Sunday, November 07, 2004I am not going to write this morning about specifics. Everyone is aware of the mistakes Bush has made and is likely to make in foreign affairs. These mistakes might be transient and correctable. I am more concerned about a greater problem: the loss of our reputation.
America has always had a special place in the world. We have in the main been a symbol of opportunity and liberty for people in many struggling nations. This is why there has always been a long line waiting to move here. But there is another side to our reputation: that of the arrogant imperial power, xenophobic and somewhat bungling. No one ever likes the dominant world power, be they British, French, Spanish or American. The degree of animosity number one's generate is highly correlated to their restraint. Great Powers that abuse their position are hated, those that use their influence with discretion and respect for others tend to be a bit more popular.
The perception of America by the rest of the world has always had this ambiguity. On the one hand we are "conceived in liberty," and on the other we are an overweening hegemon. Which perception was dominant shifted over time. But people folks were never entirely convinced one way or the other.
Now they are.
When I went abroad last year, a lot of people were angry at America. I always defended us by saying "That's just George Bush, not the American people. Remember that Bush wasn't legitimately elected. In a couple of years he will be turned out of office and we'll go back to the way we were under Clinton." And many people cautiously accepted this argument. They were willing to wait and see.
The reason Bush is so unpopular in the world, the reason he undermines our position so profoundly, is that he symbolizes everything that the world has disliked about us. He is the expression of all that was feared about America- that we were just another imperial power, one who talked a good game about liberty as a smokescreen for its ambition.
After this election, the rest of the world is now convinced. Every fear has been confirmed, every suspicion validated. In a few years, we will be without friends anywhere. Any difficulties we face will not be met with sympathy but with satisfaction. And to all my arguments, America's critics will be able to reply "You elected Bush. America wanted this. This is what you are now." And they will be right to say so.