The brilliant scholar Fouad Ajami has an illuminating article in Foreign Policy on how anti-Americanism had taken root long before the Iraq controversy. Ajami does an excellent job of showing how anti-Americanism had taken root based on old and traditional feelings, as well as how anti-Americanism is an ideology that has little relevance to the world situation. He notes that even the rabidly anti-American al-Jazeera TV network is at best an Arab homage to the American CNN with its Western-influenced anchors railing against Western culture. Ajami notes that even in Western Europe anti-Americanism was ubiquitous long before the Presidency of George W. Bush:
To maintain France’s sympathy, and that of Le Monde, the United States would have had to turn the other cheek to the murderers of al Qaeda, spare the Taliban, and engage the Muslim world in some high civilizational dialogue. But who needs high approval ratings in Marseille? Envy of U.S. power, and of the United States’ universalism, is the ruling passion of French intellectual life. It is not "mostly Bush" that turned France against the United States. The former Socialist foreign minister, Hubert Védrine, was given to the same anti-Americanism that moves his successor, the bombastic and vain Dominique de Villepin. It was Védrine, it should be recalled, who in the late 1990s had dubbed the United States a "hyperpower." He had done so before the war on terrorism, before the war on Iraq. He had done it against the background of an international order more concerned with economics and markets than with military power. In contrast to his successor, Védrine at least had the honesty to acknowledge that there was nothing unusual about the way the United States wielded its power abroad, or about France’s response to that primacy. France, too, he observed, might have been equally overbearing if it possessed the United States’ weight and assets.
His successor gave France’s resentment highly moral claims. Villepin appeared evasive, at one point, on whether he wished to see a U.S. or an Iraqi victory in the standoff between Saddam Hussein’s regime and the United States. Anti-Americanism indulges France’s fantasy of past greatness and splendor and gives France’s unwanted Muslim children a claim on the political life of a country that knows not what to do with them.
Indeed, worldwide, anti-Americanism is the result of massive cultural dissonance on a cultural scale. Anti-Americanism is an escape valve for systems that are facing the full onslaught of modernity and US military and economic power. In the cases of both Jacques Chirac and Gerhardt Schroeder, they were deeply unpopular and facing economic crisis when they seized upon anti-American sentiment as a way of maintaining their grip on power. In both cases, the ploy worked. Schroeder won his re-election against Edmund Stoiber mainly by effectively using anti-American sentiment to cover for his inept leadership on the German economy. Chirac used anti-Americanism to deflect criticism of his handling of the French economy and his own negative public image.
The same factors help explain the massive rise of anti-Americanism throughout the Muslim world. It is becoming increasingly evident that the Arab world simply cannot adaquitely cope with modernity. Arab governments have essentially retreated into a fantasy world in which the Great Satans of Israel and the United States are responsible for the failures of Arab governments to provide for their people. The message is that if you’re one of the nearly 30% of Saudis who are jobless, it isn’t that the Saudi government is a corrupt and inept kleptocracy, it is that Israel and America are responsible for your plight. It is an idea that keeps the governments from toppling despite the fact that the Arab world tends to both loathe and deeply desire the American way of life and values such as democracy and personal liberty.
Ajami comes to this conclusion:
The United States need not worry about hearts and minds in foreign lands. If Germans wish to use anti-Americanism to absolve themselves and their parents of the great crimes of World War II, they will do it regardless of what the United States says and does. If Muslims truly believe that their long winter of decline is the fault of the United States, no campaign of public diplomacy shall deliver them from that incoherence. In the age of Pax Americana, it is written, fated, or maktoob (as the Arabs would say) that the plotters and preachers shall rail against the United States— in whole sentences of good American slang.
Indeed, Ajami is correct here. Anti-Americanism is taken as gospel from the largely uneducated and illiterate Arab street to even many educated and worldly Western European elites. However, in the end it is little more than artiface – an artiface that will come crashing down sooner or later. At this stage in the world, the United States is simply too powerful not to be dealt with. American culture is too prevalent from Paris to Riyadh to be simply swept aside. American culture is itself a creole of hundreds of different cultures, and it is perhaps unsurprising that such an adaptive way of life would inevitably find a toe-hold across the globe. In the end, no amount of fatwas or condemnation from L’academie can match the kind of massive cultural power of Pepsi, McDonalds, and Sex in the City. For better or for worse, the battle of cultures was won long ago, and the United States turned out the winner.