The charge of ‘Anti-Americanism’


“Some argue that since our actions are not as horrifying as Al Qaeda's, we should not be concerned. When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States? We are America, and our actions should be held to a higher standard, the ideals expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.”Captain Ian Fishback, US 82nd Airborne (1)

Cptn Ian Fishback

Former Labour MP Harry Barnes , journalist Nick Cohen and Tony Blair all refer to ‘anti-Americanism’ among those who want British troops brought home from Iraq now. (2)

The charge of ‘anti-Americanism’ is true of only a tiny minority of opponents of the Iraq war. The number of people bigoted against all Americans and any action taken by any US administration is tiny. It's a minority of the Stop the War Coalition and an even smaller minority of those who oppose the Iraq war. It’s like claiming all supporters of the Iraq war are pro-Bush or pro-Mafia because Berlusconi backs the Iraq war and has links to the Mafia. Utterly spurious. (3)

Indeed bizarrely Nick Cohen was saying it was right to be anti-American (not an argument most people opposed to the Iraq war would make) as recently as January 2002 before his damascene conversion to supporting war on Iraq (4) . If he wants to change his mind and say anti-Americanism is wrong that’s fine and most people would agree – but projecting his previous prejudices – which most of us never shared - onto others - is not an honest way of going about it. Before mid-2002 much of what Nick Cohen wrote was well worth reading. Even since then he makes many valid points especially on Iran's government's repression of trade unions, even if, as in his “Why anti-Americanism is right” he has always had a tendency to take a valid argument and take it to such extremes that it becomes absurd. (To be fair it is possible that The magazine editor chose the title and not Nick - and he does concede anti-Americanism is irrational prejudice at one point in the article.)

Nick Cohen

In the majority of cases it’s a charge that makes no sense. I routinely criticise my own government and the Scottish Executive as do millions of other people in the UK and Scotland daily. Does this make us all ‘anti-British’ or ‘anti-Scottish’? Are we ‘self-hating’ British or Scots? Of course not. That would be a ludicrous conclusion which would replace democracy and free thought with mindless nationalism – the ‘my country right or wrong’ mentality which has led to many of the worst atrocities in history ; and which is no better than the Al Qa’ida view that all Muslims should be allied to them no matter what murders they commit

To take it from criticism of much of the policy of the current US government that critics are ‘anti-American’ is equally ludicrous – particularly as many of them are Americans. Unless perhaps the entire US anti-war movement and every American who wants the troops brought home from Iraq or just wants torture by US forces ended is meant to be ‘anti-American’? This would have to include Senator Barrack Obama and congressman Dennis Kucinich as well as relatives of those who died on September 11th and US military veterans of the Iraq war as well as critics of the administration's tacit policy of torture such as Captain Ian Fishback of the US army's 82nd Airborne. The renowned American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh who was first to report on the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and on torture in Abu Ghraib would also have to be labelled "anti-American" on Cohen's logic (or lack of it).

September 11th relatives march against the Iraq war

Or are we and they meant to be ‘self-hating’ British and Americans much as the Israeli and American right try to label any Jewish critic of any action by any Israeli government ‘self-hating Jews’?

Why is Nick Cohen, who tells us we should be siding with fellow democrats and progressives, repeating the same ridiculous charges used against these people by the Bush administration and Rupert Murdoch’s minions?

The Euston Manifesto reasonably enough defines "anti-Americanism" as "generalized prejudice against either the country or its people". However Nick Cohen and others then talk as if most criticism of the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and plans to invade Iran was motivated in most of the critics by prejudice against America or all Americans. This is wild exaggeration. (5)

When people criticise Bush for cutting Medicaid and Medicare for the American poor and American pensioners in order to give more ‘reconstruction’ contracts to Halliburton and friends in Iraq and Afghanistan are they being ‘anti-American’ ? Were the many thousands of americans who marched against the Iraq war in New York and Washington in January 2007 anti-American? Hardly. (6) , (7)



Americans in Washington march against the Iraq war and against war on Iran – January 2007


The Bush administration has repeatedly acted with contempt for the American constitution , American democratic values and international law and worst of all continue to take the lives of innocent people as much as any dictatorship. Most of its critics – including Human Rights Watch (based in Washington and headed by an American), Amnesty International and John McDonnell MP – are defending the the virtues of American and British democracy – not to mention large numbers of lives.

John McDonnell MP

When Nick Cohen says we should not focus only on war crimes and human rights abuses by American or British governments he is right. We should also condemn Chinese torture and executions without fair trials of Tibetans and their own people – and be demanding intervention in Darfur to end the genocide there. However most of us do. The fact that our military (and the US military) is already overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan leaves us short of troops and equipment to deploy in Darfur – and our governments’ contempt for international law and human rights leaves them with no credibility to get the support of other nations to protect human rights.

copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2007

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Sources / Footnotes

(1) = Washington Post Wednesday, September 28, 2005; A21,‘ A Matter of Honor’, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/27/AR2005092701527_pf.html

(2) = Guardian Unlimited 27 March 2006 10.15a.m update, ‘Blair: anti-Americanism is madness, http://politics.guardian.co.uk/iraq/story/0,,1740613,00.html

(3) = Observer 12 Dec 2004, ‘Berlusconi's top ally jailed for Mafia link, http://www.guardian.co.uk/italy/story/0,12576,1372008,00.html

(4) = New Statesman 05 Oct 2005, Nick Cohen 'Why it's right to be Anti-American, http://www.newstatesman.com/200201140006

(5) = New Statesman 05 Oct 2005, Norman Geras and Nick Cohen,‘ 'The Euston Manifesto', http://www.newstatesman.com/200604170006

(6) = Guardian 06 Feb 2007, ‘Bush slashes aid to poor to boost Iraq war chest, http://www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,2006815,00.html

(7) = New York Times 05 Oct 2005, ‘Protest Focuses on Iraq Troop Increase, http://select.nytimes.com/search/restricted/article?res=FB0610F73C5B0C7B8EDDA80894DF404482