Jejudo, South Korea
What is striking is when you compare Dubya to his father (Clinton was not a strong internationalist). Now, Bush Sr. wasn't against using strong language as well. At one point in Japan, he simply asked if you wanted an American presence there or not. The Japanese government immediately said that they wanted us to stay, but this rhetoric is the same sort of no-nonsense approach that you applaud in Dubya.
Why such a difference in reaction then and now?
Part of the problem is 911. Ten to fifteen years ago the big thing was Japan bashing, Japan was trying to rule the world through unfair business tactics. They were mindless automatons who lived in rabbit dens; dangerous, unfeeling men who bought our land, our movie studios, even our women, but not our rice.
In this context, the direct question made perfect sense for the Japanese were arrogant. Many really did think for a moment that they had it all figured out. Kaifu questioned American ethics, Nakasone laughed at American soldiers who couldn't afford to leave their ships, and somebody, I forget who, said that America's problems stemmed from too many blacks and hispanics.
With this kind of thing going on, it was natural to see this as a slap in the face. It is natural, I think on both the personal and political levels, to feel jaded when someone who you are helping, even if you only think that you are helping, even if you are only offering help, tells you it doesn't matter. Maybe it was time to leave. Now, nobody really believed it, everybody knew the question was for show, but it was the right time and the right place to ask such a question.
Conversely, after 911 we had the moral high ground, we had the world on our side, people wanted to help us. What was the line from the French woman?
"We are all Americans today."
Yet, the administration squandered this opportunity. They didn't just ignore it, they blatantly told Europe and the rest of the world that it didn't really matter if you helped or not, this is what we are going to do. If you want to come along, great, but don't get in the way.
Is it any wonder there is resentment right now?
It's not that simple of course. Anti-American feeling has been around a long time (and Clinton didn't do much to soften it either), but international diplomacy isn't about telling the truth, it's about getting other countries to do what you want. Dubya's dad was pretty good at that, but he lost the election. It would be foolish for Dubya not to recognize that, but it seems to me just as foolish to completely ignore the successes of his father. Many people point to the fact that dad didn't finish the job in Iraq, but I remember that day. I thought it was the right choice to stop then and I still think it is now.
We had and maintained the moral high ground.
Much of what happens next will depend on what happens in Iraq. As I've said before, if the Iraqi people see Americans as liberators, America will be in a stronger position internationally. If not, if this becomes another Somalia, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
A less abrasive diplomacy, a more united front, would be one way to lessen the blow if we've calculated wrong.
But nothing works better in diplomacy than success.