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Algora Publishing - The U.S. Misreads the Causes of Anti-Americanism
                                               For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Tuesday,
The U.S. Misreads the Causes of Anti-Americanism
William Pfaff International Herald Tribune

BOSTON Anti-Americanism abroad preoccupies many Americans concerned with their country's place in the world, but the phenomenon is often misread in political circles.
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This leads to misunderstanding of the nature and cause of anti-Americanism. Journalism is partly responsible, since coverage of international affairs in the U.S. press and television now is almost entirely Washington-driven.
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That is, the questions asked about foreign affairs are Washington's questions, framed in terms of domestic politics and established Washington policy positions. This invites uninformative answers and discourages unwanted or unpleasant news.
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Matters that do not directly address Washington concerns tend to be ignored, since it is generally assumed that anything Washington is not paying attention to can't be very important. Thus, the reality rating of much debate in the capital is not very high.
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Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill's recent comment on Japan provides a case in point. He said that because of Japan's currently deplorable economic performance, something should be done "to help the people of Japan achieve a higher standard of living." In fact, Japan's problem is that its living standard is so high today - much higher on average than in the United States - that Japanese consumers can't think of much they'd want to spend more money on. The result is flat consumer purchasing and depressed manufacturing in one of the world's richest countries.
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Mr. O'Neill, not untypically for the American businessman he is, took it for granted that everyone else in the world lives a backward life by U.S. standards. He didn't know what he was talking about, but this is often equally true of officials from a non-business background. America's controversies with the European Union tend to be described, even in official circles, as caused by "European subsidies" for its industries to fend off hyper-competitive U.S. rivals.
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The notion that European products might be more advanced than American products, and that trade problems include loss of competitiveness and need for protection by some U.S. industries, is not widely conceded.
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The foreign competitive challenge nonetheless was one factor behind Boeing's announcement two weeks ago that it will leave Seattle. It wants investors and Wall Street to stop thinking that the company's fortunes depend on selling civil aircraft against Europe's competition.
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Manifestations of anti-Americanism otherwise can roughly be divided between those with objective, and those with subjective, causes. The latter is an imprecise category but includes the anti-Americanism that derives from value differences.
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Foreign criticism of the adolescent standards of U.S. popular culture and entertainment, fast foods, genetic manipulation of food, gun laws, the death penalty and so forth can all be put down to value difference, and little or nothing can be done about it. Americans take for granted the way they live, and others can like it or not.
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The objective causes for anti-Americanism are policies and actions seen abroad as damaging to the legitimate interests of other countries or to international norms of conduct, or which encourage international lawlessness.
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The angry reaction in Europe and Japan against the Bush administration's rejection of the 1997 Kyoto agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions holds that the United States is ignoring the general international interest in preventing global warming. This stance is seen as a cynical payback to industry campaign contributors, indifferent to larger human concerns. The Bush administration promises a future, new approach to global warming, but the violently anti-American reaction of the present moment is inescapable.
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The U.S. government's hostility to the treaty creating an international tribunal on crimes against humanity, and its refusal to ratify the treaty banning land mines, are widely seen as American refusals to hold itself to standards other nations are prepared to accept.
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The United States is held to contribute to international lawlessness by unilateral attacks on "rogue" nations and what it says are terrorist targets.
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Finally, there are what can be called the hegemony issues. Some opposition to the United States, identified as anti-Americanism, is actually motivated by the classic balance-of-power concerns of other major nations aware of their current vulnerability to U.S. power.
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Peter Rodman of the Nixon Center wrote very sensibly last summer in The National Interest, a Washington quarterly, about a mistaken American assumption that because it considers itself acting on universal moral principles, opposition is illegitimate.
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Europeans, Japanese and many Third World countries "view the emergence of the United States as the sole superpower as a mixed blessing" because this has destroyed international balance. But that is not anti-Americanism, as Mr. Rodman remarks. Comparative power considerations are behind it, and the quest for balance - which history validates.
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Los Angeles Times Syndicate.