The discussion was illuminating. There is no question that the Iraq war has aroused hostility toward the United States around the world. And there are many legitimate criticisms to be made about America's conduct of the war. But it is worth keeping in mind that this anger against the United States also has deep roots.
The Iraq war has rekindled myriad old resentments toward the United States, a thousand different complaints, each one specific to a time and place far removed from the present conflict. It has united a diverse spectrum of anti-American views in common solidarity -- the Marxist Africans still angry over American policy in the 1960s and '70s, the Pakistanis still furious at America's (bipartisan) support for the dictator Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq in the 1970s and '80s, the French theoreticians who started railing against the American "hyperpower" in the 1990s, the Latin ex-guerrillas still waging their decades-old struggle against North American imperialism, the Arab activists still angry about 1948. At a conference in the Middle East a few months ago, I heard a moderate Arab scholar complaining bitterly about how American policy had alienated the Arab peoples in recent years. A former Clinton official sitting next to him was nodding vigorously but then suddenly stopped when the Arab scholar made clear that by "recent years" he meant ever since 1967.
The Iraq war has also made anti-Americanism respectable again, as it was during the Cold War but had not been since the demise of the Soviet Union. People who a decade ago would not have been granted a platform to spout the kind of arguments I heard on this panel are now given star treatment in the Western and global media. Such people were always there, but no one was listening to them. Today they dominate the airwaves, and this in turn is helping produce an increasingly hostile global public opinion, as evidenced in a recent Pew poll.
There are two lessons to be drawn from all this. One is that in time the current tidal wave of anti-Americanism will ebb, just as in the past. Smarter American diplomacy can help, of course, as can success in places such as Iraq. But the other lesson is not to succumb to the illusion that America was beloved until the spring of 2003 and will be beloved again when George W. Bush leaves office. Some folks seem to believe that by returning to the policies of Harry Truman, Dean Acheson and John F. Kennedy, America will become popular around the world. I like those policies, too, but let's not kid ourselves. They also sparked enormous resentment among millions of peoples in many countries, resentments that are now returning to the fore. The fact is, because America is the dominant power in the world, it will always attract criticism and be blamed both for what it does and what it does not do.
No one should lightly dismiss the current hostility toward the United States. International legitimacy matters. It is important in itself, and it affects others' willingness to work with us. But neither should we be paralyzed by the unavoidable resentments that our power creates. If we refrained from action out of fear that others around the world would be angry with us, then we would never act. And count on it: They'd blame us for that, too.
Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund, writes a monthly column for The Post.