Down the toilet

I’m not sure most Americans are yet aware of the abyss into which the reputation of the United States has fallen under the Bush-Cheney brand. But if you live abroad, you will know that the wanton destruction of America’s soft power has been Katrina-level.

Andrew Sullivan. I guess you would have to include me as part of the phenomenon Andrew Sullivan describes.

Britain and the USA have always been Canada’s natural allies. Pro-US sympathies were never higher than in the wake of 9/11, when many Canadians were flying hybrid flags that combined the Stars And Stripes with the Canadian flag.

Those days are long gone. Now Canadians might claim that under Bush-Cheney, the USA is not far from becoming a rogue state.

Regrettably, it isn’t just Bush-Cheney. It’s perhaps a third of American citizens, who continue to support the Administration despite its deplorable record both domestically and internationally. And it’s a proposed Attorney General, dancing around the question of whether waterboarding is torture. And it’s Republican support for Rudy Giuliani, who is cut out of the same cloth as Cheney, but nonetheless is currently the front-runner for the Republican nomination for 2008.

And this:  52 percent of Americans would support the President if he decided to bomb Iran, according to a recent poll. Has the American public learned nothing from the Iraq experience? Americans still trust this President when he feeds them a steady diet of war rhetoric?! What is the international community supposed to think?

Further confirmation of Sullivan’s point, from Artdaily.org:


      Fernando Botero, Abu Ghraib 64, 2005

Washington, D.C.: The American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center presents Fernando Botero: Abu Ghraib, on view through December 30. Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib series features uncompromising, graphic images by this Colombian painter expressing his outrage at the American-led torture of Iraqi insurgents. The Paris-based Botero, known for his exaggeratedly rotund figures in benign social satires, unveiled these controversial works in Europe in 2005. This will be the first showing of the Abu Ghraib paintings and drawings in a museum in the U.S. The works in this exhibition are quite the departure from Botero’s usual style, but do relate to his previous works portraying drug cartel violence in Colombia. Botero constructed each work after reading official reports of the atrocities and concentrated on the suffering and dignity of the victims rather than their tormentors.

I get the impression that Americans simply don’t care about their international reputation. They will do whatever they think is in their self-interest, and they are powerful enough to ignore the rest of the world.

Is that correct? Or is Sullivan right — most Americans somehow do not understand that their international reputation has gone down the toilet under the current Administration?

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13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Drew
    Nov 08, 2007 @ 11:36:51

    Maybe Americans just stopped going overseas? If you talk to your average Brit it is clear that they just assume that you are a Bush supporter. I have had the conversation many times. And they were surprised when I did not assume that they supported Blair, well…since Blair supported Bush.

    I have not met a bloke from the UK yet who thinks Americans are noble by any stretch.

    You can believe anything you wish if you maintain your own little safe cove of material bliss punctuated by media boredom. But as with Plato’s Cave, people are chained by the comfort of their shadows, and Bush has only reinforced those chains over the years.

    Reply

  2. JewishAtheist
    Nov 08, 2007 @ 12:49:28

    I think that the Bush supporters largely don’t care about what others think. They figure that we are the sole superpower, so what does it matter what some commie Frenchman thinks? However, this is only about 30% of the population, now.

    And this: 52 percent of Americans would support the President if he decided to bomb Iran, according to a recent poll. Has the American public learned nothing from the Iraq experience? Americans still trust this President when he feeds them a steady diet of war rhetoric?! What is the international community supposed to think?

    To be fair, bombing is a lot different from invading. Clinton bombed Iraq in the 90s, for example, and it hardly made a ripple at home or abroad. I’m not saying bombing Iran is necessarily a good idea, but it’s not comparable to invading Iraq.

    Reply

  3. aaron
    Nov 08, 2007 @ 13:56:16

    That 52% figure is so last week. According to a new poll, 63 percent oppose air strikes in Iran, and 73 percent oppose using ground troops.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2007/11/08/iraq-war-opposition-at-re_n_71704.html

    So quit bashing us Americans, when only 37 percent of us are crazy enough to support some sort of attack on Iran. 😉

    Reply

  4. Stephen
    Nov 08, 2007 @ 14:15:25

    Drew:
    Thanks for the comment. That’s quite the barb in your final paragraph!

