2008: Welcome to the Post-American world
For the past few years, America has been alienated from the world. We have all read the yearly polls with the same damning numbers. But on one issue, the United States and the world agree: majorities everywhere expect things to improve markedly after George W. Bush. Whether it's in Europe or Asia, the refrain from politicians, businessmen and intellectuals is the same. "We don't hate America," one of them told me recently. "We hate Bush. When he's gone, it will be a new day." But will it? The question will be put to the test in a year, when a new president enters the White House.
There's little doubt that the style and substance of US foreign policy over the past seven years has provoked enormous international opposition. What is less clear is that the style and substance were unique products of the Bush administration. Some part of the global response was surely the product of longstanding unease with US dominance. After all, France's foreign minister coined the term "hyperpuissance" to describe America under Bill Clinton, not George W. Bush.
Then came 9/11. Ever since the attacks, the United States has felt threatened and under siege and determined to carve out maximum room to manoeuvre. But where Americans have seen defensive behaviour, the rest of the world has looked on and seen the most powerful nation in human history acting like a caged animal, lashing out at any and every constraint on its actions.
At the heart of this behaviour is fear. Americans have become scared of the new world that is emerging around them. As long as this atmosphere of fear envelops US politics, it will surely produce very similar results abroad. Washington's real task, therefore, is to combat such unthinking emotion.
Yet the opposite is happening. Republicans are falling over each other to paint an atmosphere of threat that requires strong, even brutish action to protect the American people. Democrats, while far less guilty of fearmongering, have been afraid to combat this hysteria.
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