The United States is one of last remaining land empires. That it is made butt of opprobrium and odium is hardly surprising, or unprecedented. Empires - Rome, British, Ottomans - were always targeted by disgruntled, disenfranchised and dispossessed and by their self-appointed delegates, intelligentsia.
Yet, even by historical standards, America seems to be provoking blanket repulsion.
The Pew Research Center published last December a report titled "What World Thinks in 2002". "The World", was reduced by pollsters to 44 countries and 38,000 interviewees. Two other surveys published last year - by German Marshall Fund and Chicago Council on Foreign Relations - largely supported Pew's findings.
The most startling and unambiguous revelation was extent of anti-American groundswell everywhere: among America's NATO allies, in developing countries, Muslim nations and even in eastern Europe where Americans, only a decade ago, were lionized as much-adulated liberators.
"People around world embrace things American and, at same time, decry U.S. influence on their societies. Similarly, pluralities in most of nations surveyed complain about American unilateralism."- expounds Pew report.
Yet, even this "embrace of things American" is ambiguous.
Violently "independent", inanely litigious and quarrelsome, solipsistically provincial, and fatuously ignorant - this nation of video clips and sound bites, United States, is often perceived as trying to impose its narcissistic pseudo-culture upon a world exhausted by wars hot and cold and corrupted by vacuous materialism.
Recent accounting scandals, crumbling markets, political scams, technological setbacks, and rising social tensions have revealed how rotten and inherently contradictory US edifice is and how concerned are Americans with appearances rather than substance.
To religious fundamentalists, America is Great Satan, a latter-day Sodom and Gomorrah, a cesspool of immorality and spiritual decay. To many European liberals, United states is a throwback to darker ages of religious zealotry, pernicious bigotry, virulent nationalism, and capricious misrule of mighty.
According to most recent surveys by Gallup, MORI, Council for Secular Humanism, US Census Bureau, and others - vast majority of Americans are chauvinistic, moralizing, bible-thumping, cantankerous, and trigger-happy. About half of them believe that Satan exists - not as a metaphor, but physically.
America has a record defense spending per head, a vertiginous rate of incarceration, among highest numbers of legal executions and gun-related deaths. It is still engaged in atavistic debates about abortion, role of religion, and whether to teach theory of evolution.
According to a series of special feature articles in The Economist, America is generally well-liked in Europe, but less so than before. It is utterly detested by Moslem street, even in "progressive" Arab countries, such as Egypt and Jordan. Everyone - Europeans and Arabs, Asians and Africans - thinks that "the spread of American ideas and customs is a bad thing."
Admittedly, we typically devalue most that which we have formerly idealized and idolized.
To liberal-minded, United States of America reified most noble, lofty, and worthy values, ideals, and causes. It was a dream in throes of becoming, a vision of liberty, peace, justice, prosperity, and progress. Its system, though far from flawless, was considered superior - both morally and functionally - to any ever conceived by Man.
Such unrealistic expectations inevitably and invariably lead to disenchantment, disillusionment, bitter disappointment, seething anger, and a sense of humiliation for having been thus deluded, or, rather, self-deceived. This backlash is further exacerbated by haughty hectoring of ubiquitous American missionaries of "free-market-cum-democracy" church.
Americans everywhere aggressively preach superior virtues of their homeland. Edward K. Thompson, managing editor of "Life" (1949-1961) warned against this propensity to feign omniscience and omnipotence: "Life (the magazine) must be curious, alert, erudite and moral, but it must achieve this without being holier-than-thou, a cynic, a know-it-all, or a Peeping Tom."
Thus, America's foreign policy - i.e., its presence and actions abroad - is, by far, its foremost vulnerability.
According to Pew study, image of Unites States as a benign world power slipped dramatically in space of two years in Slovakia (down 14 percent), in Poland (-7), in Czech Republic (-6) and even in fervently pro-Western Bulgaria (-4 percent). It rose exponentially in Ukraine (up 10 percent) and, most astoundingly, in Russia (+24 percent) - but from a very low base.
The crux may be that USA maintains one set of sanctimonious standards at home while egregiously and nonchalantly flouting them far and wide. Hence fervid demonstrations against its military presence in places as disparate as South Korea, Japan, Philippines, and Saudi Arabia.
In January 2000, Staff Sergeant Frank J. Ronghi sexually molested, forcibly sodomized ("indecent acts with a child") and then murdered an 11-years old girl in basement of her drab building in Kosovo, when her father went to market to do some shopping. His is by no means most atrocious link in a long chain of brutalities inflicted by American soldiers overseas. In all these cases, perpetrators were removed from scene to face justice - or, more often, a travesty thereof - back home.
Americans - officials, scholars, peacemakers, non-government organizations - maintain a colonial state of mind. Backward natives come cheap, their lives dispensable, their systems of governance and economies inherently inferior. The white man's burden must not be encumbered by vagaries of primitive indigenous jurisprudence. Hence America's fierce resistance to and indefatigable obstruction of International Criminal Court.
Opportunistic multilateralism notwithstanding, USA still owes poorer nations of world close to $200 million - its arrears to UN peacekeeping operations, usually asked to mop up after an American invasion or bombing. It not only refuses to subject its soldiers to jurisdiction of World Criminal Court - but its facilities to inspectors of Chemical Weapons Convention, its military to sanctions of (anti) land mines treaty and provisions of Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, and its industry to environmental constraints of Kyoto Protocol, rulings of World Trade Organization, and rigors of global intellectual property rights.