The Marshall Plan, or America's decision to rebuild Europe and Japan after World War II, was quite revolutionary. It went beyond traditional notions of geography and history to embrace a new vision using free trade and democracy to create a series of interlocking relationships that end war.
The Marshall Plan birthed history's first democratic empire. It also exemplified what is great about this country - its democratic ideal, its spirit toward the greater good. And it worked, not just to make the world safer, but to make it better. The success of post-war America represents the triumph of democracy and modernity over feudal disunity.
But there has been some interesting hangover from this success. With the rise of America, the global balance of power shifted away from the old European powers. One of the more predictable responses has been an undercurrent of jealousy about the relative strength and position the United States enjoys in the world.
President Bush's invasion of Iraq provided the old European powers with some convenient cover to act out this jealousy. If you listen to the European leaders, it often sounds as if they are blaming America for what happened on Sept. 11. They talk less about the terrorists and more about America's wealth and wastefulness. In such a manner, they transform the United States into a Texas-sized target for all the ills of modern society. Cue the envy and resentment. The United Nations responds by lashing out at the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. They do not pass resolutions when an American is decapitated live on the Internet.
If this seems like odd behavior considering that we keep U.S. troops stationed in Europe for its own protection, it is also somewhat predictable. It's basic scapegoating, a way to claim intellectual and moral superiority over the lone superpower, to identify yourself as part of a resistance and provide some psychological linkage to the glory days of the old European empires. It's the rhetorical equivalent of asserting your masculinity. Anti-Americanism is how France, which has the GNP of Georgia, is able to still occupy a place on the world stage.
We see a similar - albeit more vitriolic - response from nonwestern countries. As Samuel P. Huntington observed in "The Clash of Civilizations": "The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power."
Often, the leaders of the Arab world capitalize on these feelings of anger and inferiority to distract citizens from their own failed rule. Economic stagnation is blamed on a nexus of crippling political decisions handed down by America. Citizens are told their way of life is under assault. The youth display their loyalty to the state by strapping bombs to their chest and blowing themselves up. So long as the citizens are kept riled up, they have little time to reflect on the mismanagement and oppression of their own leaders. Nor do they push for things like equality, democracy, market privatization or any number of policies that are badly needed.
More shocking is the strain of anti-Americanism here at home. Leftist newspapers and academics deconstruct America for not being a utopia. They vent the frustrations and problems of modern times at America. They do not hold other countries to this level of scrutiny. Nor do they compare the United States to other countries. They merely turn their scrutiny inward, as if they were guilty and ashamed for their own affluence. I suppose it is a measure of how good things are in America that critics choose to focus on modern problems. It is a safe bet that the citizens of Zimbabwe are more worried about whether their children will eat, than on contemplating their own existential angst.
Anyway, this self-loathing and empathy for our attackers is worse than decadent, it is dangerous insofar as it reinforces to the radicals that attacking the United States is the best way to win concessions. To which I would add, we should not feel guilty for being the world's only superpower. We should not feel guilty for standing up for ourselves. We should not feel guilty for rooting out groups of people who sit around and plot ways to murder as many Americans as possible. Nor should we feel guilty for having a president who is willing to do something about it all.