Reaping the World's Disfavor
By Harold 0aMeyerson
The Washington Post
Wednesday 11 June 2003
Save for the continuing search for its justification, the war in 0aIraq is over. For the United States, if not yet for Iraq, the consequences are 0aclear. We have established yet again the utter supremacy of our hard power. 0aUnfriendly governments tremble anew at our armed might and our willingness to 0ause it. Some, to be sure, are hard at work building their atomic arsenals, and 0athe last thing we need is a trembling adversary with a nuclear trigger. Still, 0aif the challenge before us is military, our government is justly confident we 0acan deter or defeat it.
But when it comes to our soft power -- our ability to persuade 0anations to work with us, to inspire their people to admire us and our social 0aarrangements and ideals -- we have all but unilaterally disarmed. At least so 0along as George W. Bush is president.
Consider some new polling by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center 0afor the People and the Press, which measured public opinion in 44 nations during 0athe summer and fall of 2002 and took further soundings in 21 nations in late 0aApril and May. All told, 54,000 people were surveyed, the clear majority of whom 0awere mightily peeved at the United States in general and Bush in particular.
Not surprisingly, the number of people holding a favorable view 0aof the United States has plunged in the wake of the war. Last summer the 0apercentage of Germans who viewed us positively was 61 percent; today it's 45 0apercent. In France, our favorability rating has declined from 63 percent then to 0a43 percent now. In Spain, where Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's government 0asupported the war, U.S. favorability ratings are down to a scant 38 percent.
Look at the numbers a little more and you see unmistakable 0aevidence that support for the Western alliance is coming unglued. The idea that 0aWestern Europe should have an approach to security and diplomatic matters that's 0amore independent of the United States won the support of 76 percent of the 0aFrench, 62 percent of the Spanish, 61 percent of the Italians, 57 percent of the 0aGermans. If the Bush administration's goal was to keep the European Union from 0abecoming a rival superpower, its war seems to have had precisely the opposite 0aeffect.
In nations that have not been our historical allies, fear of the 0aUnited States has skyrocketed. The number of Indonesians who are "very or 0asomewhat worried" that the United States could become a threat to their country 0ais 74 percent, and the same apprehension was voiced by 72 percent of Nigerians 0aand 71 percent of both Russians and Turks.
The Indonesian apprehension is worth some special scrutiny. On 0aany number of questions, respondents from the world's fourth most populous 0acountry showed themselves to be overwhelmingly antagonistic to American 0aviewpoints and positions. Partly this reflects a perspective now common to the 0aMuslim world. But I suspect it also results from Indonesians' rage at their 0atreatment by the International Monetary Fund and Robert Rubin, then U.S. 0atreasury secretary, during the East Asian financial meltdown of the late '90s. 0aWith Indonesia facing an economic collapse the likes of which the United States 0ahadn't seen since the Hoover administration, the mandate from the Americans was 0ato cut back spending -- which had the predictable consequence of plunging 0aIndonesia into a profound and lasting depression.
For the rest of the planet, the problem isn't Clinton's guys, 0ait's Bush. In nation after nation, people affirm democratic ideals that they 0astill generally associate with the United States -- but not with its president. 0aIn the 21 nations polled last month, respondents in 17 said that the problem 0awith the United States was "mostly Bush" rather than "Americans in general."
All of which follows quite logically from the administration's 0areversals of what had been America's fundamental relationships to other nations. 0aIn disdaining the United Nations and NATO, in proclaiming for his nation the 0aright to preemptive war and immunity from international standards, and in waging 0aa war based on trumped-up allegations, George W. Bush has clearly decided that 0ait is better for the United States to be feared than admired.
Our greatest presidents haven't viewed foreign relations as 0arequiring this kind of trade-off. Under Franklin Roosevelt, the United States 0ahad the world's mightiest arsenal and was its beacon of hope. But that's the 0akind of synthesis that Bush seems incapable even of imagining.
Besides, it was Bush's father -- the special envoy to China, U.N. 0aambassador and CIA director -- who felt comfortable in the world. Our current 0aBush is the guy who almost never traveled abroad until he became governor of 0aTexas. On the contrary, he revels in the role of the belligerent provincial. And 0aafter 21/2 years as president, damned if he hasn't remade the world in his own 0axenophobic image of it.