Sunday, June 10, 2007

With Friends Like Albania . . .

"who needs enemies?" would be the idiomatic way to complete that question, but that's not fair. I will admit that when I saw that Americans in general and President Bush in particular are widely popular in Albania, my first reaction was to assume that Albania had slipped back into autocracy and that our popularity was of a piece with the "popularity" of North Korea's dear leader. But no, Albania continues to be on the road to democracy. It appears that they just like us. They really really like us. In fact, Albanians are grateful for US support for ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and other foreign policy moves of the past.

That should be welcome news except that somehow Albanian gratitude towards and warm feelings for Americans has translated into unflagging support for Bush Administration policies, including the Iraq war and, most recently, Guantanamo detentions. Albania has become the country of choice for releasing detainees whose home countries either won't take them or would likely subject them to treatment still worse than they received at Guantanamo. Even that would be welcome if Albania were integrating these refugees---who are being released in some cases because they shouldn't have been detained in the first place---but press accounts suggest that "parole" in Albania is not much better than detention in Guantanamo.

All in all, it appears that Albanians are making the mirror image mistake of other Europeans who translate their opposition to Bush Administration policies into general anti-Americanism. During the Cold War, it was popular for anti-Communists in the United States to express sympathy for the Russian people (and those subject to their rule and orbit) while expressing distaste for their rulers. I suppose the democratic character of the United States makes similar treatment of the US more difficult. Unlike Russians under Communism, we chose Bush et al as our leaders, and thus he represents us. But with Bush's approval rating in the 20s, one would hope that people around the world would distinguish between government policies and the people as a whole.