May 19, 2003

Hard and Soft Anti-Americanism

I have noted before that anti-Americanism springs from the same totalitarian sources that so tormented the 20th century. This is only in part because it arose initially in the antiwar movements of the 50s through 80s, orchestrated as an arm of Soviet foreign policy. Because the message was putatively peace, there was papering over of a deep anti-democratic force.

These days, the peace/antiwar movement has spent whatever force it had left, despite its rapid inflation and just-as-rapid deflation in the run up to the Iraq war. Barring another situation like Iraq, I don't foresee it mustering another call to arms.

The true anti-democratic force these days is the anti-globalization movement, with globalization being seen as almost exclusively a function of American business and American culture. Like the totalitarian movements of the last century, this movement has an attraction almost exclusively to the intellectual elites. The masses in most countries are indifferent to the antagonism that the educated feel toward the US; they openly consume and lust for the products of US business and media.

Alain Madelin, a free-market classical liberal French MP who has been a minister in past Chirac governments, characterizes it in a speech to the Heritage Foundation:

Behind the anti-Americanism lies the rejection of open societies, the rule of law, free market, and free trade, and that is why it must be fought.

How is this different from the vision of Al Qaeda, as articulated by a left commentator, Peter Beaumont in The Observer?

Strip away the millenarian agenda and its language of apocalyptic struggle - the Great Satans, the enemies of God, references to the Crusaders. Strip away, just for a moment, its extreme religious aspects and what you are left with is a non-negotiable political agenda. That aim is to remove - or neutralise - American and Western influence from large areas of the globe, including states that are not exclusively Islamist.

Bin Laden represents the "hard" form of a worldwide desire to suppress freedom and gain a retraction of Western influence, with an anti-globalization movement that desires much the same — in a "softer" form.

In the 70s, it was the Red Brigades (although it is hard to recall what exact demands they had, apart from freedom for comrades held in prison for prior actions) and the Weather Underground whose violence provided them with credibility as a political force among the idealistic New Left. The destabilization of the Western countries in which they operated was the only true intent of their movements.

The dangerous difference today that the brakes on the totalitarian movements of the late 20th Century no longer exist in the same fashion. The identifiable nation-states like the Soviet Union had much to lose if the radical agenda was pushed too hard. In the 21st Century, the shock troops of the "hard" forces live instead in failed nation-states like Chechnya and Sudan. The "hard" forces don't particularly care if their hosts, like the Afghanis or the Chechens, get pulverized. Unlike true guerilla movements, they sit astride the people rather than swimming among them.

And those in the West who provide the "soft" support — through glib anti-Western, anti-democratic, anti-Semitic attitudes — are just greasing the skids for the "hard" side.

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French Diplomacy: "Irresponsiblity, Futility, Vanity"

Françoise Thom, lecturer at the Sorbonne, on The choices French diplomacy made. English translation available here.

The first explanation for the behavior of our leaders is irresponsibility — they believe that they will not have to answer to anyone.

This irresponsibility is driven so far that they seem to be surprised at the consequences of their acts: thus they were not expecting the flare-up of francophobia in the United States, convinced they could persist in their provocations of Washington without risking retaliation. The habit of impunity in internal politics ended up giving rise to a disastrous foreign policy, as was exactly the case for the late USSR.

In the case of France, one must add futility and vanity, permanent factors in our diplomacy.
[...]
We declare that France does not believe in the "clash of civilizations," as if denial were enough to erase it. For greater security, we go as far as abolishing the idea of civilization. This is why we seek to deny at all costs the fact that France shares the same civilization as the United States, by cultivating with some fanfare our overflow into extra-legal zones. Anti-Americanism plays a central role in this mechanism.

Thom equates the foreign policy of the French with the determined obstructionism of the Soviet Union. Worth reading.

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