"The way things are going, it will soon be the United States
against the world."
That comment, by a top political leader in Kuala Lumpur, was just
one of hundreds of expressions of a new and disturbing alienation
from America that I heard during a recent swing through 14 Asian,
European and Latin American capitals.
What a contrast to the supportive attitudes abroad immediately
after Sept. 11. Then, the sometimes anti-American French journal
Le Monde captured the world's sentiment with a headline proclaiming:
"We are all Americans". Ten months later, sympathy for
the victims of the terror attacks remains. But the American image
is increasingly perceived as ugly, and support abroad for U.S. policies
is plummeting - in response to such U.S. actions as the threat last
week to withdraw its peacekeepers from Bosnia unless Americans are
exempted from jurisdiction of the new International Criminal Court.
Of course, anti-Americanism is not new, but what I found disturbing
after 35 years of visiting these cities was that foreign leaders
who have been longtime friends of the United States are the ones
While most foreign observers express affinity for Americans as
people, they show increasing resentment of the United States as
a nation and frequently remark with regard to Sept. 11 that "now
America knows what it feels like". They show a sense of satisfaction
that, for once, America understands what it's like to be vulnerable.
And they hope our tragedy might instill some humility and blunt
American arrogance on issues such as energy conservation, global
warming and global poverty.
Many people abroad are now convinced that the United States aims
to control their destiny and that, despite its talk of democracy,
human rights and free trade, the United States really thinks only
of its own narrow interests. In Seoul, American hostility toward
North Korea is seen to be undermining President Kim Dae Jung's efforts
to engage the North. Several top South Korean leaders emphasized
to me that Washington either doesn't understand or doesn't care
that South Korea cannot afford to take over a collapsing North Korea.
"How can we make Washington understand that we need a long
transition and that we must prevent, not precipitate, a sudden collapse
of the North?" asked a key Korean negotiator.
Others in Asia see the United States, prodded by constituencies
at home that are obsessed with China's military, as too narrowly
focused in its approach to Beijing and inattentive to sentiments
in the region. In China there is widespread disappointment and resentment
over the recent U.S. designation of China as a "strategic competitor
rather than a strategic partner" as well as over the president's
declaration that America "will do whatever it takes" to
defend Taiwan. Both are seen as needlessly hostile. "We want
to sell to America, not attack it," said one official in Shanghai.
As for Taiwan, no one I met in Asia believed there is any danger
of invasion. Indeed, they said, it is the Taiwanese who are "invading"
mainland China, where they are the biggest investors and the biggest
group of non-mainland residents; nearly 500,000 of them live in
Shanghai alone. The only circumstance most observers can imagine
that could provoke an attack would be a declaration of independence
by Taiwan, something that, ironically, recent U.S. policies are
seen to be encouraging.
In six weeks of traveling, I was struck by how often I heard the
criticism that while the United States speaks of principles, it
often undermines its moral suasion by acting cynically in pursuit
of its national interests. Recently, for example, the White House
welcomed Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir. Only a few years
ago, Washington was lambasting Mahathir both for the imposition
of capital market controls during the financial crisis of l997 and
for human rights abuses in the jailing of his deputy prime minister
on charges of engaging in homosexual acts. Today the former deputy
prime minister remains in jail and the capital markets remain somewhat
restricted, but Mahathir is a favorite in Washington because he
is tough on terror. For some, the former U.S. stance confirms Washington's
penchant for meddling in the affairs of others while the current
stance proves the insincerity of its proclaimed devotion to human
rights and free trade.
U.S. trade policies have reinforced the perception of U.S. arrogance
and double standards. Generations of U.S. trade negotiators have
pounded on Japan, the European Union and others to reduce agricultural
subsidies and to open their markets in politically sensitive areas
such as computer chips, movies, beef and rice. Now, pleading political
necessity, the United States has outraged these nations by increasing
its own agricultural subsidies and restricting imports of steel
Looming far above all other causes of alienation from America,
however, are two transcendent issues: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
and American unilateralism.
The gulf between the American view of the Middle East and that
of virtually everyone else could not be wider. That helps explain
why when President Bush recently called for new Palestinian leadership
as a precondition for a Palestinian state, U.S. allies said they
would deal with whomever the Palestinians elect, Arafat included.
Americans tend to see Israel as an allied country. The events
of Sept. 11 and recent suicide bombings have only strengthened the
close American identification with Israel. But people I met overseas,
while condemning suicide bombings and sympathizing with the Israeli
victims, also noted the plight of the Palestinians and the fact
that they have been under occupation of questionable legality for
nearly 40 years. One newspaper editor in Singapore even compared
the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians with U.S. treatment of
Native Americans during the settlement of the American West. Everywhere
I went leaders emphasized that calling for an end to Palestinian
violence without mentioning the Israeli expansion of settlements
is unfair and counterproductive. Yet our friends abroad see the
United States as unwilling, for domestic political reasons, to oppose
or pressure Israel.