    Your blog looks interesting. I’ve commented, but with a link to my theology blog (Emerging From Babel.

    JA:
    I take your point about air strikes, but given the instability of the region I still think it would be a very bad idea. Part of the lesson of Iraq was, it’s a mistake to add to the general turmoil in the Middle East.

    Aaron:
    My apologies for using an out of date stat. Only 37 percent, eh? Why am I not reassured?

    Somehow this President is able to leverage that core public support and cow everybody else into giving him a free hand. Look at the various candidates splitting hairs on torture, and carefully parsing what they say about withdrawing from Iraq. Even Obama feels it necessary to talk like a hawk by times.

    I guess what I’m saying is, the USA scares me in a way that it hasn’t since I was a teenager and Reagan seemed to be itching for a nuclear showdown with the USSR. 9/11 isn’t sufficient justification for the current political climate.

    Reply

  5. JewishAtheist
    Nov 08, 2007 @ 16:36:56

    9/11 isn’t sufficient justification for the current political climate.

    That’s for damn sure.

    Reply

  6. Random
    Nov 09, 2007 @ 05:47:25

    “I think that the Bush supporters largely don’t care about what others think. They figure that we are the sole superpower, so what does it matter what some commie Frenchman thinks? However, this is only about 30% of the population, now. ”

    Largely agree with JA here, scarily enough. Though I wouldn’t put too much faith in those numbers – I suspect if you were to strip out any assumptions about political affiliation then the number of Americans who would support the proposition that the USA should not allow international public opinion to prevent the USA from acting in it’s own best interests would be rather higher than 30%.

    And frankly, anti-Americanism in the wider world has got little to do with Bush/Cheney. “America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization.” Was said by George Clemenceau (a Frenchman, if not a Commie) in the 1920’s after all, before George Bush was even born. The worst that can be said about about Bush/Cheney is that whereas 9/11 briefly embarassed most (but not all) reflex anti-Americans into silence, protesting against them gave these people a respectable excuse to return to their prejudices. If the administration had not provided them with an excuse however then they would have found another one.

    Such prejudice isn’t rational and it will not be mitigated by the US government playing nice, it’s an inevitable reaction of hatred and envy towards whoever is top dog at the moment. Britain after all wasn’t very popular during much of the 19th century, and we received much the same accusations of high-handedness and failure to respect other people’s sovereignty when we were using the Royal Navy to smash the slave trade as the Bush admistration is getting now for attempting to use the US military to smash international terrorism. Such bigotry and hatred will only go away when the USA ceases to be top dog, and I for one at least don’t blame the US government for not thinking that that is a fair trade.

    As an example of what I mean, and I’m taking a wild guess here, but I strongly suspect that none of Mr Botero’s Abu Ghraib series portray what was happening there when Saddam’s secret police was running the place. No, his outrage is confined to what happened there when a handful of rogue American guards got out of control before they were caught and punished. But then Saddam wasn’t an American so his crimes aren’t important, apparently. Speaking personally, I have little time for such selective outrage.

    “I guess what I’m saying is, the USA scares me in a way that it hasn’t since I was a teenager and Reagan seemed to be itching for a nuclear showdown with the USSR.”

    In case you haven’t noticed, Reagan was right on that one and you were wrong. If you had had your way instead of Reagan, then the USSR would probably still be in existence today and maintaining garrisons and puppet police states across the whole of eastern Europe. Instead, the military threat to western Europe has gone and the eastern European countries are now independent democracies most of whom have now joined NATO and the EU. Sometimes you just have to be prepared to face down the bad guys.

    Stephen, a blunt question – what do you regard as the greater evil, American military action to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons, or Iran getting nuclear weapons? and please don’t claim that’s a false dichotomy, as all the evidence so far indicates that we are not far off the point when those will be the only choices available to us, and it will not be American intransigence that brings us to that point.

