Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Clinton Nostalgia

When I was in Senegal, unanimous opinion was that Bush was bad and Clinton was wonderful (and this was a cross-national sample including people from Togo, Morocco, Tunisia, France, Mauritania, Ivory Coast and, of course, Senegal). This warmed my partisan heart, yet it fails to make sense.

Especially among the arabs from Morocco, Tunisia, and Mauritania, the complaint about the United States was its tendency to intervene in the arab world -- propping up some and bringing down others. And then there was the whole America-in-Saudi Arabia-thing.

While Bush has obviously done, ummm, more, in the Arab world than Clinton, Clinton hardly took a hands-off attitude: sanctions and bombing in Iraq; continued basing in Saudi Arabia; continued support for Israel; bombing in...was it Sudan?; plus all those other slights which we Americans forget.

I suspect this is simply seeing the past through rose-colored glasses (or else dis-associating the man from the policies). Yet even if there is a bit of that going on, there has to be some truth to it.

We can pull out from this both that Bush has really wrecked America's soft power, and that at this point most people perceive -- if incorrectly -- the 1990s to have been a glorious time. Weird to realize that I'll tell my kids what it was like to grow up in the placid 1990s, just like some parents can speak nostalgically about the 1950s.

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