Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Obama and anti-Americanism

Anti-totalitarian progressives who support Barack Obama have often had to swallow their reservations about aspects of his foreign policy, particularly his unconditional promise to withdraw swiftly from Iraq, so will broadly agree with John Rentoul's hope (and expectation) that he will tack towards a more pragmatic approach as the election nears. Here's the nub of Rentoul's argument for lending critical support to Obama:

I think McCain is right about Iraq - that the surge has been a success, and that eventual troop withdrawal should depend on that success continuing. But I think it is more important, for America and the world, that Obama should be the one who learns the truth of this the hard way.

In office, he would be forced to use his eloquence and his global popularity to make the case for what is left of the coalition to see its responsibilities to the Iraqis through. Many of his supporters, especially outside the US, would see it as a betrayal. I think it would be a necessary one, by which he could at last heal the suspicion of American power that provides so many around the world with easy excuses.

Oliver Kamm endorses Rentoul's conclusions here, as does Shabba Goy here. The latter also links to a fantastic piece by David Aaronovitch on Obama and anti-Americanism. It's not often I say this, but I agree with every single word in Aaronovitch's article and recommend you read the whole thing. I particularly liked this analysis of the roots of British and European anti-Americanism:

In part I think that anti-Americanism is linked to a view of change as decline. The imagination is that dynamic capitalism, associated with the US, is destroying our authentic lives, with our own partly willing connivance. It is a continuing and - at the moment - constant narrative, uniting left and right conservatives, which will usually take in the 19th-century radical journalist William Cobbett (conveniently shorn of his anti-Semitism) and end with an expression of disgust over the Dome, the Olympics or Tesco. Just as bird flu is a disease from out of the east, runaway modernity is a scourge originating to the West.

This is spot on. You can find this pessimism and disgust with western modernity reproduced in the Guardian comment pages every other day (from the assembled Buntings, Milnes, Steeles et al), and in the tired and facile anti-American 'humour' of every other BBC TV or radio comedy programme. And that sense of a loss of 'authenticity' neatly links the anti-Americanism of many on the left with their indulgence of religious fundamentalism - as long as it originates in the more 'authentic' East.


Tom said...

"This is spot on. You can find this pessimism and disgust with western modernity reproduced in the Guardian comment pages every other day"

Christ, is a giant coke and private healthcare really what progress and advancement really boil down to these days?

The whole point in the left is that it believes in fulfilling and equitable development rather than development as its own end, as represented by unregulated markets.

I don't think the left and critics of the American right are anti-progress.

They just accept that progress is desirable only because it has an underlying rationale, which makes it rather useless without.

Consider as one small example the (non)relationship between compartive GDP and happiness...

Martin said...

Thanks for the comment. I think there's a difference between a left critique of aspects of US capitalism and the kind of visceral, irrational hatred of America that identifies it as the source of all that is wrong in the world - it's this that Aaronovitch was writing about, I think - and I think he's right to link it to an anti-modernism which has also infected some parts of the left and made it indulgent towards the real dangers posed by totalitarian fundamentalism elsewhere in the world.