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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  • Like you say, these type of polling arguments need to be taken with a larger than average grain of salt. But trends are trends, and Britons today are certainly less confident in the idea of a benevolent America than they have been in the past.

    At the end of the day, Americans really shouldn't care that much about what the citizens of foreign countries think of America's leadership, per se. They should care, though, only in the sense that such negative perceptions definitely hamper the ability of the United States to broker a successful foreign policy that helps to induce global stability.

    So, if the British think Americans are arrogant, so what? But, if the British think Americans aren't acting in good faith, and if this lack of confidence extends to the highest levels of the British government, Americans and America should have serious concerns.

    And President Bush simply isn't the person to rebuild America's image in the eyes of the world. No other U.S. president has been given a better stage on which to orchestrate a more fundamental coming together of the world's disparate powers than President Bush had shortly after September 11, 2001. Any president who is capable of taking a shit on that amount of goodwill, pardon my language, has proved for all who care to see that s/he is simply incapable of effective leadership.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:07 AM  

  • As an American who lives abroad, and has spent time living and travelling in several different countries over the last several years, I hear the worldwide hatred of my country daily here in the northerly backyard. Americans should be concerned about what the rest of the world thinks, because her position in it is earned and not granted in perpetuity. Like Michael, here, I feel tremendous love for America and loathe her enemies. The criticisms here are certainly valid, but I would go further and demand a value shift that Americans from the top down should make quality and responsibility two of their defining values. Furthermore, they should demand higher standards of ethical behavior in all their actions taken at home and abroad. This includes issues like the enviornment, trade practices, the decision to wage war and peace.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:42 PM  

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