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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

With Friends Like These ...

Being hated is no fun. And few people hate being hated more than Americans. I wish I had a dollar for every time I've been asked, "Why do they hate us?" -- and another for each of the different answers I've heard. It's because of our foreign policy. It's because of their extremism. It's because of our arrogance. It's because of their inferiority complex. Americans really hate not knowing why they're hated.

The best explanation is the simplest. Being hated is what happens to dominant empires. George Orwell knew the feeling. As a young man he served as an assistant police superintendent in British-run Burma, an experience he memorably described in his essay "Shooting an Elephant." Called upon to kill a pachyderm that had run amok, Orwell was suddenly aware "of the watchful yellow faces behind" him: "The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those 2,000 Burmese would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened, it was quite probable that some of them would laugh."

Eric Blair -- as Orwell was known then -- could scarcely have been better prepared for his role as a colonial official. Born in Bengal, the son of a colonial civil servant, he had been educated at Eton, where boys learn not to worry about being hated. Yet even he found the resentment of the natives hard to bear: "In the end the sneering ... faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves. ... [It] was perplexing and upsetting."

That's a feeling American soldiers in Baghdad must know pretty well.

But who hates Americans the most? You might assume that it's people in countries that the United States has recently attacked or threatened to attack. Americans themselves are clear about who their principal enemies are. Asked by the Gallup agency to name the "greatest enemy" of the United States today, 26 percent of those recently polled named Iran, 21 percent named Iraq and 18 percent named North Korea.

Are those feelings reciprocated? Up to a point. The Gallup Center for Muslim Studies' latest poll found 52 percent of Iranians view the United States unfavorably. But that is down from 63 percent in 2001. And it's significantly lower than the antipathy felt in Jordan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Two-thirds of Jordanians and Pakistanis have a negative view of the United States, as does a staggering 79 percent of Saudis.

These figures suggest a paradox in the Muslim world. It's not the United States' enemies that hate it most. It's people in countries that are supposed to be friendly, if not allies.

The paradox of unfriendly allies is not confined to the Middle East. Last week was not a good week for Americanophiles in Europe. Tony Blair announced British troop withdrawals from Iraq, an unfortunate signal on the eve of the U.S. "surge." In Rome, his counterpart Romano Prodi had to resign because his coalition partners would not agree to keep Italian troops in Afghanistan or to enlarge a U.S. military base in Italy. Anti-Americanism is nothing new in European politics, but there is something new going on here that extends to traditionally pro-U.S. constituencies.

Back in 1999, 83 percent of British people surveyed by the U.S. State Department's Office of Research said they had a favorable opinion of the United States. But by 2006, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, only 56 percent did. British respondents to the Pew surveys now give higher ratings to Germany (75 percent) and Japan (69 percent) than to the United States -- a remarkable transformation in attitudes, given the notorious British tendency to look back nostalgically and unforgivingly to World War II. Britons recently polled by Pew regard the U.S. presence in Iraq as a bigger threat to world peace than Iran or North Korea.

Nor is Britain the only disillusioned ally. Only 38 percent of Germans and 19 percent of Canadians believe that U.S. foreign policy considers the interests of others. The poignant fact is that when Americans are asked to rate foreign countries, their most favorable views are of none other than Britain, Germany and Canada.

In the 1990s, then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright pompously called the United States "the indispensable nation." Today, it seems to have become the indefensible nation, even in the eyes of its supposed friends.

Orwell would have understood. Just as it was the educated beneficiaries of British rule in Asia who were the most strident anti-imperialists in Orwell's day, so the British Empire's most natural allies -- France and the United States -- were anything but Anglophile. For it turns out that power not only corrupts. It also tends to isolate.

There is, after all, a reason why they say it's lonely at the top.

Niall Ferguson is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.