America - The anti-American century
The image - The US has long been disliked, but George W Bush made it personal
I still think about the note that came through our letter box in London after hijacked planes flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It was from a neighbour: "I can see the lights on in your house, but I don't want to disturb you - we are all shocked, more shocked than I can express, at today's events, and I want to say that we are thinking of you and of any friends and family you have in New York. Be assured you are surrounded by friends here."
Like most of our friends in London, the author of that note is bitterly disappointed by the way the United States has behaved since 9/11. But we are still friends. I am often asked - by people in both the US and Britain - whether I have been a "victim" of anti-Americanism. It is certainly easy in London to find Americans who feel besieged or worse, who have stories of being dissed in a pub or sneered at on the Tube. But, no, I haven't felt the sting of it myself, nor has my family.
I'm not surprised by this. I grew up in the Dominican Republic, worked in Central America and spent the better part of a year travelling through South America. These are places that have ample reason to bear a grudge against the US. During the two decades following the Second World War, Washington mounted more than 160 armed interventions around the world, most of them in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Mexico, where I lived in the late 1980s, the people have a saying: "Poor Mexico. So far from God. So close to the United States." But people in these countries (which on the whole were more opposed to the invasion of Iraq than Britons were) have no difficulty differentiating between Americans and the government of the day in Washington; they have had to make the same distinctions between themselves and their own, often ignoble governments.
Yet there is something particularly nasty about the anti-Americanism abroad in the world today. For one thing, it has been building since the end of the cold war, when the US was left standing as the world's only superpower. Nobody is outside the grasp of America's military might; the US spends as much on defence as the rest of the world put together. Nobody is outside the grasp of America's economic power; with 4 per cent of the world's population, the US represents a quarter of the world's economy. Nobody can escape America's impact on the environment; the US produces 25 per cent of the world's carbon-dioxide emissions.
Anti-Americanism was a powerful force well before Iraq. What anti-Americanism lacked was a poster child. Then along came George W Bush. Perfect. I know of only one joke Tony Blair ever told about Bush, and it was inspired by Bush's disdain for the world outside the US. In November 2000, with the US presidential election results still unresolved, Blair ran into some visiting Americans in the corridors of No 10. Who's going to win, the PM wanted to know. Bush, the Americans agreed. There was some small talk about Bush, including his less-than-consuming interest in Europe. "Well," Blair said wryly, "they'll love him in Britain."
Within a year, everybody had lost their sense of humour about Bush, and anti-Americanism had its poster child. For a moment after 9/11, Bush had a choice. He could reach out to the rest of the world, which was momentarily softened to America's plight: "Nous sommes tous Americains". Or he could turn Americans inward. You're either with us or against us.
Bush made it personal. He sidelined the State Department so that US policy seemed to rest in the hands of a small coterie. Who spoke for America? Not the secretary of state, Colin Powell. Senior US diplomats across Europe fell into silence. The British Prime Minister, flitting from one capital to another in his BA charter (plastic utensils having taken the place of terrorist-friendly stainless steel flatware), was carrying more of Washington's diplomatic weight than Powell. The most frequent flyer to London was Richard Perle, then chairman of the defence policy board, who was not even a member of the US government.
This is how anti-Americanism got its personal edge. Would a John Kerry victory make any difference? It could depersonalise anti-Americanism once again. But it would be wrong to think that anti- Americanism would lose its force. Indeed, more than three years after 9/11, you begin to wonder if nous sommes tous anti-Americains. Anti-Americanism is gathering power like a hurricane, which many will see as a welcome balance of power in turbulent times, but which in itself will create greater turbulence. If the 20th century was the American century, the struggle between America and anti-Americanism will help to shape the 21st.
Stryker McGuire, Newsweek's London bureau chief, has lived here since 1996