Monday, July 03, 2006

So much for the "Special Relationship"

There is still friendship at the highest level -- that is, between the White House and 10 Downing Street, Bush and Blair and all who support their adventures in Iraq -- but the "special relationship" that has long existed between Britain and America seems to be under a good deal of strain these days, at least on the British side.

A new poll, according to the Telegraph, shows that "Britons have never had such a low opinion of the leadership of the United States". Consider:

[O]nly 12 per cent of Britons trust [Americans] to act wisely on the global stage. This is half the number who had faith in the Vietnam-scarred White House of 1975.


More than two-thirds who offered an opinion said America is essentially an imperial power seeking world domination. And 81 per cent of those who took a view said President George W Bush hypocritically championed democracy as a cover for the pursuit of American self-interests.

In other words:

Most Britons see America as a cruel, vulgar, arrogant society, riven by class and racism, crime-ridden, obsessed with money and led by an incompetent hypocrite.

Polls are polls, and a lot depends on how the questions are phrased and framed, but it's hard not to see this as a damning indictment of America's leadership and global presence by the people (if not the leadership) of a staunch ally, a "special" friend.

I do not report these numbers with pleasure -- except insofar as I, too, share this British loathing of President Bush and his "leadership" both at home and abroad. Is Bush "an incompetent hypocrite"? Yes, perhaps. (Well, yes.) But I'm hardly as negative towards American society as these British respondents seem to be.

I am both Canadian and British, in terms of citizenship, but much of my ancestry is American. (I can even trace my family history back to Davy Crockett.) And I lived in the U.S. for seven years, attending high school in New Jersey and college in Massachusetts. All of which is to say that I find these poll results troubling. If Bush has turned off the British, who else are left? Canadians? Many Canadians, as I know well, share these anti-American sentiments.

What concerns me about Bush is not just what he's done domestically but what he's done to America's reputation around the world. Has another president so lowered America's image and credibility? Has another president so weakened America's ability and capacity to act for good, to resolve global and regional crises, to lead the international community through uncertain times?

I suspect not. On the eve of July 4, I can say without shame that I love America and loathe her enemies. Yet I also loathe, in a rather different way, her leadership, Bush at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue and the Republicans at the other. This leadership has taken America in the wrong direction both at home and abroad.

America's enemies wish to destroy her. America's leadership has weakened her at a time when strength, and not just military strength, is most needed.

Just listen to the British.

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