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Anti-Americanism flourishes

By Brendon O'Connor - posted Friday, 7 December 2007

How many reasons can we hate thee? US President George W. Bush has been a lightning rod for negative stereotypes about Americans and America. Some have suggested anti-Americanism is simply a reaction to Bush and his Iraq policies; others contend that the 21st century is set to be the anti-American century.

According to popular opinion Bush is an inarticulate, insular, messianic born-again Christian cowboy whose success rides on the back of his family's wealth and connections. Undoubtedly Bush has provided enough TV-blooper evidence for a seven-year laugh at America's expense.

The truth about his abilities is more complicated, but few people seem interested in the other side of the story. Just as few people are open to being told that their stereotyping of Americans represents the last respectable prejudice.


For what it is worth, the other side of the story is that Bush is a very effective campaigner. It took considerable skill to beat Al Gore and John Kerry.

I have disagreed with many of his policies and think his Administration's execution of the Iraq war will go down as one of the greatest failures in US history. Nonetheless, I am more likely to blame Bush's belief system rather than his IQ. Claims that he is stupid have been overdone. He is clever enough to be president. It is his policies that are the issue.

As is well documented by surveys, the unfavourable assessment given to America by others around the world relates directly to US policies in Iraq rather than just a general dislike of America. The best source on these issues are the annual Pew surveys, which for the past few years have shown that most of those surveyed across a wide range of nations have an unfavourable view of America.

The evidence from the Pew surveys does not support the oft-expressed view that being hated is simply a consequence of being big and powerful and thus cannot be remedied by becoming gentler, but only by becoming weaker.

According to this evidence, gentler and generous actions do change opinions.

America's decision in 2005 to provide aid relief to Indonesia and Pakistan in the wake of the tsunami and earthquake disasters markedly lessened public antagonism in those countries. Further, despite Iraq, America is still the country people around the world believe can most effectively prevent genocides from occurring in other nations.


For the majority it is what America does that is the problem; however, for a vocal minority it is what America symbolises that they despise.

Contemporary contempt for America often recycles tropes developed by nervous European conservatives in the 19th century who viewed the US as uncouth, uncultured, cocksure and sanctimonious. Such views were held by those who feared the new wealth, social egalitarianism and democracy promulgated by America.

In contrast European progressives of the time largely looked to America as a model for a more just future.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on November 28, 2007.

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About the Author

Brendon O'Connor is an Associate Professor in the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney and is the 2008 Australia Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC. He is the editor of seven books on anti-Americanism and has also published articles and books on American welfare policy, presidential politics, US foreign policy, and Australian-American relations.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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