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The US' Image Abroad is Formed with the Mud Slung by Domestic Anti-Americans
by George de Poor Handlery
20 April 2004US Flag

The best anti-American propaganda is produced in the United States.


This piece of writing must begin with a reluctant compliment to American savvy in the realm of propaganda, public psychology and snake-oil marketing. As a result the country has an often unnoticed product that enjoys dizzying export success which assures it global presence with best-seller status. The US’ leading role in the areas of fiction named is proven by the country’s world-wide negative image. Attribute this achievement to the fact that the best of anti-American propaganda is produced in the United States. The results score high against all odds and all the factual evidence of reality. As a result, the conjured-up image of America that stalks the nightmares of foreigners is, at least as a consolation, “made in the USA.”

If the product were not as effective as it is, I would not need to write articles such as this one. It would be an added bonus that in conversations with local folks I would not be challenged with contradictory arguments of the stupefying category; they are based on what “even the Americans have admitted” – in the papers, in Congress or its franchise branch located in Hollywood.

How does the process alluded to here work as a system? It is diabolically simple. Anyone can play! Begin with someone State-side who is trying to spin something to the detriment of, let us say, the current Administration. The original purpose might be purely domestic politics. It is only meant to get a few votes for one’s own side while whittling some off from the opposing camp’s support.

In pursuit of this goal it will be alleged that whatever is being done cannot work. Once it works, pretend that the failure is lurking behind the next corner. At the first reverse, argue that its dimensions are cataclysmic. If there is a pause in the procedures mention “quagmire,” getting stuck, having the route of withdrawal blocked. Yes, Chicken Little, all is lost. Once the bumps on the road fail to grow into a Himalaya, assert that this is only so because unfair means are applied, human rights were systematically violated, or whatever. Invoke comparatively Hitler as a humanitarian and Lenin as lovable. If more needs to be added to the stinking heap, mention that whatever progress has raised its ugly head, it is the result of pre-meditated aggression. It is best to claim here that the crime that had been decided upon conspiratively: it happened prior to having provoked the crisis that is now being used to justify the moment’s out-of-proportion offensive actions.

At this juncture it is advantageous to talk about the private motives and secret fantasies of American decision makers. The nature of the accusation is a beaut’ because its nature guarantees that the contrary cannot be proven. On the other hand, to your good fortune, pre-conflict planning, twisted into becoming evidence of unprovoked aggression, will probably be provable. You see, major actions, the likely as well as the unlikely ones, are in the form of a contingency plan in a big drawer of some huge desk in a towering government building. (This fits every country, anywhere, anytime.) Just in case anything foreseeable, even if deemed unlikely, should come about, one must have an emergency plan ready. Developing one takes months: to start on developing it in the context of a crisis implies bad preparation and the imperilment of the project’s success. Oh, lest we forget, there is one more thing. If the crisis and the proper response were unanticipated, claim that it proves negligence. Follow up by mentioning a failure of the intelligence organs and the brainlessness of an underqualified (whisper here the adjective “low-grade-moron”) Chief Executive. So, if you are smart, you claim disqualifying laxity for not being prepared and inexcusable extremism once any action is taken. In the eventuality that the crisis was an anticipated one, the very assumption that it could happen is proof that “they” wanted it to happen. And the logic that stresses the contradictions may be damned as the partisan carping of a haughty Executive Branch!

You might want to control the efficacy of the formula. Good for you!  Take the public attacks on any policy, in view of the moment’s dominant issue, most likely you will choose the handling of the general topic of Iraq/terrorism. It will be worth it.

By now these lines have become a recipe for a neat “do-it-yourself” project. Title it “how to checkmate whatever would otherwise be successful since, according to Lenin, the worse it is (or can be made to seem to be) the better.” Riding on this wave of success in the manner of a witch on the broom, is intoxicating. So you should be presented with “Part 2" -- the really destructive segment. (OK, OK, “destructive” is not objective: it all depends on your point of view. And everybody has a right not only to his opinion but also to being honored for it. The nuttier it is, the more of an “opinion,” it is, therefore more P.C. reasons can be found to enforce the public’s formal reverence.)

We have now reached “stage 2.” This is the topic of global US-bashing’s American-made supporting pillars. So far you have been given ideas about how to denigrate America for domestic use on the profitable tabloid level. Scoring points with this seems like nothin’ once you turn on the catalyst of foreign impact. If cleverly done, its retro effect will top the success of your earlier efforts.

News about America is always interesting news. Chalk it down as a perk of being the moment’s “top nation.” The effect is reinforced by the fact that, indeed, much that is news and new –whether foolish, trivial or path-setting -- originates in America. Add to the interest a portion of envy sweetened with the honey of schadenfreude. If this is your motive then your harvest of the bad in America will be plentiful. More than “plentiful,” what you get will have items you would not ever have dared to allege on your own authority. But once “public persons,” politicians, “nice people” there, best-sellers, or even candidates for high office pretend it, you have no reason to hold it back from your own readers. In serving the stuff up while hot you might be tempted to add some explanatory verbal condiments and juicy innuendoes to improve the flavor of the “translation.”  As a result, what has been possibly “asinine politicking” while on State-side, becomes in a few days “the opinion of the international community.”

With this we have concluded the second phase and approach the third, the interest-bearing retro effect. Once the propaganda ball hit over the fence is conveniently returned, it lands on the US’ court with a bounce whose effect is devastating.

For one thing, the anti-American thesis served free of charge will, in the world of facts, make the going tougher for US initiatives. The wind blowing in America’s face will slow her while it will embolden her enemies in the field. A condition is created that can be taken as proof for the original claim that “it can not work, it does not work.” However, this breeze, that is the artificially enhanced foreign opposition, is not the decisive part of my retro effect.

The easiest venue to prevent America from scoring touchdowns is in the middle of her own huddle. Once US-made accusations become -- understandably -- “common knowledge” in foreign lands, the domestic “activist” can take the transplanted slander and bring it back home. (In doing this you should not be a cat or a dog: they cover up their droppings.) With this, the regurgitated “effect” can become the proof of the original -- in itself probably shaky -- assertion. Now the attack gains substance and credibility because it can be pandered by stating, “not only do I say so, the entire world holds, with me, that….” Add to this the inclination of many Americans to heed, in foreign matters that are alien to them, the opinion of the foreign sources they can access. Now one can understand why the original position, once filtered back from abroad, is of considerable credibility in the midst of a people that, first and foremost, wish to be “liked” abroad. 

Once the bad news has been recycled from foreign shores it will influence public opinion and act as shackles around the limbs of US policy. Without the ebbing support of the public -- now shaken in its original conviction that right is right and wrong is wrong -- words are minced and efforts are diffused. This will reduce the extent and speed of anything that will be achieved. The coming election, and not the ongoing confrontation, will increasingly become the criterion for whatever will be done. The initial prediction of failure is now close to causing the crash wishfully forecast in the original First Phase.

There is, of course, for the propagandist and his line, a down-side. He might take power due to the means used to discredit his predecessor. Only in this case, while successful in domestic election politics, he is likely to find himself in a position in which, due to his commitments made on the way to power, he is unable to act in the national interest. If this happens, the loser is not the party dismissed in the election process but the entire nation.

George Handlery is an historian. He has lived and taught in Europe since 1976.

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