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On Point

Why the Dictators Hate the U.S.

by Austin Bay
June 4, 2003Why do they hate us?

The first mistake behind this classic American question is a guilt-laced assumption -- assuming "they" is a representative sample of the planet and "hate" is the culprit emotion.

The popular origins, political abuse and greedy media leverage of the American public's proclivity for guilt trips are fodder for a library's worth of books. From lunatic left to ridiculous right, the American strength of self-critique has a tendency to end with self-blame. Maybe the folks who hawk the "Puritan origins" myth have a point, even for allegedly secular Americans. "Forgive us Lord, we've done wrong" -- and no doubt we have in numerous circumstances -- becomes "Good God, we caused this mess. Why, observe the anger of the Arab street." Or plug in any group with a grievance.

The charge made by international critics that America is dangerous is true. America has been dangerous since 1776 -- dangerous to autocrats and the vicious elites that still control much of the planet.

Liberty remains a threat to the autocrats, as it remains a great hope to those they oppress. If you doubt this, then you are blind to the toppling statues of Saddam. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah can give The New York Times his plans for Mideast peace, but don't ask him about the oppressed in his own kingdom. Very few in Saudi Arabia have the guts to raise that lurking issue -- it leads to jail, or worse.

A few will, with great care. In a souk in a Saudi port, I drank a cup of tea with a Shiite jewelry dealer. Sometime in the conversation about nothing too important, he asked me what it's really like in Texas. That's when I asked, "What's it really like for a cosmopolitan Shia trader in a land run by a Wahhabi-radical Bedouin tribe?" Bottom line: It isn't easy. Eastern Saudi Arabia has a lot of Shia Arabs, but you won't find them cropping up in the official religious statistics.

Why are we unpopular at the United Nations? Consider the U.N.'s membership list. Most of the so-called nation-states are anything but. Sure, they have Rand McNally borders, but they aren't modern states rooted in legitimate, popular authority. These hoaxes are areas controlled by the primitive sovereignty of tyranny, empires of fear where autocrats (often backed by a favored ethnic group, a tribe with a flag) call the shots.

Yeah, they hate us. The autocrats running the fake states hate us because they fear the liberty that empowers us will encourage their oppressed to topple them.

And that's happening. Satellite Tv puts the First Amendment in orbit around the globe; the Internet slips it into every home. The USSR's evil Stalinist apparatus couldn't handle the globalizing First Amendment. Post-Cold War thugs can't, either. Communications technology undermines the dictators. Who "programs" the First Amendment? We can kavetch about Hollywood's often smutty fare, but the truth is every American programs the First Amendment. That scares the tyrants.

So they hate us.

Which leads to the other embedded complaint directed at America -- we're powerful. Quick lesson in the counter-intuitive: The U.S. political system is based on a system that seeks to check and balance power. That system, imperfect as it is, is the source of what the French disdainfully call the American "hyper-power." Our system permits creativity and experimentation -- in politics, in economic endeavors. That's a threat to fossil bureaucracies everywhere, including the one governing from the Champs Elysee.

Little wonder those bureaucrats despise us. Religious fanatics attacked us on 9-11. Parse Osama bin Laden's complaints, and the United States is somehow responsible for events eight centuries old.

Bin Laden, a truly old-time reactionary, did come up with a new wrinkle -- turning airliners into ballistic missiles. Osama showed us that the technology of mega-death is no longer solely controlled by national governments. With nuclear and chemical weapons, the small tyrants (North Korea) and the tiny terror gangs (Al Qaeda) can threaten a hundred million innocents. International means for controlling these killers are demonstrably inadequate. The Untied States has the military and political power to defeat them.

Hyperpower? As one Malaysian Muslim told me last fall, there is no other country capable of leading the necessary fight.

So what if the killers hate us?

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