03 April 2009

Obama vs. "anti-Americanism."

The President held a "town hall" meeting in France and attempted a measured tone, admitting American flaws while noting those of Europe.

In America, there's a failure to appreciate Europe's leading role in the world. Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive. But in Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious. Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans choose to blame America for much of what's bad.

There is a regrettable continuity with past regimes in these comments. Obama seems to share many Americans' zero-sum calculation of the proper attitude foreigners should have toward our country. If foreigners criticize the U.S., we accuse them of ignoring all the good we so often do. The implicit corollary seems to be that a proper recognition of "the good that America so often does" would compel foreigners to repress a tendency to "blame America for much of what's bad." But if a European habit of blaming America first, so to speak, blinds them to a history of U.S. benevolence, the opposite happens here, where too many people presume that, so long as we often do good in the world, we can't be to blame for anything that's bad. That doesn't follow. Robber barons and gangsters are often philanthropists outside their normal field of activity, whether as a matter of public relations or clearing the conscience -- or just as a result of a blind giant clumsiness that thinks itself benevolent without seeing the consequences of all its actions. If the President can't think of anything to criticize his own people for apart from arrogance or derisive dismissiveness, than his attitude is little better than his despised predecessor, no matter how much more glamorous he seems in media eyes.

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