How much good will have we squandered?
By Michael M. Bates
The word of the month is squander. As in, we have squandered all the good will the United States enjoyed after the 9/11 attacks.
The Associated Press picked up on the theme. Its 9/11 coverage included the observation, "Critics say Americans have squandered the goodwill that prompted France's Le Monde newspaper to proclaim ‘We are all Americans' that somber day after the attacks. . . "
Going unmentioned was a question later posed in that editorial: "Might it not then have been America itself that created this demon?"
Also on the squander case is the formidable intellectual Ms. Rosie O'Donnell. On The View the conversation turned to the purported world support for the U.S. after 9/11. Rosie opined, "And it's hard to believe that in the five years since, that's all gone away. And we have sort of squandered, the, you know, the world's. . . " She was interrupted by another cohost, who assured her the matter would be discussed another day. No doubt it will be.
Syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman observed the tragedy's anniversary by expressing her surprise "that America would lose our status as the good guy in the struggle against terrorism. I didn't imagine that our government would squander the righteous role won for us the hard way by victims falling from the twin towers and firefighters racing to their deaths."
So we can take our choice. We squandered the world's good will. Or we squandered the world's sympathy. Or we squandered the world's support. Or we squandered our righteous role.
There's one problem, though. The United States never enjoyed all that much good will, sympathy, and support or maintained a perceived righteous role. The party line is that whatever the United States squandered was wasted by the ill-advised policies, primarily our involvement in Iraq, of George W. Bush.
The fact is the U.S. was widely disliked and distrusted even immediately after 9/11. I'm not speaking here of the dancing in the streets that we saw in some parts of the world. No matter the circumstances, there are always going to be people who rejoice when Americans are killed.
Two months after the attack, the Pew Research Center and the International Herald Tribune gathered the views of 275 influential people from around the world. These opinion leaders came from politics, media, business, culture and government.
The results of these interviews, taken only weeks after 9/11, don't show much good will, sympathy or support. Two-thirds of the Western European opinion leaders said that most or many of their populations believed it was a good thing for the U.S. to know what it's like to be vulnerable. In Eastern Europe and Russia, Latin America and Asia, the numbers were even higher.
When asked if U.S policies and actions were a major cause of the attacks, more than a third of the influential in Western Europe said most or many of their citizens feel that way. Again, the findings were even worse in other parts of the world with Eastern Europe and Russia at 71 percent and the Mideast at 81 percent.
Major reasons expressed for disliking the U.S. included it being too powerful, its alleged creating of gaps between rich and poor, its multinational corporations and American support of Israel.
Adding insult to injury, a significant percentage thought that their citizens believe the United States overreacted to the terrorist assault.
These responses were gathered shortly before the end of 2001. Iraq wasn't invaded until 2003.
So where is the love? The answer: not many places, at least for Americans.
Maybe individuals around the world felt some empathy for the thousands of folks slaughtered that day. The reality, though, is that, then as now, the United States as a nation isn't widely liked. Yet it's a love-hate relationship with many foreigners desperately wanting to relocate themselves and their families here permanently.
All that supposed good will liberals speak of was never squandered because it didn't actually exist. Saying differently may make a good talking point for those not paying attention, but that's about it.
This Michael M. Bates column appeared in the September 21, 2006 Reporter Newspapers.
Get weekly updates about new issues of ESR!