American Beauty

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There's more to the US than Bush and McCarthy.

When I first became a socialist one thing that I never signed up to was knee-jerk anti-Americanism. There was a lot of it around on the left. There were all those who had a love affair with the USSR. For them everything Russian (from show trials to forced collectivisation) was good and everything American (from Hollywood movies to rock and roll) was bad.

I never bought into this. The glories of Stalinism simply passed me by - I could not equate socialism with this stifling, oppressive, undemocratic and rigid world behind the Iron Curtain.

Secondly, I loved cinema and rock and roll. My heroes and inspiration (having got beyond soccer and Gaelic football players) were musicians and actors, and almost all were American. I somehow felt robbed of a proper youth, the youth of American Graffiti of dragsters and drive-ins. I too was 'Born to Run', although I lived in a society that seemed born to crawl. An ex-girlfriend used to tease me that I wished I was American, and she was probably right!

It wasn't only Stalinists though. This was the time of the Vietnam War. Many young people becoming politically active could only look at the horror of US imperialism and associate all things American with it. The counterweight to all this was the growth of the anti-war movement in the US itself. Nevertheless for many a knee-jerk anti-Americanism remained.

I eventually got to go to the States on a number of occasions and loved much of what I saw. Of course there was also much to hate. The gap between rich and poor seemed even starker than here in Britain. Society, even in the north and midwest seemed horribly racially segregated. I saw US flags in people's front gardens (not many, but enough to look strange). Nevertheless I really did like the place, and enjoyed many happy times there.

Today though, it is easy to think that the anti-Americans have a point. The bellicose horror of the Bush administration, the apparent silencing of critics of the warmongers (to redbait the Dixie Chicks really does take some doing), the apparent know-nothing attitude of so many Americans, the election of Arnold bloody Schwarzenegger for god's sake!

People who've been there say it feels more McCarthyite then any time since McCarthy's departure in the 1950s. All very very depressing and distressing.

That is one picture, but another one is emerging. The post-9/11 consensus appears to be breaking down, and quite quickly at that. Polls begin to show Bush's popularity falling rapidly.

The WMD argument that has plagued Blair seemed to have passed Bush by. Now it appears to be catching up with him. Spectacularly his administration seems to have unmasked a CIA agent to the media in an act of revenge over the issue. Potential Democrat presidential candidates are falling over themselves to be seen as critics of the war on Iraq. Even former military chief Wesley Clarke is being dressed up as an anti-war candidate.

In the latest edition of the journal Foreign Affairs, the house mag of US foreign policy wonks, there is a series of articles attacking all sorts of aspects of Bush's handling of things. Articles entitled 'Disastrous Diplomacy', 'Rebuilding the Atlantic Alliance' and 'Why Arab Opinion Matters' all carry stringent criticisms of Bush.

Most notably, the lead article entitled 'On Fighting the Wrong War' is written by ex-Clinton bigwig Madeleine Albright. In the article she certainly does not come across as a peacenik - no surprise there. What she does though is tear into Bush for losing the US post-9/11 sympathy, attack the handling of UN allies, and argue essentially that Bush went after the wrong target.

She writes, 'I would join the applause if only these policies were safeguarding US citizens more effectively. But they are not... As for Saddam, I believe the Gore team [if it had been elected] would have read the intelligence information about his activities differently and concluded a war against Iraq... was not essential in the short term to protect US security. A policy of containment would have been sufficient while the administration pursued the criminals who had murdered thousands on American soil.'

Remember that these words are written by an arch-imperialist who is nevertheless essentially saying Saddam had nothing to do with Al Qaida, and that intelligence didn't suggest an imminent threat or anything like it. Little wonder former arms inspector Scott Ritter says that he doesn't feel such a lonely voice any more and that more and more Americans are rejecting the war and the occupation. There seems little doubt that the mood is changing and fast.

In the midst of all this criticism, the squawks from the hawks sound more and more ridiculous. We were told before the war that Saddam claimed he didn't have weapons of mass destruction, but in fact that he really did. Now they want us to believe that he didn't have them and was bluffing that he had. This really is too silly to take seriously, yet it is what they are left clinging to. Which brings us nicely to Blair.

For he too is left clinging to the unbelievable, the crass and the downright stupid. Still we are asked to believe that his was a stand of high principle.

Yet if we just conjure up Albright's vision for a moment, are we really to believe that, had Gore taken the course she outlined, Blair would have travelled the world denouncing him as a peacenik pinko, an appeaser and a coward?

Of course not. How delicious it would be should Bush fall and be replaced by someone who runs on an anti-war ticket, to watch the poodweiler Blair jump through hoops to agree with the latest incumbent.

It's easy to fall for anti-Americanism, but it may just be Britain that's left with the last real warmonger in power.