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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Peter Katzenstein and Robert Keohane

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Peter Katzenstein and Robert Keohane

Last Build Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2006 00:04:18 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007


Fri, 20 Oct 2006 00:04:18 -0600

With several colleagues we recently completed a book, Anti-Americanisms in World Politics,[1] exploring these issues, and in this short article we discuss four of its themes. First, we distinguish between anti-Americanisms that are rooted in opinion or bias. Second, as our book's title suggests, there are many varieties of anti-Americanism. The beginning of wisdom is to recognize that what is called anti-Americanism varies, depending on who is reacting to America. In our book, we describe several different types of anti-Americanism and indicate where each type is concentrated. The variety of anti-Americanism helps us to see, third, the futility of grand explanations for anti-Americanism. It is accounted for better as the result of particular sets of forces. Finally, the persistence of anti-Americanism, as well as the great variety of forms that it takes, reflects what we call the polyvalence of a complex and kaleidoscopic American society in which observers can find whatever they don't like -- from Protestantism to porn. The complexity of anti-Americanism reflects the polyvalence of America itself. Opinion and bias Basic to our argument is a distinction between opinion and bias. Some expressions of unfavorable attitudes merely reflect opinion: unfavorable judgments about the United States or its policies. Others, however, reflect bias: a predisposition to believe negative reports about the United States and to discount positive ones. Bias implies a distortion of information processing, while adverse opinion is consistent with maintaining openness to new information that will change one's views. The long-term consequences of bias for American foreign policy are much greater than the consequences of opinion. The distinction between opinion and bias has implications for policy, and particularly for the debate between left and right on its significance. Indeed, our findings suggest that the positions on anti-Americanism of both left and right are internally inconsistent. Broadly speaking, the American left focuses on opinion rather than bias -- opposition, in the left's view largely justified, to American foreign policy. The left also frequently suggests that anti-Americanism poses a serious long-term problem for U.S. diplomacy. Yet insofar as anti-Americanism reflects ephemeral opinion, why should it have long-lasting effects? Policy changes would remove the basis for criticism and solve the problem. Conversely, the American right argues that anti-Americanism reflects a deep bias against the United States: People who hate freedom hate us for what we are. Yet the right also tends to argue that anti-Americanism can be ignored: If the United States follows effective policies, views will follow. But the essence of bias is the rejection of information inconsistent with one's prior view: Biased people do not change their views in response to new information. Hence, if bias is the problem, it poses a major long-term problem for the United States. Both left and right need to rethink their positions. The view we take in the volume is that much of what is called anti-Americanism, especially outside of the Middle East, indeed is largely opinion. As such, it is volatile and would diminish in response to different policies, as it has in the past. The left is correct on this score, while the right overestimates resentment toward American power and hatred of American values. If the right were correct, anti-Americanism would have been high at the beginning of the new millennium. To the contrary, 2002 Pew polls show that outside the Middle East and Argentina, pluralities in every country polled were favorably disposed toward the United States. Yet with respect to the consequences of anti-American views, the right seems to be on stronger ground. It is difficult to identify big problems for American foreign policy created by anti-Americanism as such, as opposed to American policy. This should perhaps not be surprising, since prior to the Iraq war public opinion toward the United States was largely favorable. The right is therefore broadl[...]