Australia - "In Papua New Guinea," a woman said to my wife when we were in that country recently, "we used to look up to the United States, see it as our father, our model. Now we are afraid of the United States. What has happened is very sad."As Americans who have been living abroad for the past four months, we could not help but agree that what has happened to our nation's image around the world is indeed very sad.
But while America's reputation in the world has suffered great harm in recent years, the damage is not irreparable.
Although most Americans would probably agree that world opinion of the United States is low, our travels abroad have revealed that this is not entirely accurate. In fact, it is not truly anti-Americanism but anti-Bushism that has gripped the world - and this is an illness that time can cure.
Of the hundreds of American travelers we have met, only three said they were Bush supporters. One, a woman from Colorado whom we met at the Great Barrier Reef, told us she was surprised at how much anti-Americanism she had found in Australia.
Our experience has been very different. We have encountered several hundred people in three Southern Hemisphere nations, and we have found nary a one who was hostile to us because of our nationality. The reason for this difference surely is that we have quickly let people we meet know that we are opposed to our president.
Does the woman we met suppose there was any substantial anti-Americanism in Australia on Sept. 12, 2001? Remember the words of Jean-Marie Colombani, writing in Le Monde that day and speaking for most of the world: "We are all Americans! We are all New Yorkers, just as surely as John F. Kennedy declared himself to be a Berliner in 1962 when he visited Berlin." How different it is now.
When we stopped at a small cafÃƒ© along the southern coast of New Zealand's South Island, the proprietor asked where we were from. When we said "Mississippi," he responded: "Oh, you're disciples of Mr. Bush, then?" After we quickly disabused him of that thought, we learned that he has been conducting an informal survey of Americans who stop at his business. He said he had asked about 70 people from the United States what they thought of Mr. Bush, and all but three were opposed to the president.
During the three months in which we visited most parts of the country, we never found a single New Zealander who was not baffled as to how the American people could have re-elected Mr. Bush. And I am not talking only about the usual suspects in the academic world. People running bed-and-breakfasts in small towns and rural areas, small-business owners, farmers, service station owners - they might not agree on much else, but they all agreed that Mr. Bush has been a disaster for the United States and the world.
We did not ask everyone we met, and there surely are a few Kiwis who like President Bush. But Americans who fancy that what others think of us doesn't matter would do well to consider what it means for the future when the people of a nation in many ways similar to the United States have so overwhelmingly turned against our president and his policies.
The fact is, Mr. Bush took, in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 2001, the greatest worldwide outpouring of good will the United States has enjoyed at least since World War II and squandered it by pursuing a foolish invasion of Iraq, ignoring international organizations and world opinion, and declaring that it is the right of the United States to engage in pre-emptive war and invade any country it wishes to.
The Ugly American was interred in 2001. In 2003, George W. Bush resurrected him.
How can we know whether the hostility the woman from Colorado experienced in Australia was anti-Americanism or anti-Bushism? Beyond our own radically different experience when we made it clear that we oppose the Bush approach to the world, there is this:
Here in Port Douglas, we found several restaurants displaying photographs of Bill Clinton in their front windows. Business is booming. Mr. Clinton had visited the town as president in 1996 and happened to be in Port Douglas again on Sept. 11, 2001, when there was no anti-Americanism here. Can anyone doubt what would happen to business if these establishments replaced the Clinton portrait with one of his successor?
At its core, the widespread anti-Americanism one sees in so much of the world today is actually extreme animosity toward a single leader. A new administration with clearly different policies could quickly turn things around.
Robert S. McElvaine, a professor of history at Millsaps College in Mississippi, just completed a term as a Fulbright senior scholar in New Zealand. He is the author of the forthcoming book "Grand Theft Jesus." His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2007, The Baltimore Sun