun to dominate the entertainment field and essentially forced American values, morals, and language upon all the worlds’ citizens without their consent. So, anti-American sentiment started in the 1980’s, but little was done to confront the U.S. due to weak political leadership. Also popular sentiment mattered less in the years before democratization made leaders more dependent on what their people thought and felt. Technology, like the Gallup poll for example, helped to gage the public support or dis-content on a matter. Now that leaders can determine public opinion outcomes political leaders are held to a higher standard and no longer fear U.S. resentment. In many countries in South America, which at one time did as the U.S. beckoned, a monumental shift away from U.S. policy has emerged.
Kohut also points out what he calls, “The City on a Hill Syndrome”; nothing is more shocking to foreigners then when they encounter Americans views on the U.S. and its role in the world. Many Americans think that, “the world would be a better place if people everywhere thought and acted like citizens of the United Sates”. The critics of this ideology state: “America sees itself as a shinning city on a hill—a place apart where a better way of life exists, one to which all other peoples should aspire” (70). This difference in ideology has led many to dislike Americans and also driven extremist to seek retaliation against America for an empirical view point. This “we” are better then “you” attitude has not won the U.S. any supporters and has eroded long time allies. The American notion of its superior values and morals are reflected in the Pew polls finding that many world citizens thought the U.S too religious and this religious sentiment was over flowing into American policy. “The U.S. debates about abortion, end-of-life decisions, stem cell research, and homosexuality are all driven by the public’s religious beliefs, or lack therof”. (76). Many Europeans could not relate to the deeply rooted religious fervor in the U.S.; most Europeans find it disturbing to have social and foreign policy decided by religious views. In fact the Poll also went on to mention the word usage of President Bush for, example: good and evil, one nation under God, God bless America and the prayers for the American people during times of turbulence. The Poll also mentions America’s obsession with Israel due to its biblical prophecy to Christians. Another factor is the level of support the Israeli government gets from the U.S., and the fact the U.S. does not seek to influence Israel to work with its Arab neighbors is also seen as disturbing.
America currently is in a position where its national security depends on moral growth in the form of diplomacy. This is frightening due to the fact the U.S. often uses gun boat diplomacy to get their interest across, but can be inspiring. Maybe the term "American greatness" does not have to have the militaristic connotations that have been attached to it. When polled about the use of force Kohut reveals most Americans prefer cooperative, multilateral, and diplomatic methods to deal with foreign policy. In the poll 70 percent of Americans also supported international organizations. The poll asked about The United Nations, International Criminal Court, and the Kyoto Treaty. Seventy percent polled supported international organization and multilateral efforts for global problems (164).
However a major difference between America’s use of force to launch a pre-emptive strike revealed a major difference between U.S. views and other world views on when or why should a country launch a pre-emptive strike. American citizens believed it was ok to use force even on a sovereign nation when the national interest was jeopardized, no matter what the cost to the other country. Americans still valued the use of force when necessary to uphold American interest and security around the globe. While most Americans support international organizations, most Americans do not like to be on the same playing field as other countries in the world and the U.S. feels a bit above the rules, even when it makes the rules, like the International Criminal Courts in which the U.S. helped create and supports, however the U.S. refuses to allow its own military personnel to be tried by the international court in regards to military misconduct and criminal punishments. All these elements the book mentions show what a long road is ahead of the U.S. in order to be a world citizen and not an island onto our self.
In conclusion Kohut has brought to our attention in the U.S. how great the rifts are that divide us from the rest of the world. His book goes in depth to analyze past policy mistakes and outcomes, then he dives into the current war on Terror and the siege of Baghdad; he explains American ideology and religious fervor that sets policy agendas in the U.S. Kohut examines some of the core reasons why anti-Americanisms has come to the forefront now, and he answers it war-- always really there and no one cared to tackle the issue nor did they have the means do so in the 1980’s. Kohut sets the stage for explaining the failures of the United States’s inability to work in a global community with its neighbors and allies; he again restates the U.S. “go it alone” attitude that has become American protocol in dealing with current world problems. Kohut describes his “City on a Hill” analogy which really helps the reader fully understand American exceptionalism, which helps illustrate world concepts of how the U.S. is perceived as being smug in regards to other nations. Kohut really brings to life the need of the American people to be concerned thus taking the necessary steps to shift foreign policy, take action environmentally, and to encourage the need for U.S. citizens to be more aware of what is happening in the world around them. A key concept in Kohut’s book is "seeing ourselves as others see us." It is easy to only look at things in an American perspective, but is that the only way things should be examined? The author makes the reader look at the U.S. and themselves and examine what they really value, a free society, who cares for the world and its people, or a society who only cares about national interest and making money no matter what the cost. “The question is whether we'll be the typical prom king or queen - resented by most at the bottom of the social hierarchy and many in the middle - or instead the rare prom king or queen who manages to be really, truly, you know, popular” (Swing).