12 February 2008

Anti-American? Do I have a choice?

Anti-American. The tedious old saw that conservatives, and even liberals from time to time, hurl at leftists when they challenge American foreign policy. It is a reliable fallback position when criticism of U.S. actions and policy is hard to rebut, yet there is some truth in it as well. The left often seems to simply dislike the United States.

But wherein lies the fault? With the anti-Americans or with the Americans? I suggest the latter. Since the end of the Second World War, at least, the United States has time and time again acted against those principles the left holds dear.

Consider, for example, democracy. The U.S. has collaborated in overthrowing democratically-elected governments around the world, including Iran, Guatemala, Chile and Palestine. At the same time, it has supported some of the world's most repugnant dictators, including Indonesia's Suharto, Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko, Egypt's Mubarak, Argentina under the generals, Chile under Pinochet, and the misogynistic Sauds of Arabia.

The United States has denied its support to agreements progressives consider necessary to making a better world, including the Ottawa Treaty to ban land mines, the Kyoto Protocol and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (the only country, aside from Somalia, to refuse to sign). It unilaterally abandoned the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, violates both the Geneva Conventions and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and has attempted to undermine the International Criminal Court.

The American rejection of international agreements is aggravated by its dependence on brute force to impose its will. It has troops stationed around the globe and doesn't hesitate to use them, waging a war in some part of the world or the other at least once a generation, if not once a decade. This unilateralism, this mark of empire, is anathema to the left, which seeks co-operative solutions to world problems. And the militarism of the U.S. seems to increase along with its fundamentalism.

And it gets worse. At times, the U.S. has seemed to declare war on the left. Not just on Communism, for which progressives share American disdain, but on the democratic left as well. American proteges have murdered tens of thousands of leftists. Of the 3,000 victims of Pinochet in Chile, the up to 30,000 "disappeared" by the generals in Argentina, the 200,000 victims of the war of repression in Guatemala, we can reasonably assume the great majority were progressives of one stripe or another.
Many of the military leaders responsible for these crimes, including Argentine dictators Roberto Viola and Leopoldo Galtieri, were trained in the United States' infamous School of the Americas. And then of course there was the CIA's collaboration with Operation Condor, a campaign involving assassination and intelligence operations implemented by South American right-wing dictatorships against the left.

In addition to the murder of leftists is the theft of legitimate power the left has earned through the democratic process or could have earned if they weren't repressed or murdered. And this explains in large part why conservatives are rarely anti-American. Their philosophical cohorts in other countries have not been subject to repression or murder by friends of the U.S. To the contrary, they benefit by the suppression of their natural opposition, so naturally they decry "anti-Americanism."

The left is not anti-American comprehensively, but it is selectively. Leftists enjoy and appreciate much of American culture -- its music, science, technology, writing, ideas, even its respect for human rights when it's on its best behaviour. Not so much appreciated is the excessive individualism of the U.S. economic system, but that's for Americans to struggle with. The left is not anti-American, it is anti-American foreign policy, but more important it is pro-welfare state, pro-democracy and pro-international co-operation, and that often puts it at odds philosophically and practically with American administrations.

The United States has often assaulted both the principles and the persons of the left, and naturally when it does we confront it. But they picked the fight, not us.

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