Nepali Times
Here And There
Love thy neighbourhood superpower


A dangerous tide is washing on the shores of public opinion around the world, a growing and visceral anti-Americanism that is every bit as threatening and fundamentalist as religious zealotry. A poll by a respected international organization finds that America is identified as a negative force in world affairs by substantial numbers of people in 35 different countries (See World Paper, Nepali Times, #126). You don't need to be a psychic or skilled political pundit to realise that the war in Iraq is not going to make things any better.

There are very good reasons for people to oppose this, not least that anti-American feeling is akin to racism or communalism. Wait, I can hear many of you saying, America brings all this on herself. The arrogance that occasionally flows forth from Washington is breathtaking, and the long record of botched and occasionally malevolent bungling in other countries' affairs speaks for itself, you say. From Cuba and the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century to Afghanistan at the beginning of the 21st, America abroad has put its interests before all others'.

The mass culture industry propagated by Hollywood and the Internet spreads emptiness and eclipses local tradition, draining away uniqueness and maximising profit. Guns, drugs, consumption and vacuous missionary-driven Christianity all pour forth in abundance, per-capita foreign aid spending is the lowest among wealthy countries. And so on.

All of these points are either valid or worth debating, but none of them justify the rise in anti-Americanism. The United States-a republic founded on basic notions of freedom and fairness-has been an imperial power for more than 100 years but it has long wrestled with that role. Each time America has gone to war in that time, a significant body of public opinion has been opposed, and the best efforts of governments and those in authority to stifle dissent have failed. Even now, as tens of thousands of soldiers muster in the Gulf, and the drums of war beat loudly, many, many Americans express unease or outright anger at their country's actions. The task for those outside of the USA who feel the same is not to give way to virulent anti-Americanism. It's to find common ground with those in America who feel the same way. It's to recognise that America has within it the potential to do great good, not just great harm.

Britain has long held a version of this point of view. Some Europeans, despite decades of prosperity under American protection, look down on the close ties between Washington and London. "A lapdog" was how one French commentator described the British Prime Minister recently. This misses the point entirely. The British use their friendship with America to their advantage. "It lets us punch above our weight in international diplomacy," was the pithy phrase used by former foreign secretary Douglas Hurd. And it allows a nation with a slightly more sophisticated approach to global affairs to influence the brash young superpower to behave with a little more circumspection and subtlety. America's other closest friends-Canada and Mexico-take much the same approach, even though the gut feeling of many of their citizens tends to anti-Americanism from time to time..

There are parallels here in Nepal to the relationship with India. This country has a giant neighbour whose national interests can periodically seem overwhelming to regional harmony or prosperity. Yet the way to handle such a neighbour is not with shrill denunciation or pointless outbursts of violence and virulent hatred. It's to work subtly, from the inside, pushing forward Nepal's case and to support-when viable-India's legitimate concerns.

Individual Indians look upon Nepal largely with benevolence. Harnessing that goodwill to further Nepal's interests is the task of diplomats and governments, a task usually neglected or spurned it must be said. India's democratic system and basic openness are strengths to be emulated and encouraged. Anti-India feeling here, like anti-Americanism everywhere, plays into the hands of extremists and the ill-intentioned and does little to help those most in need. Love thy neighborhood superpower. For your own good.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)