A terrific (and terrifically long) thread over on Thought Mesh illustrates the scattergun approach of anti-Americanism. ('Scattergun' because the accusations are many and rapid rather than focused and thoughtful, quantity over quality – leading to frequent self-contradiction).
The reason I describe what has become the default leftist position in Europe as ‘anti-Americanism’ (implying that it involves invalid criticism) as opposed to just ‘criticism of America’ (of which some are valid) is that it has in common with many other ‘isms’ an irrational demonisation of an specific enemy.
Facts and actual consequences don’t matter with anti-Americanism: all that matters is the construction of a narrative in which ‘America’ is the villain.
This villain need not be consistent as an entity (at different times in the same argument ‘America’ can be the US as a whole over generations, or a particular US administration, or a secret cabal of ‘business’ and ‘oil companies’, or just the individual George W Bush and his religious lunacy or personal Freudian complexes about his father.)
Nor need the villain be consistent in its characteristics (one moment it is stupid and blundering, with no understanding of the complexities of international affairs; the next moment it is incredibly clever and Machiavellian, manipulating international affairs for its own gain; now it is well-meaning but foolish and naïve; now it is purely selfish).
When the villain is cast and facts have become an irrelevance, it becomes very easy to lazily accumulate a set of beliefs acknowledged as truisms, but with no basis in reality.
The myth of Kyoto
The thread on Though Mesh looks at some of the common lazy beliefs about the Iraq war, oil and imperialism.
But another, absolutely belting one, is this: “America doesn’t care about carbon emissions - Bush is destroying the planet because he refused to sign up to Kyoto.”
Who doesn’t believe that?
But did you know, for example, that the USA is a signatory of the Kyoto protocol, but that it was the beloved and much-lamented Clinton administration that refused to ratify it, following a unanimous (95-0) Senate vote against ratifying a policy that could penalise the US but that gave absolutely no binding targets to developing countries?
Bush merely continued the policy. And here’s what he said: “This is a challenge that requires a 100% effort; ours, and the rest of the world's. The world's second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases is the People's Republic of China. Yet, China was entirely exempted from the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol. India and Germany are among the top emitters. Yet, India was also exempt from Kyoto … America's unwillingness to embrace a flawed treaty should not be read by our friends and allies as any abdication of responsibility. To the contrary, my administration is committed to a leadership role on the issue of climate change … Our approach must be consistent with the long-term goal of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.”
And amazingly, he wasn’t even lying! Instead, the USA signed the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate with the countries that matter, including China and India, which has similar targets but none of the skewed penalties.
Here are some more inconvenient facts:
The USA is one of the few countries that is actually on track to meet its carbon emission targets – by reducing its carbon intensity by 18% by 2012. (The UK is also on target).
Germany the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and Sweden are not on target, but might get there via international carbon trading.
Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Ireland have all increased emissions but can also rely on carbon trading. Japan and Norway have increased emissions by such a large degree that they are certain to miss their targets. France has reduced its emissions by just 2%, but then its target was only to maintain 1990 levels.
But of course, what matters to anti-Americanism is that ‘George Bush refused to sign Kyoto’ and stories always trump facts, and intentions trump results.
David Cohen described a certain middle-class leftist view of social policy thus: “I am a good person if I help the poor. I help the poor by arguing that the Government should tax people like me more and give the money to the poor. I am a good person.”
The anti-American green equivalent is this: “I am a good person if I do my bit for the environment. I do my bit for the environment by stating that the USA is the world’s worst polluter. I am a good person.”
Don’t miss the next exciting instalment: How the French and Germans enjoy the unique position of being able to snipe at the relative lack of American spending on national health because they can rely on the USA to do all their defence spending for them...