Fearing Americans


Among other findings, a global poll conducted from late 2002 to May this year by the US think tank Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found increasing fear of the United States among many nations.

The fear is based on the now widespread belief that the United States not only has the military power to attack any country with impunity, but also that it is willing to do so if it thinks it is to its interest.

Since 2002 the United States has attacked and occupied two countries (Afghanistan and Iraq) and removed their governments, using some of the most devastating weapons in its vast arsenal of nuclear, biological and chemical arms. The United States has also several times made it clear that it is prepared to use nuclear weapons first, as part of the Bush doctrine of preemptive strikes on potential threats to its interests.

As a result the world has never been more unstable, and sustainable peace never more elusive. Thanks to a policy of total support for Israel, the United States has presided over the most violent stage in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite its “road map for peace” in the Middle East. The Korean Peninsula has never been more insecure, again because of perceptions that the United States is preparing to attack the North. As a result, the South Koreans now fear the US more than their northern neighbor for the first time since the Korean War of the 1950s.

It is easy to see why, as one US commentator has put it, the United States is “more feared than loved.” But contrary to what many Americans believe, the same poll conducted by the Pew Center found that in most countries what people fear is the government of George W. Bush and not Americans.

I am sure that among the poll respondents who said so were people who would call themselves liberals, progressives, or leftists. Among these groups the politically correct view has always been to condemn the US policies of intervention of the last 50 years, but to draw a line between the government and the people of the United States.

This view, so hoary it is conventional wisdom among Philippine progressives, assumes a difference, if not a conflict, between what Americans want and what their government does. Applied to the present, this view says that the vast majority of Americans oppose their government’s bullying of other countries, its undermining the United Nations and its contempt for international law, and its use of armed might as the arbiter of world order.

In the particular case of George W. Bush and his government, the lingering doubts over the US elections of 2000 add fuel to this politically correct argument. Bush lost the popular vote by about 500,000 votes, but became President by virtue of a Supreme Court decision that gave him the disputed electoral college votes of Florida, where his brother was governor.

Some Americans indeed took to the streets to denounce Bush’s “theft” of the elections, which if true would mean that the US’ elite-dominated institutions (the Supreme Court was at the time dominated by Bush Sr.’s appointees) and its right-wing politicians manipulated the electoral process to get Bush the presidency.

Bush’s popular votes, however, did come close enough to those of his Democratic Party rival Al Gore to make the Supreme Court decision credible. That he did so despite the undisputed success of the two Clinton administrations (1992-2000) in restoring an economy ravaged by the Reagan and Bush I administration’s focus on arms spending was in part due to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. But the support of right-wing groups driven by jingoistic visions of total US supremacy, religious fanaticism, and such other lunatic concerns as the right to bear arms also helped.

Abetted by a media that by focusing on the character of Clinton managed to impugn Gore as well, the Bush campaign attracted the support of fundamentalist Christian churches, Israeli lobby groups, shady business organizations, the National Rifle Association and even the most racist formations. What’s more important, Bush’s partisans also included the far Right clutch of neoconservatives who had been planning the return of Republican rule since 1992 to impose their vision of Pax Americana on the rest of the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Apparently there are vast well-springs of support among the US population for precisely the kind of leader Bush has proven to be: a provincial unfamiliar with the rest of the world, but convinced that the United States has a God-given right to run it because of its power. It’s a view summed up in one American’s response to a British journalist’s expose of the bankruptcy of US claims that Saddam Hussein had links with al-Qaeda: “When we want your opinion, we’ll give it to you at the end of a rifle.”

Anecdotal evidence as well as public opinion surveys show how attractive to many Americans the Bush view of the world is (“Of course we’re arrogant: we’re powerful.”) Not only have the academics and media people who opposed war on Iraq reported avalanches of hate mail for their dissent. Numerous surveys even long after September 11, 2001, and including those taken after the attack on Iraq, also report approval ratings of as high as 70 percent for George W. Bush.

These high ratings persist despite a record of governance critics have described as the sorriest in US history–which cost two million jobs in as many years; created a trillion-dollar deficit out of the budget surplus Clinton left in 2000; cut health-care benefits for vast sectors of the population including veterans; brought financial crisis to all 50 states of the Union; and undermined the Bill of Rights, among others.

Bush’s high ratings suggest that approval for the conquest and occupation of foreign countries, and support for the US’ demonstrating its power worldwide, outweigh even concerns over unemployment among most Americans, since it is in the use of force and in coercing other countries that the Bush administration has been most successful.

Those who disagree with this view, however, cite the hundreds of thousands of Americans who protested and demonstrated against the US war on Iraq to prove that Americans do not support US adventurism.

Apparently some don’t, but many do. The most liberal estimate would put the number of those who opposed the attack on Iraq at a million. Let us put it at two million for the sake of argument. Two million would be about one percent of the US population, which leaves 99 percent either in support of it or without any opinion (which amounts to support)–a figure confirmed by some surveys, which found about 80-percent support for war when Bush finally launched it.

The fact is that the US academics, intellectuals, artists and others for whom the rest of the world has only justifiable admiration–and who opposed the war–are in the minority, and a tiny minority at that, whose voices are lost in the wilderness of mass chauvinism over US demonstrations of the superiority of its arms, if not its culture. The vast majority in fact regard them with suspicion and disdain, in keeping with that other US tradition, anti-intellectualism.

What all this suggests is that what the United States is doing has the support, whether passive or aggressive, of most Americans–to the possible extent of Bush’s being reelected in 2004 for a second term. As one observer (American) put it, Bush can “continue to count on the apathy of the American people, their determined ignorance, and their unfailing gullibility” to get himself reelected. Such a people you have to fear as much as their government.


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