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Column: Obama Must Confront Deep-seated Anti-Americanism

This story was written by Richard Wood, The Daily Gamecock


One of the most persistent criticisms of George W. Bush throughout his term in office was that he alienated the United States from the rest of the world. He was arrogant, "unilateral" and scornful of the desires of the world community. Right or wrong on the issues, he weakened our position by damaging our credibility, so the story goes.

All of these criticisms have merit. But the argument's power was greatly increased by pairing it with a distortion: that before President Bush, America was loved. That somehow he alone has ruined a stainless reputation. That our disagreements with other nations will cease when we elect a president they are more inclined to like.

In this picture, Barack Obama is the perfect antidote to Bush. He is undoubtedly popular in many places around the world, as pictures of celebrations on the streets of world capitals after his election prove.

But anti-Americanism wasn't the sole creation of the Bush presidency. It existed before, and will exist after. French resentment of American power goes back to the post-World War II period and Charles de Gaulle. Muslim resentment goes back to Israel's creation. Poorer countries that think they are abused by the world resent rich countries categorically, but single outthe United States.

Bush may have exacerbated problems of America's image abroad, but he didn't create them. On the world stage, Obama has his work cut out for him, like all presidents.

On particularly contentious issues like Israel, deferring to world opinion will damage his reputation with American voters and be politically impossible. On issues like free trade, he can only hope to please some countries at the expense of others.

None of this would be a problem if Obama's supporters here and fans abroad didn't seem convinced that his presidency will bring an end to all arguments.

In a speech in July, Obama described how in the aftermath of 9/11 "old allies, new friends and even long-time adversaries stood by our side," and Bush had subsequently squandered this good will. It is deeply cynical to believe that America is strongest when pitied and unrealistic to think that when disagreements are put aside in a time of sympathy that they are forgotten forever.

Similarly, if Obama believes that the afterglow of his election will allow him to work America's will abroad without obstacle, he is mistaken. If, on the other hand, he maintains his popularity with deft diplomacy, he may accomplish great things. This requires him to firmly understand that disagreements with foreign countries run deeper than dislike of President Bush and that he can't please everyone all the time.

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