Sunday, May 01, 2005


Should We Care Whether They Like Us?

Victor Davis Hanson's latest piece in National Review Online asks a question long overdue in the continuing struggle over America's perception of ist place in the world. The question has often been posed, "Why do they hate us," as if we should or could do anything about that. This is the left's greatest character flaw, the need for us to be "liked." (Think the Sally Field the Inferiority Complex School of International Relations.)

Hanson asks:
In short, who exactly does not like the United States and why? First, almost all the 20 or so illiberal Arab governments that used to count on American realpolitik's giving them a pass on accounting for their crimes. They fear not the realist Europeans, nor the resource-mad Chinese, nor the old brutal Russians, but the Americans, who alone are prodding them to open their economies and democratize their corrupt political cultures. We must learn to expect, not lament, their hostility, and begin to worry that things would be indeed wrong if such unelected dictators praised the United States.

The United Nations has sadly become a creepy organization. Its General Assembly is full of cutthroat regimes. The Human Rights Commission has had members like Vietnam and Sudan, regimes that at recess must fight over bragging rights to which of the two killed more of their own people. The U.N. has a singular propensity to find flawed men to be secretary-general — a Kurt Waldheim, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, or Kofi Annan. Blue-helmeted peace-keepers, we learn, are as likely to commit as prevent crimes; and the only thing constant about such troops is that they will never go first into harm's way in Serbia, Kosovo, the Congo, or Dafur to stop genocide. Even worse, the U.N. has proved to be a terrible bully, an unforgivable sin for a self-proclaimed protector of the weak and innocent — loud false charges against Israel for its presence in the West Bank, not a peep about China in Tibet; tough talk about Palestinian rights, far less about offending Arabs over Darfur.

This jealousy and dislike of America and our position in the world is unavoidable and inevitable, as our very position breeds the resentment described. it is the price to pay for our National Security, and while we wish that others would see fact and reality, as well as the moral authority with which we wield our power and influence, but they don't. That comes with the territory.

Hanson concludes:
It is the wage of the superpower to be envied. Others weaker vie for its influence and attention — often when successful embarrassed by the necessary obsequiousness, when ignored equally shamed at the resulting public impotence. The Cold War is gone and former friends and neutrals no longer constrain their anti-American rhetoric in fear of a cutthroat and nuclear Soviet Union. Americans are caricatured as cocky and insular — as their popular culture sweeps the globe.

All that being said, the disdain that European utopians, Arab dictatorships, the United Nations, and Mexico exhibit toward the United States is not — as the Kerry campaign alleged in the last election — cause for tears, but often reason to be proud, since much of the invective arises from the growing American insistence on principles abroad.

America should not gratuitously welcome such dislike; but we should not apologize for it either. Sometimes the caliber of a nation is found not in why it is liked, but rather in why it is not. By January 1, 1941, I suppose a majority on the planet — the Soviet Union, all of Eastern Europe, France, Italy, Spain, and even many elsewhere in occupied Europe, most of Latin America, Japan and its Asian empire, the entire Arab world, many in India — would have professed a marked preference for Hitler's Germany over Churchill's England.

This reminds me of a recent American President, who was reputed to crave attention and adoration, and pretty much got what we wanted (at least on a personal level). He was very popular, at home and abroad, and many felt that he relied overmuch on polls to make decisions. "What would be a popular decision," he seemed to ask himself on all major issues of the day.

Those of us who lead for a living know that, doing the right thing, or making the right decision, is often the least popular thing there is. That's what leadership is all about, taking a stand against the advice of all those who would rather walk away.

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