Thursday, April 03, 2003

Oderint dum metuant

"Let them hate, so long as they fear".

The US has surpassed itself in achieving the first part. They've given ammunition aplenty to those who have always hated them, and driven those who would normally be its friends - people and countries who share the goal of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", albeit in various different ways - into opposing it. From the breadth and depth of antiwar protests, I think its fair to say that much of the world now hates the US.

The second bit is more tricky. Yes, in a sense, we're all afraid of the US, in the same way that we'd be afraid of a fat drunken bully in a bar. And our governments are afraid of them - no nation-state is going to take on the US in a stand-up fight. But that's not what they have to worry about. After all, it wasn't nation-states who levelled the twin towers...

No matter how many countries the US invades and how many people they kill, they'll never be safe from Osama bin-Laden. Sure, they can hunt him down and kill him - he may already be dead - but as long as the US is hated, there will be others to take his place. The only way America can be safe from them is not to piss people off in the first place.

But back to nation-states. Fear of US might may prevent a military attack, but that's not the only thing the US has to worry about. Americans tend to underestimate the degree to which their interests depend on the voluntary cooperation of the rest of the world - the war on terror and the WTO are just two examples. It doesn't take a Machiavellian genius to figure out that people who hate you are less likely to cooperate with you; I'm sure even Americans can figure out the long-term costs of being hated.