    Reply

  7. Stephen
    Nov 09, 2007 @ 11:53:08

    Hi, Random:
    Thanks for coming in to make a case for the other point of view.

    Anti-Americanism in the wider world has got little to do with Bush/Cheney. … It’s an inevitable reaction of hatred and envy towards whoever is top dog at the moment.

    You certainly have a point. Anti-Americanism has been around for a long time. We had politicians in Canada saying stupid, anti-American things before the Iraq war.

    But the reaction to Bush-Cheney, the Iraq war, and the torture of suspected terrorists (many of them innocent) — I wouldn’t even describe that as anti-Americanism.

    The USA has broken with values that have been core in Western politics for a very long time. Is it anti-American to think that Bush-Cheney have overreacted wildly to 9/11, to the point that they have forgotten what it means to be American?

    I strongly suspect that none of Mr Botero’s Abu Ghraib series portray what was happening there when Saddam’s secret police was running the place.

    No doubt you’re right, but the argument is a red herring. We don’t expect any better of Saddam Hussein, or any autocrats in other parts of the world. Saddam wasn’t popular even in the Muslim world. No one ever confused him for a good guy.

    But Bush claims the moral high ground in a battle that pits the implicitly good USA against the “axis of evil” elsewhere in the world. So it isn’t a double standard to say, Wait a minute … aren’t you supposed to represent a higher set of values than those of Saddam?

    I should perhaps clarify the point of the image, though. It’s there to make the point that the USA’s reputation plummeted because of Abu Ghraib. Yet Americans are still debating whether waterboarding is torture, or whether it is permissible to inflict intense mental pain and suffering as long as no physical damage is done.

    (Maybe waterboarding is “something of which every American should be proud“; maybe America doesn’t waterboard enough!)

    If that’s where public discourse is at, America shouldn’t expect their international reputation to recover from Abu Ghraib any time soon. And it isn’t a matter of knee-jerk anti-Americanism.

    In case you haven’t noticed, Reagan was right on that one and you were wrong.

    These are high-stakes gambles. As I understand it, Reagan managed to spend the USSR into bankruptcy. But it could have played out differently and led to a nuclear holocaust.

    Meanwhile, many of the nukes that the USSR created during that era are still out there, perhaps being sold to terrorists on the black market. So Reagan’s victory may yet turn out to be Pyrrhic. For all of our sakes, I hope you’re right and his gamble paid off.

    Stephen, a blunt question – what do you regard as the greater evil, American military action to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons, or Iran getting nuclear weapons?

    I think it’s inevitable that countries led by lunatics are going to get hold of nuclear weapons. Particularly oil-rich countries, who have the money to get whatever they want, one way or another, sooner or later.

    Obviously I would prefer that Iran not have nuclear weapons. But by taking Saddam out, Bush-Cheney tilted the balance of power in the Middle East decisively in Iran’s favour. In other words, they created the conditions for this problem to arise. So don’t ask me to voice approval when they start up the PR machine again, generating the public will to commit more violence in another Middle Eastern country in the name of America’s security.

    One mistake (invading Iraq, thereby emboldening Iran) leads inexorably to another mistake (bombing Iran). After Bush-Cheney bomb Iran and create a whole new set of problems, what mistake will they be justifying next?

    Violence always begets violence. Violence doesn’t beget security, unless you’re willing to go the whole way with Saddam and turn the USA into a police state. And even that couldn’t create international security.

    Reply

  8. aaron
    Nov 09, 2007 @ 12:31:36

    Stephen:
    You leave out one of the most incriminating facts about Bush foreign policy with respect to Iran. Iran was willing to negotiate their nuclear ambitions away before the U.S. invaded Iraq. http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?articleId=11539

    It may not be a false dichotomy, but the choice may have to be made because the Bush Administration rejected other possibilities that would have precluded the need for such a choice.

    Also, the Reagan out-spending the U.S.S.R., thereby leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union, is generally considered myth at this point.

