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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 12.08.01
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The image of a solitary sheriff or marshal taming a town in the Wild West has left an indelible imprint on the American imagination. A Wyatt Earp shooting down baddies in O.K. Corrall or a Bat Masterson taming Dodge city are the folk heroes of a country that has no folk myths because in historical time it is still in its youth. Such stereotypes are so powerful that they sometimes spill over from comic books and movies, and influence more serious domains. This is evident from the behaviour of the United States administration towards the world from the time the US, through a quirk of history, became the world's only superpower. This unchallenged global position has given to US policy a crusader-like quality. It sees it as a duty to go and curb evil wherever it perceives it. The US sees itself as the world's peace keeper and conscience keeper rolled into one. There can be no objection to this since it brings the US to the forefront of the global battle against terrorism and religious fundamentalism, the two principal threats to world peace. But there is a downside to this unchallenged sway of the US in world affairs. Its unquestioned military and economic superiority endows the US with an ogre-like quality. This perception is fortified by occasional US attempts to use strong-arm tactics or its efforts to twist a country's economic arm. The word perception is used advisedly. This is how the US is seen even if its actions and intentions are completely different. This perception invariably breeds resentment. Nobody likes a bully. The evidence for this is already manifest if the US policymakers care to read the signs. On the streets of Seattle and Genoa, men and women marched to protest against US hegemony. Such demonstrations should not be ignored. In the Sixties, this is how protests against US intervention in Vietnam began and then spread to US university campuses. The protests in Seattle and Genoa carry seeds of a global protest which may well put the US in the dock. These demonstrations, as is obvious from their popularity, are tapping into a reservoir of anti-US sentiments. At a different level, on various international fora, the US is becoming the target of criticism and voices of dissent are being heard against its stand on various issues. These are as yet subterranean shows of resentment. But unless the issues are addressed, the US runs the danger of finding itself isolated. A sheriff without a base of social support may find it difficult to fight outlaws alone. This kind of resentment of perceived superiority will not surprise students of history. In the past, when Napoleon or Hitler loomed large over the future of a substantial part of the globe, there was united resistance. The Russian bear under communist rule was not a very popular animal in eastern Europe. The US is now treading that dangerous terrain. Its own unprecedented strength is its worst enemy. Unlike Napoleon, Hitler or Stalin, the US cannot live like a pariah in the community of nations. It needs to review its image and global responses to it. History has cast the US in a peculiar role. It needs to see history beyond the character assigned to it.