Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Debunking the "Squandered Sympathy" Myth

It has become conventional wisdom that the US enjoyed almost universal sympathy and support in the wake of the 9/11 atrocities, only for the Bush Administration to throw it all away by unilaterally invading Iraq. In today's Daily Telegraph, Anne Applebaum provides a valuable corrective to this narrative. Writing of the initial British reaction to the terrorist attacks, Applebaum points out the following:

But it's also true that this initial wave of goodwill hardly outlasted the news cycle. Within a couple of days a Guardian columnist wrote of the "unabashed national egotism and arrogance that drives anti-Americanism among swaths of the world's population". A Daily Mail columnist denounced the "self-sought imperial role" of the United States, which he said had "made it enemies of every sort across the globe".

That week's edition of Question Time featured a sustained attack on Phil Lader, the former US ambassador to Britain – and a man who had lost colleagues in the World Trade Centre – who seemed near to tears as he was asked questions about the "millions and millions of people around the world despising the American nation". At least some Britons, like many other Europeans, were already secretly or openly pleased by the 9/11 attacks.

And all of this was before Afghanistan, before Tony Blair was tainted by his friendship with George Bush, and before anyone knew the word "neo-con", let alone felt the need to claim not to be one.

The dislike of America, the hatred for what it was believed to stand for – capitalism, globalisation, militarism, Zionism, Hollywood or McDonald's, depending on your point of view – was well entrenched. To put it differently, the scorn now widely felt in Britain and across Europe for America's "war on terrorism" actually preceded the "war on terrorism" itself. It was already there on September 12 and 13, right out in the open for everyone to see.

Anti-Americanism preceded the Bush Administration, and it will be around long after January 2009.


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