It’s been said that George W. Bush squandered the goodwill we had immediately after 9/11.  Matthew Kaminiski writing in Forbes last month, however, brings another perspective as we begin the Obama administration; don’t mistake sympathy with pro-Americanism.

One hates to spoil a good party, but here’s a bet that’s far safer these days than a U.S. Treasury bill: Even with Obama at the White House, they won’t really like us any more than before.

It’s not because America’s not a special country, a City upon a Hill, from the Pilgrims to Obama, the Blagojevich couple and other American horrors notwithstanding. It’s because it is. And as ever, our earnest assertion of our superior ontological uniqueness–not to mention its reality in and of itself–is exactly what always grated on the unfriendlies grouped together under the banner of anti-Americanism.

The past few years for sure were especially happy ones for the flag burners, intellectual bomb throwers and suicide attackers. George W. Bush gave this crowd a great excuse to hate America–and the Democrats a highly effective partisan political weapon against the ruling party.

At home, Bush played well into the favored narrative of an America Lost. Namely, that this administration squandered all that good will overseas we earned after 9/11. But remember how the good will was earned, and from whom. Everyone loves to cite Le Monde’s opening editorial line that day, "Today we’re all Americans!" I was in Paris that day. Here’s what I read: "Today, when that arrogant colossus across the sea lies prostrate and bloodied and humbled, we’re all Americans, but let them stay down or …"

Le Monde, conveniently for our purposes, means "the world"–in this case the one that turned against the U.S. from the moment the country pulled itself up. (The joyous Palestinians, and the quiet glee from Havana to Tehran and over to Beijing, showed that some people never got the message about "good will;" in any case, it soon didn’t matter.)

I recall all too well the anti-war protests in Paris and Brussels against the U.S. attack on … Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, supposedly the good war. By the time Iraq rolled around, Jacques Chirac (a right-wing French nationalist) and the BHL/Le Monde left stood drunk together against the U.S. (To his credit, BHL fought against the idiocies of the anti-American brigades arguably with more fervor than the Iraq war itself.) The streets of Western European capitals filled with hundreds of thousands of America bashers. Our popularity polls–otherwise known as trans-Atlantic opinion surveys done by outfits such as Pew and the German Marshall Fund–plummeted. In reality, America’s real friends stuck by America throughout–such as most European governments, most of Eastern Europe and chunks of Asia and Africa. They got little attention; it didn’t fit the narrative.

The departure of George Bush will change the mood music in America’s relations with the world, but–here’s the heartbreaker for our romantics–it won’t change how most people see America. Because, for "anti" masses, it’s not really about us; it’s about them.

Matthew hearkens back some history to show that anti-Americanism goes back quite a bit farther than the Dubya administration, and a single catastrophe, even of 9/11-proportions, won’t change the course so easily. 

Filed under: Politics

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