The U.S. is not a popular country these days. Across the world, surveys show anti-American sentiment to be both pervasive and, evidently, increasingly profound. Reasons for this are myriad. Critics cite America’s arrogant foreign policy, its heavy-handed and excessively partial negotiating tactics, its lack of patience and unwillingness to listen to opposing views, and, of course, the Iraq war.
Visiting scholars and tourists also complain about rude treatment received at U.S. Embassies and immigration booths upon arrival at U.S. airports. Meanwhile, thousands of people eager to travel to the U.S. are denied visas everyday through thick glass windows that separate them from consular-section officials. The process can be humiliating, leaving applicants feeling belittled, disrespected and even unvalued as human beings.
You might think the U.S. would be most unpopular in places traditionally considered hostile to American policy – Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, etc. But according to a poll by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and WorldPublicOpinion.org, Argentina leads the list of countries that distrust the U.S. and its role in world affairs. Consider this gem of a paragraph:
“Majorities in all 15 of the publics polled about the United States’ role in the world reject the idea that ‘as the sole remaining superpower, the US should continue to be the preeminent world leader in solving international problems.’ However majorities in only two publics (Argentina and the Palestinian territories) say that the United States ‘should withdraw from most efforts to solve international problems.’”
Technically, at least, the Palestinian territories are not yet a country. That makes Argentina, the world’s staunchest opponent of U.S. involvement in global affairs. The survey, which was released earlier this year, is unusually comprehensive. “Participating research centers interviewed nearly 22,000 people in China, India, the United States, Russia, Indonesia, France, Thailand, Ukraine, Poland, Iran, Mexico, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Argentina, Peru, Armenia and Israel, plus the Palestinian territories,” according to authors of the study, which can be found here and here.
Here are a few more gems from the survey:
■ Argentines are among the most negative about US leadership in the world. Very large majorities do not trust the United States and want it to reduce its military presence overseas.
■ Argentina is one of only two countries (the other is the Palestinian territories) where a majority (55%) believes that “the US should withdraw from most efforts to solve international problems.”
■ An overwhelming majority (84%) does not trust the United States to act responsibly in the world, including 69% who do not trust it at all, more than any other public polled.
■ Three-fourths (75%)—the largest majority among 12 countries polled—say that the United States should reduce the number of military bases it has overseas. In Argentina, a solid 75% said the U.S. should have fewer military bases overseas. That percentage is higher than in any other nation polled. It was followed by the Palestinian territory, where 70% held this view.
■ 62% of Argentines agree that “the US is playing the role of world policeman more than it should be.”
Only 1% of Argentines polled said “the U.S. should continue to be the preeminent world leader in solving international problems.” That percentage is lower than in any other country surveyed, except for France and Ukraine, where just 3% agreed.
Another remarkable quote from the study:
“In 10 out of 15 countries, the most common view is that the United States cannot be trusted to ‘act responsibly in the world.’ Respondents were allowed to choose whether the United States could be trusted ‘a great deal,’ ‘somewhat,’ ‘not very much’ or ‘not at all.’ Two Latin American countries show the least trust in the United States. An overwhelming 84 percent of Argentines answer that they have little confidence in the United States, including 69 percent who think the United States cannot be trusted at all. Eight in ten Peruvians (80%) also think the US cannot be trusted (23% not at all).”
For some Argentines, even use of the term “American” causes offense. “We are all Americans,” many will protest. As an “American” in Argentina I try to avoid using the term. And when I do, I mean no harm. But the oft-used “North American” – or norteamericano – is often too inexact to be useful, as it includes Canada, Mexico and even Greenland, which belongs to Denmark. Moreover, it’s hard to find another adjective that describes U.S. citizens in a way that is both concise and aesthetically pleasing. In Spanish, the term “estadounidense” sometimes works, but it’s a bit of a mouthful and has no English translation, except for: American and possibly Yankee. The latter is often used in Argentina, both benignly and pejoratively. For an in-depth look at the word “America,” its origins and controversial usage, click here.
The Buenos Aires Herald religiously replaces all non-quoted references to “America” or “Americans” with “US” or “US citizens,” etc. The Herald’s policy is well-intended but bows excessively to the dictates of political correctness, ignoring the more subtle dictums of style. This often makes for unnecessarily awkward reading.
So why is Argentina, evidently, so anti-American? First, it’s important to distinguish between sentiments toward the U.S. government and feelings for Americans themselves. After all, it’s certainly possible to dislike President George Bush and his policies while caring a great deal for average American citizens. Most Argentines I know cannot stand the U.S. government. (Actually, most Americans I know don’t like the U.S. government.) But rarely has this translated into demonstrations of distaste for me as an American citizen.
Argentina is in many ways an ally of Europe and the US? Under President Carlos Menem, Argentina even sent troops to the First Persian Gulf War and got Argentina to become an honorary member of NATO. Moreover, Argentines devour US cultural exports, moving in massive numbers to see Hollywood films and attend concerts by US musicians. They buy American cars, trucks, video games, iPods, computers and, inexplicably, seem to like McDonald’s even more than do Americans. This leads to a bit of a paradox, one that is not easy to explain. How is it that Argentines appear to be so sympathetic to American culture while so vehemently opposed to America’s role in world affairs? The opposition to U.S. policy is not new and it easily predates, though to perhaps less vigorous degree, the Iraq war.
I will attempt to shed light on this issue in a future post. I’ll end this one with a link to a local TV show I was on last year. The topic of the show: “Is The United States an Agent of Evil in the World?” Quite a question, no? If I were on the show again today, I would be far more critical of the Bush administration, U.S. involvement in Iraq and overall U.S. policy, but I would be just as supportive of the generally positive role the U.S. has played in global economic, social and political development.