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Who Cares?

When I first read this (via HNN), I was going to just let it go.  Why bother with yet another article that demonstrated such appalling lack of understanding of the rest of the world?  After all, life is short, I have other things to do and there is no chance that anything I say here will stop the author in question from producing more of the same.  Yet there is something so wrong with it that I feel compelled to make a few remarks.  To begin, here is Hanson:

Turkey is democratic, a NATO ally, and a recipient of substantial American military aid. Yet it reveals the highest level of anti-Americanism of any country polled — 83 percent express an unfavorable view of the U. S. Perhaps that enmity is due to our support for Kurdistan and the resentments of Ankara’s own Islamist government. In any case, so much for the ballyhooed American efforts to bolster Turkey’s bid to join the E.U. In theory, if we opposed Turkish membership, or suggested that Ankara leave NATO, would our image then improve? Again, something is terribly wrong when four out of five “allied” Turks feel so unfavorably toward the United States.

Apologists, of course, will cite our policies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Israel as catalysts for Middle East hatred. But clearly there is some preexisting venom involved that makes the Muslim Street ignore all the good we have done, and focus only on what is considered bad.


But who really cares to calibrate all the reasons why the Germans hated us when Ronald Reagan deployed Pershing missiles to protect them, or why the Greeks hated us when Madeline Albright tried to stop Balkan genocide, or why the French hated us for ending the once lucrative Baathist regime in Iraq? Instead, at some point Americans should ask themselves how they can continue to be allied militarily with countries whose populations have a more negative view of us than do our supposed rivals in Russia (48 percent unfavorable) and China (57 percent).

Hanson allows the idea that policies in the Near East might be cited as reasons for the appalling collapse in our reputation in these countries only to dismiss this as the claim of “apologists.”  Yet the massive discontent of the Turkish public with the United States can be traced directly to the invasion of Iraq, and to a lesser extent the American acquiescence in the bombing of Lebanon.  The invasion turned the Turks against us so completely that it is difficult to exaggerate the importance of the policy in pushing the population of Turkey into an “anti-American” mood.  Of course, if I am an apologist for Turkey then Hanson is the Pope.

Hanson refers vaguely to the “resentments” of Ankara’s Islamist government–the same government his ideological confreres are so eager to see join the councils of the EU–when the current Turkish government has, for the most part, far fewer reasons to be hostile to Washington than its predecessor, which was the one in power when the war began.  U.S. support for the main Kurdish parties in the KRG is not the main thing that bothers Ankara, but rather the effective protection afforded to the PKK inside Kurdistan.  Erdogan has made a point of improving treatment of the Kurds in his neo-Ottomanist solidarity with fellow Muslims.  The PKK has become a point of contention between the U.S. and the Turkish government, but the outrage of the Turkish public began long before that.  Hanson writes as if he is surprised that U.S. support for a quasi-democratic regime in which the military plays a considerable role does not buy public affection for the United States, yet it is the pattern across the globe that the most pro-American and dependent governments are the ones most out of step with their own populations in their attitudes towards the U.S.

Greek hostility to intervention in the Balkans is not and was not hard to understand.  On the Greek left, there is residual resentment from U.S. support for the Colonels during the ’67-’74 junta, and across the spectrum in Greece there was strong resentment against American vilification of a traditional Greek ally in Serbia.  Historians should be interested in understanding these things, because they involve the application of an understanding of history to the affairs of the present day.  Predictable warmongering pundits are, naturally, not interested.

Familiarity breeds contempt, as the saying goes.  One of the reasons why the populations of allied states view the U.S. government and its policies so negatively is that they have come to expect more from Americans and can remember a time, or at least have read about a time, when Americans were not so incorrigible.  Other populations in allied states live under rather restrictive regimes whose existence we help perpetuate, for good or ill, and so they necessarily have a dim view of us.  Someone who does not “care” to understand this should stop writing about foreign affairs.  If Hanson believes that America’s strategic position would be strengthened by increasing our ties with Ghana and dissolving them with the Turks, he should say so.  Otherwise, it is entirely unclear what the point of his observations is, except that it is a chance for him to whine that millions upon millions of people around the world find the policies that he supports to be hateful and wrong.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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