America is a country the world now loves to hate. In fact, anti-Americanism seems to have taken over the world. That was one reason the anniversary of September 11 created little flutter outside the United States of America. Other than America’s favourite poodle, the United Kingdom, Asia, Africa, Latin America and even leaders in Europe did not wish to be seen on the side of the US. While Gerhard Schroeder pumped new life into his faltering electoral campaign on an anti-US platform, in France a book became a bestseller, arguing that September 11 was not the work of Muslim extremists but a cabal of conservatives within the US government.
Why should the world’s most powerful democracy come to such a pass' This is probably because of the unpopular steps taken by the US administration of late. This includes the Bush administration’s ham-handed withdrawal from the Kyoto protocol on global warming, its failure to ratify the Rio de Janeiro pact on biodiversity, its withdrawal from the anti-ballistic missile treaty, its opposition to the ban on land mines, its treatment of al Qaida prisoners, its opposition to new provisions of the biological warfare convention, and most recently to the international criminal court, have all gone down poorly with the international community.
Great American idea
Anti-Americanism does not merely stem from the US’s consistent record of using strong-arm tactics to shape international agreements to its liking, and then to walk away from them at the last moment. The crux of the problem is rooted in the US’s idea of the nation-state and democracy. Americans see the constitutional democratic nation-state as the ultimate source of democratic legitimacy. In short, George W. Bush can bomb Iraq out of existence, all in the name of the “Great American people” who elected him.
In America’s eyes, if international organizations have legitimacy it is because duly consti- tuted democratic majorities have handed that legitimacy to them. International law and organization, not to mention ethics and morality, have no existence independent of this type of voluntary agreement between nation-states.
As Francis Fukuyama pointed out recently, the US was founded on the basis of a political idea. National identity in the US is civic rather than religious, cultural, racial, or ethnic. There has been only one American regime which, as the world’s oldest continuously existing democracy, is not viewed as a transient political compromise. This means that the country’s political institutions have always been imbued with an almost religious reverence.
Moreover, for the Americans, their Declaration of Independence and constitution are not just the basis of a legal-political order; they are the embodiment of universal values. The American dollar bill has the inscription “Novus ordo seclorum” — new order of the ages. In fact, the typical American tendency is to confuse national interests with the broader interests of mankind.
America’s faith in the paramountcy of the nation-state does not rest at that. There is more. The democratically elected American state will decide which government is legitimate and which is not. The democratically elected Front de Liberation Nationale Islamicists in Algeria cannot be considered legitimate, nor the democratically elected leftist Sandinistas, but Pervez Musharraf's legitimacy should not be doubted. Ironically, the self-proclaimed greatest democracy has reduced the notion of democracy to a commodified handmaiden of US realpolitik.
Worse, this overweening American power is exercised ultimately by a cabal, which, to promote its own interests and not that of the people of the US, props up the Israeli government and many illegitimate governments across the world, while bumping off legitimate ones. As Bush rants and raves against Iraq in a stupor, the world awaits another bout of anti-Americanism.