Skip to comments.Andrew Sullivan: A lesson for America-haters
Posted on 02/09/2002 3:55:03 PM PST by Pokey78
In the end, the International Olympic Committee relented. It allowed the actual flag found in the wreckage of the World Trade Center to be carried in the opening ceremony of the Salt Lake City games. It was even prepared to let it be flown over the stadium. It took a certain amount of persuasion, but in the end they let the Americans have it.
These games are held in the United States and we have deep respect and sympathy for everything that has happened since September 11, said François Carrard, the IOCs director-general. But lets not forget the games is a universal event.
Perhaps its appropriate that the Olympic Games are being held in the United States at this time. They sum up the often exquisitely awkward relationship between America and the rest of the world.
The Olympics are designed to be truly international occasions, although they inevitably play to the host countrys nationalism and, in the competitions themselves, to other countries nationalism as well. But each time they are held in America, this tension between internationalist aspirations and nationalist reality seems to increase exponentially.
Remember Atlanta where American audiences were regarded as oblivious to athletes from other nations? Above all, remember Los Angeles? That year 1984 was a pivotal one in the cold war. Europe was tense with cruise missiles facing their Soviet equivalents.
Four years earlier the United States had boycotted the Moscow games and this time the Soviets returned the favour. Ronald Reagan was gearing up for his landslide re-election. Europeans were ambivalent about a cowboy president when they werent terrified.
The opening ceremony was an almost lugubriously kitschy spectacle with dozens of Elvis impersonators, corporate logos everywhere, Lionel Richie singing and Up With People grinning and leaping their way into the collective consciousness. I remember watching it and wincing. But I also remember being transfixed by its exuberance and power.
I recalled the creaking fascist monotones of the Moscow games compared with the multicoloured ebullience of LA. I turned to my friend who was watching it with me and said: You know what? They may be vulgar, but theyre going to win this war.
And win it they did. But the difficulty America now has in dealing with the world is far greater than it was in 1984. Back then it was a choice between the Americans and the Soviets. Now theres a choice between the Americans . . . and everyone else. In 2002, there isnt even a faint rival to the United States in global domination.
The US defence budget already dwarfs most of its competitors combined. With the projected vast increases in military spending, the gap will widen even further. Nato itself seems increasingly redundant, since the high-tech American military has only the British even broadly in their league, and genuine military alliances are becoming harder and harder to forge.
Americas economy, despite the current slowdown, has increased its lead over Europe only in the past decade and left Japan in the dust. With the initial phase of the war on terrorism coming to a brief resolution, it is also clear that Americas global reach and technological superiority is making the word hegemony seem like an understatement.
So the resentment of American power even among close allies such as Britain is not only likely, its inevitable. And because there isnt even a close rival emerging to challenge this dominance, the resentment will only increase. Weve seen what this amounts to in the form of the failed satrapies of the Islamic Middle East: a mixture of begging bowls for American aid and murderous terrorism in resentment of it.
In China it is greeted with deep suspicion and a ferocious new nationalism but there is still no sign of an actual, substantive Chinese military able to compete for global dominance with America. In Europe there is the cult of the EU among the elites, and the euro for the masses. But every European country understands that world power is something in the history books, not feasible, if even desirable, today.
The more interesting question is: what should the United States do about resentment of its hegemony? Sure, it can and should consult its allies more widely. But when those allies (with the exception of Britain) have very little substantive to contribute in, say, waging the war in Afghanistan, those consultations can end up being exercises in condescension or phoniness.
Sure, America can and should take a more active role in many international institutions. But it cannot be expected to provide the bulk of the funding for bodies (like the UN) whose main task seems at times to be attacking the United States and its allies.
Nor should a great power be expected consistently to subordinate its own interests to those of other states, especially when its actions actually protect those other states from harm.
If Europeans resent Americas power, they need to ask themselves: would they like to confront global terrorism without it? Imagine Al-Qaeda intact today, entering into close contact with Iraq or Iran to get nuclear, biological or chemical weapons to detonate in the middle of London.
Feel better about American hegemony now? Then of course when it appears that the United States might actually take its allies advice and retreat into ambivalence, there is a chorus of disapproval and widespread fears of a new isolationism.
America, when you look at it, is damned if she does, and damned if she doesnt. Which is why Americans, at some point, just get on with it and ignore the chorus of whining from around the world.
Thats the underlying reality and we might as well acknowledge it. Thats why the IOC gave in to American demands that its WTC flag be a part of the opening ceremony in Salt Lake City. Thats why, in the end, the United States will eventually ignore allies who refuse to co-operate in the war against terrorism and terrorist states.
Real power always finds a way. And the only corrective to American dominance is not an attempt to weaken America or poison the world by fomenting hatred of her. At the moment, when America is the firmest bulwark against a terrorist network that aims to destroy every free country, that would be a particularly foolish venture.
No, the only corrective to American hegemony is for other countries to emulate the free markets, free thought and free institutions that undergird the United States and make American economic and military power possible. But thats so much harder than the panacea of envy, isnt it?
I wasn't. But the television media wouldn't let me see the other athletes and tell their stories, or, heaven forbid! actually have reporters talk to them.
Sullivan lives in D.C., having moved here from the UK in the early eighties.
He arrived, very much the conventional Brit journalist leftist/Labor type -- with but one critical exception. Sullivan had an open mind. Reagan began changing it. And Dubya's candidacy completed the transmogrification of Sullivan into one of our most literate and perceptive conservative writers.
O.K., he's openly gay. And, on some issues, this colors his thinking. But his thinking and articulation, plus acute observation of the American scene (as you see here), position him as one of the best conservative spokesmen on either side of the Atlantic.
Just by asking, and you have been added.
Just check out www.andrewsullivan.com periodically. Great site. While he still writes columns, he has said that his web site is most important in his life.
That about sums it up.
You have them. Intelligence. And an open mind.
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