The ur-text for this myth is the famous Le Monde editorial of Sept. 12, 2001, titled "We Are All Americans." But as Johns Hopkins professor Fouad Ajami points out, not only did that very editorial speak of America's paying for its cynicism, but also, within months, that same Le Monde publisher was back with a small book ("All Americans? The World After September 11, 2001"--note the question mark) filled with the usual belligerence toward and disapproval of America.
What happened in those intervening few months? Is not the core Democratic complaint that it was overreaching in Iraq that caused the world to turn against us? And yet barely had we buried our 9/11 dead long before we entered Baghdad when the French, and the rest of the world, decided that they were not really Americans after all and were back to vilifying American arrogance, unilateralism, hegemony and so on.
It is pure fiction that this pro-American sentiment was either squandered after Sept. 11 or lost under the Bush Administration. It never existed. Envy for America, resentment of our power, hatred of our success has been a staple for decades, but most particularly since victory in the cold war left us the only superpower.
Bill Clinton was the most accommodating, sensitive, multilateralist President one can imagine, and yet we know that al-Qaeda began the planning for Sept. 11 precisely during his presidency. Clinton made humility his vocation, apologizing variously for African slavery, for internment of Japanese Americans, for not saving Rwanda. He even decided that Britain should return the Elgin Marbles to Greece. A lot of good that did us. Bin Laden issued his Declaration of War on America in 1996--at the height of the Clinton Administration's hyperapologetic, good-citizen internationalism.
Moreover, it is unseemly, even pathetic, for the would-be leaders of a great power to pine for the pity gleaned on the day America lay bleeding and wounded. This is to carry into foreign policy a pathology of our domestic politics the glorification of victimhood and the lust for its privileges, such as they are. It is not surprising that having set up at home a spoils system that encourages every ethnic group to claim even greater victimization than the next, the Democrats should lament the fact that we did not seize and institutionalize our collective victimhood of Sept. 11.
The world apparently likes the U.S. when it is on its knees. From that the Democrats deduce a foreign policy remain on our knees, humble and supplicant, and enjoy the applause and "support" of the world.
This is not just degrading. It is a fool's bargain--3,000 dead for a day's worth of nice words and a few empty U.N. resolutions. The Democrats would forfeit American freedom of action and initiative in order to get back what? Another nice French editorial? To be retracted as soon as the U.S. stops playing victim?
Sympathy is fine. But if we "squander" it when we go to war to avenge our dead and prevent the next crop of dead, then to hell with sympathy. The fact is that the world hates us for our wealth, our success, our power. They hate us into incoherence. The Europeans, Ajami astutely observes, disdain us for our excessive religiosity (manifest, they imagine, by evolution being expelled from schools while prayer is ushered back in)--while the Arab world despises us as purveyors of secularism. We cannot win for losing. We are widely reviled as enemies of Islam, yet in the 1990s we engaged three times in combat in the Persian Gulf and in the Balkans to rescue Kuwait, Bosnia and Kosovo, Muslim peoples all. And in the last two cases, there was nothing in it for the U.S.; it was humanitarianism and good international citizenship of the highest order.
The search for logic in anti-Americanism is fruitless. It is in the air the world breathes. Its roots are envy and self-loathing by peoples who, yearning for modernity but having failed at it, find their one satisfaction in despising modernity's great exemplar.
On Sept. 11, they gave it a rest for a day. Big deal.