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Jueves 11 de septiembre de 2003


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.

 

"A 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."

In 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.

To 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."

The 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.

Some 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 and Germany.

In 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.

In 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.

That 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.

"America 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."

A 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."

The 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.

"If 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."

Bush as Salesman

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.

In 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.

That 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 United States.

In 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.

For 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.

"The 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 position."

Trying to Define 'Threat'

But 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 imminent threat.

"There 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 loosened.

"So, 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."

"In 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."

 

Fuente: New York Times

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