The Rise of Anti-Americanism

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Mohandass Kalaichelvan's picture

The Rise of Anti-Americanism

America, at the forefront of the world order since 1945, has confronted several obstacles that have threatened to derail its claim to hegemony. Being the sole global superpower certainly entails many benefits for the US at the negotiating table. However, the US is burdened with the weight of responsibility and expectation of the rest of the world. In recent times, the global sentiment with respect to the US as the leading hegemon has seen a sizeable reversal with several ill-advised military interventions, poor domestic economic policies, inequitable globalization and a general lack of know-how to effectively deal with problems. This paper contends that these factors are dangerously amalgamating, leading to a sharp increase in anti-American sentiment.

Anti-American sentiment is defined as the “psychological tendency to hold negative views of the United States and of American society in general” (Katzenstein and Keohane 2006, 1).Negative views of the US, ranging on a spectrum of liberal opposition to hardline radicalism, will be analyzed on an individual level since it would be inaccurate to label entire nations as either supportive or against the US. Although the general public tends to think that George W. Bush brought about the current wave of anti-American sentiment with the Iraq War, such sentiments are hardly contemporary and date back to European anti-Americanism in the 1700s. As the world’s most powerful nation, the US is bound to be attacked on various levels. As Thucydides envisaged, anti-Americanism could be viewed as the primeval reaction by others to the state of the current world order (Kern 2007, 1). Despite the financial maelstrom in the new millennia, the US still commands an envious place in the pantheon of nations with an enormous economy, well-equipped military and extensive cultural imports. Hence, many around the world could be exuding anti-American sentiment due to resentment and envy. If the US has successfully weathered the anti-American storm since the 1700s, why should this phenomenon be regarded as a highly potent danger today?

The façade of anti-Americanism has changed drastically in the last decade. This paper asserts that anti-Americanism arising from failed policies of the US government since the interventions in the Middle East and the increased prominence of US-led globalization has contributed to a loss of moral authority that the US used to command. The US may possess the world’s largest military or economy but without moral authority, other nations are loathed to continue supporting the US due to domestic backlash. The current wave of anti-American sentiment has inevitably led to the rise of China – another factor that many international relations (IR) scholars claim to be the most pressing problem facing the US. However, the rise of China should not be regarded as the focal point; instead, it should be viewed as the result of the US losing moral authority in global matters due to its failed attempts at global governance. Yan Xuetong, an IR scholar from Beijing, succinctly portrays the danger of growing anti-American sentiment by stating that even a communist state can present an attractive alternative to the world: “It is the battle for people’s hearts and minds that will determine who eventually prevails…. As China’s ancient philosophers predicted, the country that displays more humane authority will win” (Yan 2011, 2). To prevent China overtaking it as the world’s leading hegemon, the US needs to urgently rectify growing anti-American sentiments and restore its moral authority on the global scale.

Anti-American sentiment today is also being instrumented in sinister measures to threaten the safety of the US. Radical Islamist terrorist groups are directing anti-American sentiment in the region to expand their terrorist networks to plot attacks on US soil. Once again, this paper asserts that terrorism itself is not the main problem that the US should focus on. Instead, anti-American sentiment caused by ill-conceived policies has inadvertently led to the increase of terrorist threats. Terrorist groups, riding on the wave of such sentiment, are easily able to lure more recruits to join terror networks. US policies in the Middle East such as its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, coupled together with its stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, makes the US extremely unpopular in the region. This increasingly fertile ground of anti-American sentiment will surely lead to a security crisis in the future if the US fails to remedy its bloodied image in the Middle East.

These problems could be fixed incrementally if the US pursues the right measures to improve its image abroad by assuaging anti-American sentiments. The US needs to pursue a neo-liberal institutionalist policy in which it distances itself from the act of armed conflict, unless absolutely necessary when the security of the US and its allies are facing immediate danger. In addition, this paper proposes that the US should seek to improve its trade relations with the rest of the world and actively engage institutions to render peace. The US has largely employed a realist outlook in the past decade in which it has dived into wars such as those in the Middle East to supposedly safeguard its security and maintain its power in the international arena. On hindsight, it is painfully evident that such a realist outlook has contributed to the rise in anti-American sentiment which has in turn decreased absolute security for the US.

As discussed, anti-American sentiment can be partly attributed to a globalization backlash. America is frequently looked upon as the villain in many anti-globalization protests. In this case, if the US employs a neo-liberal institutionalist approach, the US will be seen to be helping the global economy equitably. By increasing trade linkages in the world and empowering financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank to make change in the developing world, the US can strive to eradicate anti-American sentiment which has arisen from unequal distribution of benefits from globalization. Further emphasizing institutionalism, the US can gradually restore its moral authority in the world by actively engaging institutions such as United Nations (UN) and the International Criminal Court (ICC). The US must sign the Kyoto Protocol and join the ICC to regain the mantle of morality in the international arena. This approach will most certainly curtail the rise of China which will then be unable to compete with the US on moral grounds.

With regards to the crisis in the Middle East, the US would be best served by withdrawing militarily from the conflicts but ensuring that it stays behind to assist in the development process of these war-torn countries such as Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. By being a positive benevolent agent in the Middle East region, the US can reduce the negativity towards its previously failed policies. Such an approach will prevent terrorist networks from recruiting freely because anti-American sentiments will gradually wane in the region. In conclusion, a neo-liberalist institutionalist approach will not only firmly cement the US position as the leading hegemon; instead, it will install the US as the world’s leading benevolent power, worthy of respect and admiration.

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