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."