Thank you, Mr Bush
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Thank you, Mr Bush

Have you noticed how the world doesn?t like America? Few countries have anything good to say, writes Karan Thapar.

india Updated: Mar 05, 2006 01:49 IST

Have you noticed how the world doesn’t like America? Few countries have anything good to say. The irony is that those for whom it has done the most tend to be least grateful. And this applies regardless of whether the recipient state is Asian, Latin American or European.

In the 1950s, when the Marshall Plan was reviving Europe’s crushed fortunes, it was commonplace in England to joke about Yankee unpopularity. The one that became best known went like this: “We hate them for three reasons, because they are over-paid, over-sexed and over-here.” This snide if successful strand of humour has roots that stretch far back into Europe’s relations with the ‘New World’. Oscar Wilde was a past master: “It was wonderful to find America, but it would have been more wonderful still to have missed it”, or “America had often been discovered before Columbus, but it had always been hushed up.”

Even the French had their little digs. Clemenceau, who was Prime Minister during World War I, is best known for the following witticism: “America is the only country to have progressed from barbarism to decadence without experiencing the intervening stage of civilisation.” Freud: “America is the most grandiose experiment the world has seen but, I’m afraid, it’s not going to succeed.”

What lies behind such humour is rank jealousy. Success, no doubt, breeds envy but when your own impoverishment or incapacity adds the curse of dependence envy turns rapidly into dislike. The more the world needs America the more it hates itself for it. And since one cannot swear at oneself, America becomes the next best victim.

Of course, Yankee crassness, at times their innocence and often their idiocy have added to this. Americans are hardly their own best ambassadors. I recall a US Senator at the Cambridge Union who single handedly helped his side lose the motion “This House reaffirms its faith in America.” It happened when, carried away by his eloquence, he warmed to the subject and promised to lift the poor cities of the world “up, up, up — all the way till they look like Kansas City.” That shattered all prospects of a vote in favour.

And yet if America feels let down, stung by ingratitude, even lacerated, I can understand its feelings. Because those who need America the most are often the ones to kick hardest. This week India came very close to joining the list of the ungrateful.

Consider the facts. After nearly forty years of undisputed existence, the international nuclear non-proliferation regime, one of the world’s most sacred holy cows, has been dismantled to admit one single country. Of itself this is epoch-making. It’s revolutionary. But when you add the fact that this will give India, a country that was sometimes called a nuclear rogue state, the capacity to enlarge its civilian nuclear industry, which otherwise simply couldn’t have happened, the magnitude becomes enormous.

But are we grateful? Not if you look at the Left or the Samajwadi Party. Nor if you judge by the so-called popular protest on the streets. Not even if you go by the polls published by newspapers like this one. Instead, we’re more concerned about Bush’s Iraq policy or his threats to Iran, by his duplicity in the war on terrorism or even his simplistic, moralistic, little-Christian attitudes. We prefer to see reasons to dislike him. We ignore all cause for gratitude.

My point is simple. If Bush is so terrible why did we seek him out for help? If his Iraq policy is so unforgivable and if he is, as Arundhati Roy insists, a killer, why did we ask for his assistance? The choice to not do so was always there. But we consciously acted otherwise. Now, having got what we wanted, and possibly in far greater measure than expected, does it become us to carp and criticise?

The truth is we have in George W. Bush a president more pro-Indian than any before him. In fact the same nuclear deal would not have been possible under Clinton or Kerry or Gore. Bush alone made it happen. And he did so despite our Parliament’s well-known stand on Iraq and the ill-disguised contempt our elite have for him. If he could rise above all that then, surely, in return we could have expressed our gratitude more clearly and with good cheer. The protests should have been postponed or muted. They were hardly a suitable way of saying thank you.

First Published: Mar 05, 2006 01:45 IST