We Americans are people too -- something our foreign critics ought to remember. Since World War II, U.S. globalism has enjoyed steadfast popular support. In 1945, 71 percent of Americans thought it would be "best . . . if we take an active part in world affairs." In 2002, 71 percent still thought so. But this support is not preordained. It could wither. Creeping isolationism and protectionism are alternatives, whose losers would include (among others) the Germans, Belgians, Chinese and even the French.
They underestimate the dangers of backlash. Americans resent putting their sons and daughters at risk only to earn the contempt of so-called allies. Although the United States doesn't desire empire, its foreign policy does seek to promote world economic and political order. We identify our interests with these broader interests. No other country (or bloc, such as the European Union or the United Nations) can now substitute for what the United States provides:
(1) A Global Police: Though foreigners tend to see the United States as an eager "cowboy," most Americans dislike this role. A recent poll found that 65 percent thought that "the U.S. is playing the role of global policeman more than it should."
(2) A Global Marketplace: No other major country is so open to other countries' exports -- a big prop to their economies. In 2002 a record U.S. trade deficit (in goods) of $484 billion included deficits of $103 billion with China, $82 billion with the European Union, $70 billion with Japan and $13 billion with South Korea. As consumers, Americans benefit from inexpensive imports; but in a weak economy, a rising trade deficit worsens unemployment.
(3) A Global Currency: The dollar remains the main international currency, used in trade and cross-border investment. Foreigners park massive savings in the United States; in 2001, they owned $3.1 trillion of U.S. stocks and bonds, says the International Monetary Fund. In theory, the yen and euro could share the dollar's role. In practice, they don't.
These commitments require confidence in America -- and American confidence. By and large, Americans think the benefits outweigh the costs. Up to a point, we tolerate anti-Americanism. In the Middle East it's virulent. Elsewhere, we know that foreign intellectuals love to cast us as a global bully and corporate imperialist. Still, the latest outburst feels different. In France, 34 percent of adults have an unfavorable view of the United States, reports the Pew Global Attitudes Project. In Germany, it's 35 percent. In South Korea, it's 44 percent.
One lesson is that history doesn't count for much. Americans have assumed that World War II and the Cold War earned us a bedrock goodwill. South Korea would not exist but for the 34,000 Americans who died defending it. In the past century, the United States has rescued Europe at least six times: World War I, 53,000 dead and 204,000 wounded; World War II, 292,000 dead and 671,000 wounded (including the Pacific theater); postwar reconstruction -- the Marshall Plan; the Cold War -- protecting Europe from Soviet tanks; the Persian Gulf War -- protecting Europe from high oil prices; and Bosnia and Kosovo.
But the World War II generation is dead or dying. Except among Eastern Europeans, the Cold War seems to matter little. A generation gap feeds anti-Americanism. A recent poll asked South Koreans whether they liked or disliked the United States. Among those 50 or older, 56 percent expressed pro-U.S. feelings; among those under 30, only 22 percent did.
Along with history, what's also being discarded is enlightened self-interest. Exactly which recent U.S. military intervention would the French, Germans and others retract? The Persian Gulf War? That prevented more Iraqi aggression, stopped Saddam Hussein from becoming a nuclear power and lowered oil prices. Bosnia and Kosovo -- a conflict where the United States intervened reluctantly only to show its commitment to Europe? Afghanistan? It weakened al Qaeda, even if it didn't eliminate terrorism.
America's foreign critics have two replies. First, friendship with the United States cannot require blind obedience to U.S. policies -- or to George W. Bush. Second, we're not anti-American, only antiwar. These arguments deserve some respect. Indeed, millions of Americans share doubts about a war with Iraq. It's not an easy call. But the arguments would be more convincing if they seemed less expedient.
France and Russia insist on U.N. inspections. But in the 1990s, France and Russia weakened the economic sanctions designed to make inspections work. China and Russia urge multilateralism -- but when the United States asks for their help in dealing with North Korea's nuclear threat, it's absent. Germany is entitled to oppose U.S. military action. But Gerhard Schroeder didn't have to resort to anti-Americanism to rescue his faltering election campaign. He and French President Jacques Chirac have not merely disagreed with U.S. policy; they have stoked anti-Americanism.
On examination, many sophisticated objections to American power seem veils for a simplistic resentment of American power. This is not policy; it is peeve. To be fair, it is peeve partly provoked by the Bush administration, whose gunslinger rhetoric has often been needlessly inflammatory. But it is still peeve uninformed by an appreciation of the possible collateral damage.
Already, the anti-French jokes have started. Depending on how the Iraqi crisis ends, the backlash could get worse. Political grievance and economic grievance cannot be kept separate. Europe and Japan do little to support the world economy. Their economies are sluggish; their policies are often cleverly mercantilist. America's military and economic umbrella depends on a minimum of trust. By inciting anti-Americanism, our foreign critics risk the unintended consequences -- self-defeating for all -- of American resentment.