A few clouds


Happy birthday America
National Post

CREDIT: Bill Pugliano, Getty Images
An American and Canadian Flag.

As we are reminded every July 4th, Americans are refreshingly unabashed about their patriotism. Yet they are not so inward-looking and jingoistic as unfair stereotypes would suggest. This Independence Day, many Americans will be sobered by the fact that the world beyond their borders -- including, sadly, this country -- has grown increasingly hostile in recent years.

To the proverbial man from Mars, this upsurge in anti-Americanism would be baffling. Even putting aside the leading role America took in defeating the 20th century's greatest scourges -- Soviet communism and Nazi fascism -- consider what the United States has achieved just in the last half decade: the liberation of Iraq from a sadistic madman, the destruction of the brutal Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the establishment of a nascent democracy, the pacification of Kosovo in the shadow of ethnic bloodletting and, most recently, the stabilization of Haiti at a time when that desperately poor nation seemed to be falling apart entirely.

In all of these cases, America's critics ascribed some sinister motive, most notably in Iraq, where the United States stood accused of waging a "war for oil." Tens of billions of dollars later, the United States has not stolen a drop of the stuff and the Iraqis are well on their way to creating the Arab world's most pluralistic and liberal government. But, of course, mere facts do not matter to those bent on hating America. They are too busy chortling over Fahrenheit 9/11 and other anti-American charades.

Anti-Americanism is nurtured by many sources. Throughout the Arab Middle East, hatred of the United States is programmed deliberately as a means to deflect frustration at domestic governments. Much like the Jews, Americans are portrayed as sinister crusaders bent on undermining traditional societies and destroying Islam.

In the West, on the other hand, anti-Americanism acts as an all-purpose ideological substitute for those socialists left in the lurch by the collapse of the Soviet Union and, by extension, Marxism. Prior to 9/11, this vapid animus expressed itself through the anti-globalization movement. In the last three years, it has mutated into a sort of anti-anti-terrorism. Whether the United States is attacking al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, bringing down Saddam's regime in Iraq, upholding Israel's right to defend itself against suicide bombers or interrogating terror suspects at Guantanamo, Europe's intellectuals tend to find righteous fury in the man with the bomb strapped to his chest, but nothing save malevolent aggression in Donald Rumsfeld.

Thankfully, things are not quite as bad here in Canada. During the recent election debates, all four major party leaders felt obliged to issue at least pro forma declarations of friendship toward the United States. But at times, the campaign played to anti-American sentiment as well, with the Liberals urging voters to choose between "a country like Canada or ... a country like the United States." Needed health care reforms were dismissed as "U.S.-style" medicine. And the NDP made hay by vilifying America's missile defence system, which would defend this country from deadly North Korean missiles at little or no expense to us.

This is the ugly side of Canada -- the side that is so insecure that it needs to tear the United States down to build itself up.

Make no mistake: We are proud to be Canadian. But we also recognize that we are not as different from Americans as many Canadians sometimes imagine. Cold weather, hockey, socialized medicine and our ageing memories of Juno Beach and Vimy Ridge strike some Canadians as a weak brew when it comes to national identity. As a result, they spike it with the bitter spirit of reflexive anti-Americanism. If the Americans make war, we become pacifists. If unilateralism, then multilateralism. If hard power, then soft. There is often little moral logic to our chastisement of the United States. In short, it is foreign policy as self-definition.

In the grand scheme, we are privileged to be America's neighbour: The nation is an icon of both the most successful economic ideology in human history, market capitalism and the most successful political system, liberal democracy. Much as we justly trumpet our own contributions to international well-being -- the Ottawa land mine treaty, Lester Pearson's peacekeeping innovations, Stephen Lewis's contributions to the fight against AIDS -- it must be acknowledged that when it comes to spreading freedom and prosperity to the four corners of the world, the United States is the unrivalled leader.

We have enough faith in our own wonderful nation to expect that, as passions cool over the Iraq war and its fallout, a majority of Canadians will realize this. For now, we say: Happy birthday America, from your friends to the north.

© National Post 2004