Surely, though, there is a growing gulf between America and the world. Otherwise, how could anyone explain the mounting anti-Americanism in recent years? It is true that anti-American sentiment runs wide and deep today, but it is also true that it is not new. Europeans had only slightly more confidence in President George W. Bush than in Russian President Vladimir Putin on the eve of 9/11. In an August 2001 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, strong majorities -- more than 70 percent -- of four West European nations characterized the Bush administration as unilateralist. They held this opinion before the war on terror or the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, which in their execution are far more responsible for the current antipathy toward the United States than anything else.
Anti-Americanism, however, has a far longer lineage than the Bush administration. Its roots are in the world's collective fear that U.S. preeminence would become so great that the United States would come to dominate others. In 1983, a Newsweek poll conducted by the Gallup Organization found that in six countries, Brazil, Britain, France, Japan, Mexico, and West Germany, only the Brazilians approved of U.S. government policy. In the same poll, a majority in Brazil, Japan, and Mexico believed that a strong U.S. military presence around the world increased the chance of war.
Sensibly, those fears grew with the end of the superpower contest. In 1995, in a survey conducted by the United States Information Agency, majorities around the world said that the United States was intent on dominating them. Even with a president as beloved abroad as Bill Clinton, America was considered a bully by 83 percent of people polled in Israel, 77 percent in Morocco, 71 percent in Colombia, and 61 percent in Britain. In December 2001, resentment of U.S. power was still the leading reason for disliking the United States in Europe, Russia, and Latin America, and a close second everywhere else. But the fact that anti-Americanism has spiked since the U.S. invasion of Iraq is, again, entirely sensible. For the rest of the world, it is the realization of the fears of American dominance that they have long harbored.
What Has Changed
In 2002, then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said of the time following September 11: "I really think this period is analogous to 1945 to 1947 in that the events ... started shifting the tectonic plates in international politics." Of course, it is tempting to see 9/11 as the beginning of a new era. Destruction as unexpected and dramatic as occurred on that day almost demands a label or name all its own. But the plates had already shifted 10 years earlier. The United States was a target on September 11 because it was perceived to be the global hegemon. Al Qaeda's efforts to overthrow the Arab regimes had been an abysmal failure in the 1990s. Unable to accomplish his objectives in the Arab world, Osama bin Laden plotted to strike the "faraway enemy," the United States. By striking at the colossus, which for decades had helped shore up the bedrock of Arab regimes, bin Laden hoped to remake the world. What Rice saw on September 11 was an explosion that had been building for some time.
The attacks of September 11 have not altered the balance of power. Instead, they only aggravated differences in the imbalance that already existed. Perhaps the truest thing that changed because of 9/11 was the way in which the Pentagon’s budget soared. The American military's budgeted defense spending grew 39 percent between 2001 and 2006. Put another way, in 2001, the United States' military expenditure of $325 billion was the same as the next 14 biggest militaries combined. By 2005, the Pentagon was outspending the next 14 militaries by $116 billion.
This monumental increase in military spending has helped finance the U.S. war on terror and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. And some would argue that these campaigns, and the general American foreign policy that has undergirded them, have made the world a far more dangerous place for everyone -- everyone, that is, except Americans. Consider that between Sept. 12, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2005, 18,944 people around the world died in acts of terrorism. Only eight of those deaths were on American soil.
If the world resented the imbalance between the United States and everyone else before September 11, you can understand how that resentment could be so much greater today. The gulf between the United States and the rest of the world has only grown wider. For better or worse, only when the international system achieves some sort of balance -- whether it happens because of others' progress, American decline, or both -- will the post-Cold War era come to a close. Until then, 1991 will remain the year that matters most.