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Why Americans Don’t Understand Anti-Americanism

Being that wonderful week between New Year’s and Orthodox Christmas, there is basically no news coming out of Russia as everybody is on holiday.  As such, we’re basically going to be posting whatever we feel like, for example, this excerpt from Paul Pillar writing in the National Interest on the American perspective on hard and soft power, or, more specifically, why they can’t seem to understand why other countries doubt Washington’s motives.

One is that the United States has never been threatened by the power of someone much more powerful than itself. The protective advantage of two ocean moats has been one of the biggest shapers of American attitudes about the exercise of power. When the republic was young and not yet powerful, the country that was then most able to project power–Britain with its Royal Navy–tended to do so in ways that contributed to, rather than threatened, the young North American republic’s prosperity and growth. When a more mature United States finally began flexing its own global muscle around the turn of the twentieth century, it was already a match for anyone else. The most serious physical threat to the United States was the USSR of the Cold War and the nuclear age, but it was never more than a co-equal second superpower, and even at that one that would prove to be inferior to the United States in a race, declared most clearly by Ronald Reagan, to convert economic power into military power.

Because of these happy circumstances, Americans tend to be insensitive to how those not similarly blessed will be attuned to the threatening side of the exercise of power by those more powerful than themselves, and how such exercise may be resented or hated. The United States is the antithesis of a Belgium or a Poland or countless other countries that have been so attuned because matters of national survival are at stake. Because Americans have not been put in a similar position, they are slow to perceive and understand how others may perceive the exercise of U.S. power as threatening.

Pillar goes on to suggest that the American mindset is uniquely, and dangerously, not discouraged by foreign policy failures.  These sort of sweeping “this is what people think” statements are always problematic, but good food for thought, especially with regard to relations with Russia.