About a month ago I popped into the bar to grab a drink after a long evening of working on the house. There I bumped into an on-again, off-again buddy of mine who was at that moment soaked through with drink and lamenting the impending hammerblow of a breakup that everyone who knew him and the young lady involved saw coming from a year away. "Why doesn't she like me?" he moaned. I'm a fan of the hard but obvious truths out of which avoidance we make so much trouble for ourselves.
"Because," I told him, "You couldn't go ten seconds without needing some increasingly, ridiculously ardent affirmation of her love for you. Dude. It was totally annoying. No one likes that shit."
"Wow," he said, "Really? I did that?"
"Like a puppy with the gift of speech," I told him.
"Jesus," he murmured into his drink. "I didn't realize." He paused, stared into the middle distance, sighed. Then he turned to me and said, "Well, at least we're friends. You like me, right? We're buddies, right?"
By request now I wade into a similarly shallow pool. Anne Applebaum, the one woman on earth who wishes that NATO looked a little more like the Warsaw Pact, that the democratic intransigence of our putative allies was a little more Hungary, 1957, asks with the welling eyes of a fucked-and-chucked coed, Why don't they like us? Rather than asking decently--which is to say at a bar, sorrows drowning in a sea of whiskey and cheap domestic bottles--she asks extravagantly in the pages of the Washington Post:
"Why do they hate us?" Much ink has been spilled over the past six years in attempts to answer that question. By contrast, not enough attention has been paid to what is, in some ways, a more perplexing conundrum: Why don't they like us as much as they used to?I suppose that sixty years is a long time for so young a nation as ours, but I'm not sure that Germany, against whom we've fought two vast global conflicts, nor Italy, against whom we fought one, nor Italy and Poland combined, which before the war were to the industrial wage-slave trade what Africa once was to the Plantation economy, nor even the little Netherlands, for whom we've never had anything resembling either friendship or enmity, but rather charmed indifference mixed with touristic affection, can be called "traditional friends." Even Britain, she of the Special Relationship, has been a stolid supporter for a shorter duration than we like to imagine. Read Barbara Tuchman's The Proud Tower for a fine background in British-American enmity right up to the era of the First World War.
"They" in this latter question are our very, very closest allies. By this I don't mean France, or even Canada, democracies that are part of the Western alliance but that have never particularly warmed to the idea of American leadership, whether political or cultural. The French have always been huffy about NATO, and downright nasty about Hollywood; the Canadians have actually formed their national identity around being "not-Americans." No, the more interesting question is why support for American leadership has declined among our traditional friends: Britain, Poland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands.
Our traditional friends, therefore, are really the states that Applebaum judges to have been the most compliant in the post-war period--not an unreasonable measure, surely, but not the measure she's talking about. Meanwhile France, the closest thing America actually has to a traditional friend, gets it for being "huffy about NATO, and downright nasty about Hollywood." France was "huffy" about NATO because Britain and the US refused the French government a coequal role in the alliance, and because--here the past is prologue--Britain and the United States declined to join a French coalition of the willing in Algeria. Yes. Britain and the United States saw France engaging in a futile colonialist effort against a native insurgency and thought it wiser to remain aloof. Plus ça change. As for Hollywood--can a nation which still reveres le cowboy really hate American movies? I lived in France, and had no trouble seeing the latest Hollywood fare anytime I wanted. It's true that French critics and French festivals hate and shun big studio vehicles. It's true that American critics and American festivals also shun big studio vehicles. Constructing global alliances over the respective popularity of Michael Bay is, in any event, pretty fucking silly.
And what's Canada done to deserve such scorn? Let's note that Canadians haven't "actually formed their national identity around being 'not-Americans.'" They formed their identity as a post-Commonwealth, multilingual social democracy. Being "not American"--which is to say generally friendlier and less violent--is mere affirmation of an extant beingness. I'm not certain what it means to "warm to American leadership," but the Amero-Canadian border, the longest undefended land border in the world--probably in the history of the world--has got to be warmth of some kind to something.
Here, at last, is what our friends, traditional and otherwise, might tell America at the bar. America, you're big, mean, paranoid, self-pitying, violent, unpredictable, fickle, self-satisfied, demanding, clingy, pouty, mercurial, vengeful, arbitrary, and dumb. You are in other words every boyfriend whose strong arms and handsome chin grew less attractive as the first date wore on into a relationship and the true outlines of your character overgrew the nice lines of your chest. You've got a nice ass, America, but you're a bad sport and you've got a shitty sense of humor.