    Reply

  9. 49erDweet
    Nov 09, 2007 @ 21:49:48

    Thanks to Random for posting so eloquent a reply. From my perspective as an ‘ancient-of-days’ anti-Amercanism was around even before WWII, so what I am hearing and seeing first hand on the net and during my UK travels is not only not new, but not even as intense or loud as during the pre-Korean war period. Nor is it ‘universally’ held across the board by an overwhelming number on non-westerners.

    Stephen reflects [quite well] his liberal pov, and liberals around the world share it. Including the MSM [even though most liberals don’t agree the MSM is in and of itself quite “liberal”]. That being said, many I meet from other countries encourage me to continue to support a “tougher, stronger America” because they freely admit they can’t trust their own government to provide an over-arcing shield for freedom and liberty. Shame, that.

    JA’s first sentence is correct. His second, an assumption of the state of mind of Americans, reveals his own bias but not the true reason most US voters ignore the rest of the world’s plinking from the sidelines when they vote for national candidates. The “plinkers” don’t share the same level of responsibility for the results of their elections.

    Case in point. The UK is s-o-o ‘feel good’ liberal that they forced the formerly rugged Brit Army to adopt the infamous “softly-softly” tactic in their dealings with insurgents in Basra. For three years the world heard through the MSN how wonderful the Brits were doing and how bad the Yanks looked in comparison. Now, as the Brit presence winds down the world has suddenly discovered that “softy-softly” allowed the Brits to be completely defeated in Basra, and forced to ignomy to evacuate the city for the relative safety of their fortified compound. The only “security” that works in Basra is now either controlled by insurgents or provided by private companies. And we know how bad private companies are, don’t we?

    Back to the main issue. The world is fully entitled to express whatever opinion they hold. Americans are likewise entitled to ignore those opinions when logic holds those opinions to be short-sighted and picayune.

    What’s important is that we maintain the dialog, not that we suddenly draw into a universal circle of “consensus”. When liberals are right, they are right [excuse the pun]. When they are wrong, responsible persons should pay them no mind.

    IMHO liberals were right to rue the excesses of Abu Ghraib, but wrong to think it somehow “typical” of the hated Yanks. Liberals are right to be against universal “torture”, but wrong to equate discomfort and unpleasantness as being the same thing. In these things their bias shows.

    At any rate, Stephen, cheers!

    Reply

  10. Stephen
    Nov 09, 2007 @ 22:17:22

    49er:
    First, I love the fact that I’m in dialogue with someone who uses the word “picayune”!

    Second: I was following your argument without any strong disagreement right up until your last paragraph.

    We are not discussing “discomfort and unpleasantness.” We are talking about waterboarding, which is a euphemism for partially drowning someone (pouring water over their face in such quantities that they can’t breathe without taking water into their lungs), then “rescuing” them, and then subjecting them to it all over again as the interrogation continues. We are talking about people who have been made to sit on the hot tailpipes of automobiles so that their legs are terribly burned. About people who are told to talk or their family members will be tortured by governments of undemocratic countries. About people who have been subjected to hypothermia, with their body temperature monitored by a rectal thermometer in order to cheat death; who are then warmed up and subjected to hypothermia all over again. About people who are utterly destroyed by the effects of torture so that they exhibit unmistakable signs of Stockholm Syndrome.

    We’re talking about practices that were used by Stalin and the Khmer Rouge, and the Nazis. About practices which clearly violate the Geneva Conventions and which clearly violate American law. About practices that World War II interrogators have spoken out against, saying they would never have done such things to the captives that they interrogated. About practices that John McCain, who knows first-hand what torture is, has denounced as — surprise, surprise — torture, notwithstanding the fact that McCain is a Republican and no dove.

    For any American to be claiming, at this stage of the game, that it isn’t clear whether such practices constitute torture is nothing less than willful blindness. Don’t tell me that it is a matter of liberal bias. Quite the reverse: anyone who thinks Abu Ghraib was atypical, or who describes “enhanced interrogation” as nothing more than discomfort and unpleasantness — such a person is captive to neoconservative bias.

