Foreign Views of U.S. Darken Since Sept. 11
In the two years
since Sept. 11, 2001, the view of the United States as a victim of
terrorism that deserved the world's sympathy and support has given way
to a widespread vision of America as an imperial power that has defied
world opinion through unjustified and unilateral use of military force.
lot of people had sympathy for Americans around the time of 9/11, but
that's changed," said Cathy Hearn, 31, a flight attendant from South
Africa, expressing a view commonly heard in many countries. "They act
like the big guy riding roughshod over everyone else."
interviews correspondents from Africa to Europe to Southeast
Asia, one point emerged clearly: The war in Iraq has had a major impact
on public opinion, which has moved generally from post-9/11 sympathy to
post-Iraq antipathy, or at least to disappointment over what is seen as
the sole superpower's inclination to act pre-emptively, without either
persuasive reasons or United Nations approval.
some degree, the resentment is centered on the person of President Bush,
who is seen by many of those interviewed, at best, as an ineffective
spokesman for American interests and, at worst, as a gunslinging cowboy
knocking over international treaties and bent on controlling the world's
oil, if not the entire world.
Foreign policy experts point to slowly developing fissures, born at the
end of the cold war, that exploded into view in the debate leading up to
the Iraq war. "I think the turnaround was last summer, when American
policy moved ever more decisively toward war against Iraq," said Josef
Joffe, co-editor of the German weekly Die Zeit. "That's what triggered
the counteralliance of France and Germany and the enormous wave of
hatred against the United States."
subject of America in the world is of course complicated, and the
nation's battered international image could improve quickly in response
to events. The Bush administration's recent turn to the United Nations
for help in postwar Iraq may represent such an event.
regions, especially Europe, are split in their view of America's role:
The governments and, to a lesser extent, the public in former
Soviet-bloc countries are much more favorably disposed to American power
than the governments and the public in Western Europe, notably France
Japan, a strong American ally that feels insecure in the face of a
hostile, nuclear-armed North Korea, there may be doubts about the wisdom
of the American war on Iraq. But there seem to be far fewer doubts about
the importance of American power generally to global stability.
China, while many ordinary people express doubts about the war in Iraq,
anti-American feeling has diminished since Sept. 11, 2001, and there
seems to be greater understanding and less instinctive criticism of the
United States by government officials and intellectuals. The Chinese
leadership has largely embraced America's "war on terror."
Still, a widespread and fashionable view is that the United States is a
classically imperialist power bent on controlling global oil supplies
and on military domination.
mood has been expressed in different ways by different people, from the
hockey fans in Montreal who boo the American national anthem to the high
school students in Switzerland who do not want to go to the United
States as exchange students because America is not "in." Even among
young people, it is not difficult to hear strong denunciations of
American policy and sharp questioning of American motives.
has taken power over the world," said Dmitri Ostalsky, 25, a literary
crtic and writer in Moscow. "It's a wonderful country, but it seized
power. It's ruling the world. America's attempts to rebuild all the
world in the image of liberalism and capitalism are fraught with the
same dangers as the Nazis taking over the world."
Frenchman, Jean-Charles Pogram, 45, a computer technician, said: "the problem is
that we don't agree with the means to achieve those ends. The United
States can't see beyond the axiom that force can solve everything, but
Europe, because of two world wars, knows the price of blood."
Lydia Adhiamba, a 20-year-old student at the Institute of Advanced
Technology in Nairobi, Kenya, said the United States "wants to rule the
whole world, and that's why there's so much animosity to the U.S."
major English language daily newspaper in Indonesia, The Jakarta Post,
recently ran a prominent article titled, "Why moderate Muslims are
annoyed with America," by Sayidiman Suryohadiprojo, a prominent figure
during the Suharto years.
America wants to become a hegemonic power, it is rather difficult for
other nations to prevent that," he wrote. "However, if America wants to
be a hegemonic power that has the respect and trust of other nations, it
must be a benign one, and not one that causes a reaction of hate or fear
among other nations."
Crucial to global opinion has been the failure of the Bush
administration to persuade large segments of the public of its
justification for going to war in Iraq.
striking contrast to opinion in the United States, where polls show a
majority believe there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al
Qaeda terrorists, the rest of the world remains skeptical.
explains the enormous difference in international opinion toward
American military action in Afghanistan in the months after Sept. 11,
which seemed to have tacit approval as legitimate self-defense, and
toward American military action in Iraq, which is seen as the arbitrary
act of an overbearing power.
Perhaps the strongest effect on public opinion has been in Arab and
Muslim countries. Even in relatively moderate Muslim countries like
Indonesia and Turkey, or countries with large Muslim populations, like
Nigeria, both polls and interviews show sharp drops in approval of the
unabashedly pro-American countries like Poland, perhaps the staunchest
American ally on Iraq after Britain, polls show 60 percent of the people
oppose the government's decision to send 2,500 troops to Iraq.
many people, the issue is not so much the United States as it is the
Bush administration, and what is seen as its arrogance. In this view, a
different set of policies and a different set of public statements from
Washington could have resulted in a different set of attitudes.
point I would make is that with the best will in the world, President
Bush is a very poor salesman for the United States, and I say that as
someone who has no animus against him or the United States," said Philip
Gawaith, a financial communications consultant in London. "Whether it's
Al Qaeda or Afghanistan, people have just felt that he's a silly man,
and therefore they are not obliged to think any harder about his
Trying to Define 'Threat'
while the public statements of the Bush administration have not played
well in much of the world, many analysts see deeper causes for the rift
that has opened. In their view, the Iraq war has not so much caused a
new divergence as it has highlighted and widened one that existed since
the end of the cold war. Put bluntly, Europe needs America less now that
it feels less threatened.
Indeed, while the United States probably feels more threatened now than
in 1989, when the cold war ended, Europe is broadly unconvinced of any
were deep structural forces before 9/11 that were pushing us apart,"
said John J. Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the
University of Chicago and the author of "The Tragedy of Great Power
Politics." "In the absence of the Soviet threat or of an equivalent
threat, there was no way that ties between us and Europe wouldn't be
when the Bush Administration came to power, the question was whether it
would make things better or worse, and I'd argue that it made them worse."
the cold war you could argue that American unilateralism had no cost,"
Professor Mearsheimer continued. "But as we're finding out with regard
to Iraq, Iran and North Korea, we need the Europeans and we need
institutions like the U.N. The fact is that the United States can't run
the world by itself, and the problem is, we've done a lot of damage in
our relations with allies, and people are not terribly enthusiastic
about helping us now."