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Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Our Cousins

(Be sure and say "cousins" with the kind of tone that a Scarsdale dweller might use to refer to the unfortunate Ozark hillbilly cousins who have unexpectedly dropped in. If you, like me, are the hillbilly cousin, you'll just have to use your inbreeding-stunted likker-dulled imagination.)

Andrew Sullivan points to this nervous WaPo article on the rising anti-Americanism in Britain.

Oh, no! Are our dear friends the Brits turning against us? Well, maybe not.

For evidence the Post cites, among other things:

1) The Daily Mirror's anti-war effort.
2) The fact that Stupid White Men a bestseller there.
3) An Observer cartoon
4) The "Question Time" program for which the BBC eventually apologized.
5) Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
6) John Le Carre's opinion piece in the Times.
7) Harold Pinter


But there always was an alternative view that the United States had gotten some of what it deserved, that the attacks were payback for decades of ignoring Third World grievances. At a BBC televised panel discussion two days after the attacks, a studio audience fired hostile remarks at former U.S. ambassador to Britain Philip Lader and jeered his responses. "We share your grief, America -- totally," wrote columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, one of the panelists, afterward. "But you must share our concerns."

Novelist John le Carre wrote in an op-ed piece in the Times newspaper that "America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War."

The British left, which has waged a steady campaign against the United States since the days of the nuclear disarmament campaign and the Vietnam War, has also weighed in. Playwright Harold Pinter in a recent speech denounced "American hysteria, ignorance, arrogance, stupidity and belligerence."

Pardon me if I feel almost reassured. If the British have legitimate fears---by which I mean, fears that I can understand and sympathize with, not necessarily fears I share---then there is indeed something to worry about. But if what we're supposed to be worried about are satirical plays; the execrable Mirror (doing badly in the circulation wars, if I recall correctly); Michael Moore; the predictable Observer; a rigged "Question Time" audience that infamously shocked and outraged many who saw it; the petulant, silly, self-pitying Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (who was on that "Question Time" panel, note); John Le Carre's delusional opinion piece; and the ludicrous, hysterical Pinter---well, I'm almost comforted.

Let's have a little more comfort, shall we?

Other British observers insist that what's growing here isn't anti-Americanism, but rather healthy criticism of a superpower gone awry. "Being critical of U.S. policy does not constitute a prejudice," said Godfrey Hodgson, a veteran journalist and author. "A vast majority of the British people are favorable to the United States, but a substantial majority are opposed to George W. Bush."

Much of the outrage is indeed aimed at Bush, whose colloquial speaking style and Texas accent don't go over well here.


"Bush is a gift for anti-American cartoonists," Timothy Garton Ash, director of the European Studies Center at St. Antony's College at Oxford University, said. "If Bill Clinton were still in the White House, I suspect it'd be a very different story."

So, if Bill Clinton were to take the very same actions as Bush has, it would be OK, because he's Clinton and you know he's not a dangerous "cowboy"; whereas Bush is, because he does certain things (which would be OK if Clinton did them, because he's not a cowboy, like Bush). Well, thanks for showing off your greater sophistication there. I feel so humbled.

I'll also take exception to the notion that knee-jerk contrarianism is "healthy", in any context.

So if this is the best the WaPo can muster as evidence of an increasing tide of British anti-Americanism, I believe I shall sleep better. It's possible we may lose our best allies, but it won't be for a good reason; it'll be because they listened to idiots like Alibhai-Brown, Le Carre, Moore, and Pinter.