    My apologies for being so pointed in my criticism. But you are illustrating the point that I was making in my post: that too many Americans, who are without excuse at this late date, still refuse to recognize that they are on an inexcusable path; who ought to be demanding that their government change course, but are still failing to do so.

    The international community is fully justified in its negative attitude toward the current President and the many Americans who still support him.

    Reply

  11. Jack
    Nov 10, 2007 @ 18:04:26

    I don’t lose any sleep over anti-American sentiment, not one momen. That doesn’t mean that I do not find valid points or that I think the U.S. is above crticism.

    Frankly Europe has an abyssmal record on so many issues. The Crusades, Inquisition, colonialism, slavery, two world wars etc. The Europeans did a fine job of sowing exceptional discontent around the world. It is easy to see how they created the conditions for the turmoil in the middle east.

    Africa continues to burn and the world shrugs its shoulders.

    In short I can go around country by country and point out gross violations of human rights and all sorts of issues.

    It feels an awful lot like the pot calling the kettle black.

    Reply

  12. Random
    Nov 13, 2007 @ 18:15:41

    Stephen, thanks:-) Apologies for the slightly late response, I’ve been off-line for a few days…

    “Is it anti-American to think that Bush-Cheney have overreacted wildly to 9/11, to the point that they have forgotten what it means to be American?”

    It might be worthwhile here to step back and remember just what happened on 9/11. Almost 3,000 people were killed in an utterly unprovoked attack (you can usually tell when reasoned criticism of US policy passes over into bigoted anti-Americanism when people start to discern provocations for the attack) which came literally out of the clear blue sky. I haven’t done the research, but I strongly suspect this is the largest number of Americans to be killed in hostile action in a single day since WW2. What would an appropriate reaction be? By comparison, almost as many people were killed at Pearl Harbor – do you think Roosevelt overreacted too? Whether the US reacted appropriately is a different question of course – I personally think they should have finished off Afghanistan before turning on Iraq, and also that once the decision to go to Iraq had been made then Rumsfeld should have been fired as soon as it emerged there was no plan for the occupation or at the very latest after Abu Ghraib. I will not however shed too many tears over the fate of a monster like Saddam.

    “We don’t expect any better of Saddam Hussein, or any autocrats in other parts of the world. Saddam wasn’t popular even in the Muslim world. No one ever confused him for a good guy.”

    This sounds very close to the soft racism of low expectations to me – “what else do you expect from people like that?” – which I’m sure isn’t your intention. Sad to say though I certainly got the impression Saddam was popular in the Arab world (if not with it’s elites, who were terrified of him) – certainly while he was firing scuds at Tel Aviv and paying bounties to the families of suicide bombers.

    “So it isn’t a double standard to say, Wait a minute … aren’t you supposed to represent a higher set of values than those of Saddam?”

    Quite so. And what Mr Botero – and too many on the liberal left with him – is ignoring is that the atrocities he is so angry about were committed by a handful of out of control individuals who were caught and punished and the atrocities he is not particularly concerned about were carried out by agents of the state acting with the knowledge and full approval of the authorities. Stating that these circumstances are in any way equivalent – or by implication giving the impression you believe the first are actually worse – is absurd.

    “It’s there to make the point that the USA’s reputation plummeted because of Abu Ghraib.”

    And the fact that the people who did it were acting on their own, and were caught and punished is irrelevant to the debate? I am honestly shocked at just how irrelevant this fact appears to be to many anti-war activists.

    “Yet Americans are still debating whether waterboarding is torture, or whether it is permissible to inflict intense mental pain and suffering as long as no physical damage is done.”

