Thursday, June 17, 2004

"It Is Worst of All to Be Hated" 

From Salon, the text of a speech by NYU School of Law Professor Stephen Holmes, presented in May to an audience of several hundred intelligence analysts from various agencies. Holmes examines the changing nature of anti-Americanism, and suggests that, in the Middle East, the Bush cocktail of belligerence and ineptitude may have tainted the very concept of "democracy" in much the same way that Russia's descent into chaos tarnished the notion of "reform." Why the disconnect between America and the rest of the world -- even our ostensible allies? "American and European television viewers have seen two different wars, making rational transatlantic discussion of the subject almost impossible. Unlike Americans, moreover, Europeans are acutely aware of the discrepancy in news coverage. They attribute it to what they see as America's post-9/11 autism, a screening out of information that clashes with a set of fixed ideas":
What we face here is not merely skepticism but also burning rage, a passionate antipathy that, although far from uniform, does seem ubiquitous. Even now, however, America's critics continue to distinguish between the U.S. administration, which they fear and despise, and the American people, with whom they feel sympathy.

But the pictures from Abu Ghraib prison may have finally changed that. If the American electorate, knowing what it knows and, above all, having seen what it has seen, proceeds to reelect George W. Bush in November, the moderating distinction between the American administration and the American people will be eroded or perhaps erased -- with what violent consequences no one can predict.

Before discussing the concrete repercussions of anti-Americanism in Europe and the Middle East, I want to pause briefly to say a word about a famous phrase of Machiavelli's, frequently cited by neoconservatives in the run-up to the Iraq war, that "it is better to be feared than loved." This quotation is interesting mostly for what it omits. For Machiavelli quickly went on to add: "It is worst of all to be hated." People who fear us, for the most part, will dare not harm us. But fear, according to Machiavelli, works too slowly on the human spirit to obstruct the effects of the searing hatred that drives men immediately and impulsively to furious action. The administration is wrong, therefore, to believe that it can easily scare people into abandoning their plots to injure Americans. U.S. shows of force invariably provoke rage; and this rage, in turn, often overrides the trepidation that our military superiority instills.

Machiavelli might well have added that "worst of all is to be hated without being feared" -- the unenviable position into which the U.S. has recklessly cast itself, with what consequences, I believe, no one can tell. Reduced fear of the U.S., in fact, may be one of the most paradoxical outcomes of the war in Iraq. By exposing, in such an eye-catching fashion, the limits of U.S. military power, the administration has unintentionally reduced anxiety in Syria and Iran. What countries will now fear an American invasion? Who will henceforth believe our bluffs?

| | Technorati Links | to Del.icio.us