On BritainAndAmerica yesterday we reviewed the extent of anti-Americanism within Britain. We learnt that most Britons think well of America historically and of the American people now. What they don't like is American policy towards the Middle East and they really don't like George W Bush. Tony Blair's current unpopularity within Britain owes a great deal to his closeness to America's 43rd President and to the war in Iraq that the two men have led.
It's easy to believe - as many do - that the election of a Democrat will restore America's standing in Britain and in other nations. Without discounting the possibility of some immediate benefits, this brief post suggests that it won't be as simple as that. There are six main reasons to believe that anti-Americanism will continue to be a problem - although, perhaps, not on the same scale, even if the Democrats win next year's race for the White House.
Anti-Americanism pre-dated George W Bush and it will continue when he's retired to Crawford. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 there was an international outpouring of goodwill towards America but we shouldn't forget that there was a lot of negativity, too. It wasn't just the rejoicing on the streets of Gaza there was also a BBC Question Time programme that discussed the attacks. The British audience for this programme, broadcast on prime time BBC television, was so hostile to America that the outgoing US Ambassador, who was a panellist, was reduced to tears. This happened before Bush began his ‘unilateralist’ policies. Before Afghanistan. Before Iraq. There is a dislike of America for many reasons that no politician will easily cure. Any list would include America's military power, its cultural exports and its global economic impact. The religiosity of America compared to Europe will also be a barrier to understanding. And then there's Israel...
Democrats will largely retain American support for Israel. It is possible that policy will be less friendly to Tel Aviv with a Clinton or Obama in the White House but it will not represent a sea-change of difference. Jimmy Carter's views on Israel, that have caused so much controversy amongst Jewish supporters of the Democrats, are not widely shared amongst the leading lights of the party. Senators Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton have co-sponsored the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act which calls for the suspension of aid to the Palestinian Authority until it renounces violence and they also supported Israel during its conflict with Lebanon. Obama has described Israel as ‘our strongest ally in the region’.
Democrats may not be as 'green' as some hope. US failure to ratify Kyoto is one factor contributing to anti-Americanism. It has become fashionable for the Democrats to blame George Bush for not ‘taking climate change seriously’. Al Gore has led the charge with his Inconvenient Truth movie. Forgetting Al Gore's hypocrisy for one moment, the Democrats want the world to forget that the Kyoto protocol was negotiated while they were in office and that Al Gore was the Vice-President at the time. During their period in office, the Senate passed the Byrd-Hagel resolution with a majority of 95-0. The motion stated that the Senate would not support ratification of the Kyoto Protocol unless developing countries were also required to take action. This is the same view shared by President Bush and he has put his words into action by supporting the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development. This is an initiative aimed at tackling climate change through investing in clean technologies. Importantly it includes two of the world’s developing countries, India and China. To be fair to the Democrats, there does seem to be much more willingness to tackle climate change than when their party helped to veto Kyoto. A large number of Democrats represent industrial states, however, and may block the scale of action that many Kyoto enthusiasts hope to see.
Democrats are increasingly protectionist. Although George W Bush began his time in office with an unfortunate series of measures that 'protected' the steel industries of swing states like West Virginia he leads a party that is not in the pocket of organised labour and he did (belatedly) repeal the offending tariffs. On RealClearPolitics Steve Chapman noted how the Democrats are becoming an increasingly anti-free trade party. During his presidential campaign John Kerry accelerated the trend with his pledge to reward companies that kept jobs in the USA instead of outsourcing them. On a recent trip to Kenya Senator Obama declared his support for subsidies which protect American farmers by arguing that he had to look out for the interests of the people he represents. It is not difficult, in future years, to foresee workers from all over the developed and developing world complaining about the impact of Democrat protectionism.
Drawbridge Democrats may foster new forms of anti-Americanism. Economic protectionism is just one manifestation of the drawbridge mentality popular amongst Democrats and, in particular, amongst its netroots. Bush is hated by many around the world for causing a mess through intervening in Afghanistan and Iraq. But non-intervention may also bring opposition. Non-intervention in Rwanda was a stain on Bill Clinton's reputation. His administration's failure to constrain the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and other weakness in the face of attacks on America's interests, paved the way for 9/11. With the world entering dangerous new phases of the age of terror there is only really one nation that has the power to pre-empt threats. Bush is disliked for using that American power but any future decision not to exercise that power could also create serious tensions. Think, for example, of nations like Iran being allowed to become dangerous and untouchable powers; sponsoring global terrorism, destabilising world markets and bullying neighbours.
A Republican could replace Bush, too. Whoever is elected on 4th November 2008, George W Bush and Dick Cheney will be leaving the White House and that (whether one likes Mr Bush or not) will reduce one source of anti-Americanism. Much of the world does not like President Bush's 'swagger', his evangelical Christianity and is unforgiving of his adminstration's incompetencies. Any new President will give America something of an opportunity for a fresh start. Although a Democrat could be that fresh start it is also possible to see a Giuliani or McCain regaining many people's good will. Giuliani, in particular, has a celebrity status in the eyes of many Britons and McCain's distinguished war record commands respect.