    First of all, there’s absolutely no question that torture is wrong. A lot of the sound and fury here is over the debate over where the line between legitimate interrogation techniques and torture is crossed. Administration critics are obviously placing it at a much lower level than the administration itself, but that doesn’t mean the former are right and the latter are wrong – Andrew Sullivan once described wrapping an Islamic fundamentalist in an Israeli flag as torture for example (“intense mental pain” one assumes – though he did row back from this when he realised just how idiotic it made him sound). I trust we can all agree this is a ridiculous extreme. As for waterboarding though – that’s pretty damn close to the line, though having read the first link you gave (the “should be proud” one) I can’t help but wonder whether holding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s head under water for 90 seconds was worth getting those six men into custody. I guess I’m just glad I’m not the one who has to make that call, though I am glad that we live in countries were this sort of thing happens rarely and can be debated openly instead of the sort of places where it goes on all the time and we have to stay silent about it. What was it Orwell said about cultured men being able to sleep peacefully in the beds because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf?

    “Meanwhile, many of the nukes that the USSR created during that era are still out there, perhaps being sold to terrorists on the black market.”

    Okay, I’m going to take a punt on this and hope it doesn’t blow up in my face (pun sadly intended:-)). I’m almost certain that if any had made it into terrorist hands in a useable condition they would have been used by now. Using these things is not a straightforward thing to do (for fairly obvious reasons they come with a lot of failsafes), and without regular maintenance they become useless pretty quickly, and both cracking the failsafes and maintaining the bombs are the sort of jobs beyond the skill of the sort of people who can be pursuaded to strap dynamite to their chests and detonate it. Also, I think it’s probably true that the window of opportunity for acquiring any will have pretty much closed by now – Putin’s emerging KGBocracy has little to recommend it, but one of the few benefits will be that these sort of things will once again be under firm central control.

    “So Reagan’s victory may yet turn out to be Pyrrhic. For all of our sakes, I hope you’re right and his gamble paid off.”

    It already has. If nothing else, more than a dozen countries representing up to 200 million people are now independent democracies instead of Soviet satellites. That is the biggest gain for human freedom since the end of the Second World War, and will still be true even if Al Qaeda has got it’s hands on a clapped-out Russian suitcase nuke that they are still working out what to do with. And frankly too, whereas I understand that as a Canadian you can afford to be relaxed about such things, as a Brit I am profoundly glad that the First Guards Tank Army is no longer only 24 hours drive from the English Channel. I grew up in that world, I would still rather live in this one.

    “Obviously I would prefer that Iran not have nuclear weapons. But by taking Saddam out, Bush-Cheney tilted the balance of power in the Middle East decisively in Iran’s favour.”

    Actually, I agree with you on this, as I think I’ve indicated I’m not an unreserved fan of the Iraq conflict as it has developed. And the fact remains we are in the world we are in, not the world we would wish to be in. So the question remains – given that we cannot change our starting parameters, is Iran getting a nuclear weapon a greater evil than the Americans (or Israelis) bombing them to stop them getting it?

    “Violence always begets violence. Violence doesn’t beget security, unless you’re willing to go the whole way with Saddam and turn the USA into a police state.”

    Oh, nonsense. How many wars have we fought with Germany or Japan since 1945, for example? and I wasn’t aware that that peace was bought by turning the US or anybody else into a police state. It isn’t conflict that creates more conflict, it’s what you do in the aftermath that may or may not create the conditions for further conflict.

    Reply

  13. Stephen
    Nov 13, 2007 @ 20:44:55

    Thanks for the thoughtful response, Random. I’m content to give you the last word, mostly. The one paragraph I must briefly comment on is this one:

    The fact that the people who did it [i.e., committed torture at Abu Ghraib] were acting on their own, and were caught and punished is irrelevant to the debate? I am honestly shocked at just how irrelevant this fact appears to be to many anti-war activists.

    It’s irrelevant because it’s not true. And it’s a strange thing to assert, given that you subsequently defend waterboarding. If you acknowledge that waterboarding is US policy, what makes you think that the Abu Ghraib folks were out there in some never-never land of their own making? The word came down from above, Random: It’s OK to do whatever you want to these captives; they are not worthy of the protection of law.

    There is more that I could say (e.g. about whether the response to 9/11 was proportionate) — but I’ll let it pass.

    Reply

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