CONTENTS
ABOUT
A Gannett News Service special report Posted July 14, 2002

 

 

 

RELATED STORIES
Strength of culture makes U.S. loved, hated on the Arab Street

Essay: Perception of U.S. and its policies lend to combustible environment

INTERACTIVE MAP:
U.S. relations with the world

CONTINUE ON TO: PART 2

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U.S. battling image
as arrogant superpower

WASHINGTON — Is the United States benevolent or arrogant? Hypocritical or heroic?

The answer depends largely on where in the world you live.

Americans tend to think of themselves as a force for good in an increasingly troubled world, so the idea that many people abroad see them or their government as uncaring or evil is ludicrous, even maddening.

But people and governments on every continent see Americans’ attitude as a part of the problem, as a sign that they are not trying to understand the rest of the world.

“We know you. You don’t know us,” Emad Adeeb, an Egyptian television and newspaper journalist told a recent Pew International Fellows conference in Washington. “What happens here is part of our local news. What happens (in the Arab world) is foreign news here.”

Anger has been further fueled by the United States' prominent military role in the world as part of the war on terrorism — a marked shift from its 1990s role as a driving force in the global economy.

Before Sept. 11, the image was that “the president was CEO of the world,” Adeeb said. “Now the president is head sheriff.”

Fair or not, that judgment is widely held outside the United States.

European allies are fuming over America's decisions to abandon treaties on global warming, arms control and an international war crimes court as well as to protect American products with new tariffs on foreign goods. Anti-American feelings go much deeper in Arab countries, where the United States is viewed as blindly loyal to Israel.

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What happened?

After the terrorist attacks, Americans realized that two oceans and two friendly countries at their borders no longer were enough to separate them from the terror and strife bedeviling much of the world.

President Bush spoke of a global war on terrorism and of a renewed effort to build democracy and prosperity in struggling countries.

But 10 months after the attacks, many countries view America more as a villain than a victim. Many analysts say anti-Americanism is higher now than at any time since the Vietnam War.

Surveys in Arab nations show that increasing numbers of people there believe that Israel, not Osama bin Laden, spearheaded the Sept. 11 attacks, even though his terrorist network has effectively claimed responsibility. The idea that Israel was somehow behind the World Trade Center attacks in an effort to tighten U.S. support for the Jewish state echoes throughout much of the Muslim world.

"The belief in bin Laden as the leader of this terrorist attack was a very high number at one point. I think it's eroded," Undersecretary of State Charlotte Beers told Gannett News Service, citing classified State Department polls and focus groups. "They will argue with you that there hasn't been a case made against him."

Anger at the United States has intensified in rhythm with the escalation of violence in the Middle East and U.S. support for Israel.

Outside a dilapidated housing project in Giza, a bustling suburb of Cairo, Mohammed Attia, 27, recalls the day when America was considered a good friend. That was when Egypt became the only Arab state to make peace with Israel, a deal brokered in Washington and rewarded by stability, economic and military aid, and investment by U.S. corporations. But the attitude has changed since the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian strife. There are anti-American demonstrations, and the fast food joints that seem as prevalent in Cairo as in any U.S. suburb can be targets as well as eateries.

“Ever since the U.S. takes sides, we dislike the United States,” Attia said. “The Jews will see their prophecy come true when all the Christians disappear and all the Muslims disappear,” he said matter-of-factly. He then turned to an Egyptian interpreter and asked, “Do you think America realizes this?”

In the Muslim world, “everything is seen through the prism of this big, unjust, Jewish conspiracy,” said Najam Sethi, chief editor of the Daily Times in Lahore, Pakistan. Arabs view the American media and government as tools of "the Jewish lobby," he said.

The spread of U.S. hatred in the Islamic world is a concern of Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a leading Republican foreign policy voice.

“What is most dangerous to us post-September 11th is not just the terrorists … it’s allowing any kind of civilization clash to ignite because we weren’t paying attention enough,” Hagel said. “It is important we pay attention to that so we don’t alienate a billion Muslims through a misunderstood policy of the United States.”

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Double standards

America’s image also suffers from the perception that its foreign policy is hypocritical.

The up, down and now up relationship between the Pakistani and U.S. governments points to the broader stress.

The United States long regarded Pakistan as a close ally, especially during neighboring Afghanistan's decade-long fight against the invading Soviet army. But after the Soviet Union collapsed, America "packed bag and baggage and left," Sethi said. "We felt totally betrayed."

Then the United States imposed sanctions on Pakistan because of its nuclear program, "which the United States had known about and condoned," Sethi said.

"Pakistan became even more of a pariah," he said, when Pervez Musharraf overthrew a democratically elected government. But since the Sept. 11 attacks, "the dictator has become a democrat ... and we are back to square one.”
European allies were irked when Bush briefly threatened to pull U.S. troops out of a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Bosnia unless they were exempted from the jurisdiction of a new war crimes court the United States refuses to support. That refusal remains a point of friction with London, Paris and other sponsors of the court.

Critics also cite the dispute over U.S. steel tariffs and other protective trade measures that threaten to start a trade war with Europe. They say the United States preaches free trade but protects its own products and makes trade difficult with the poor countries that would benefit most.

Shifting priorities often make such double standards unavoidable, Hagel said.
"The business of foreign policy is always going to be streaked with a certain schizophrenia, a certain imperfection and hypocrisy because the world is as it is," he said.

Gary Schmidt of New American Century, a conservative Washington think tank, applauded Bush's decision to back out of both the war court and global warming accords. But he said Bush could have used a softer approach to make those decisions more palatable to U.S. allies.

"Europe is made up mostly of left-of-center powers that were used to dealing with a left-of-center president," he said, referring to former President Bill Clinton. "When a conservative administration takes over the United States, you are going to have that kind of partisan clash.”

There's been considerable concern that Bush often oversimplifies the threats facing the world in terms of good versus evil, but administration officials defend Bush's approach.

"Sometimes the world needs to recognize that not everything is a shade of gray," especially during a war on terrorism, said national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Critics say the United States often looks for special treatment, but Rice said America's unique role requires some exceptions. She cited the U.S. refusal to be part of the international war crimes court.

“The United States is special because it is a bigger target with forces all over the world. So maybe there is some difference in interests there," Rice said, referring to the court. "But because the United States needs to be concerned about the lives and well-being of its forces abroad should not be considered to be a dismissal of international cooperation.”

Policies are not the only issue. Much of the animosity directed at the United States is simply about what the country is.

David Kideckel, a Central Connecticut State University anthropology professor who specializes in the effects of globalization, said suspicions of U.S. culture exist even in friendly Eastern European countries.

"There's a huge dominance of culture — music, movies, fast food — that many Europeans see as somewhat shallow. And there is concern that in this process of globalization ... their way of life will be subsumed," Kideckel said.
In just over a decade, globalization of the economy and technology, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the spread of democracy have brought massive changes to the world.

"Why wouldn't they be mad as hell? Their world is being turned upside down," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, D-Del. "It's not us. It is these major trends that have taken place in the world, and we happen to be the guy at the top of the heap."

As those changes took place, democracy and free market economies were touted as medicines for the ills that have thwarted prosperity and freedom.

"At the end of the Cold War, many populations were told if they just swallowed very painful democratic reforms, they would soon look like America," said Moises Naim, editor and publisher of Foreign Policy magazine.
"And a decade after that, America looks more like America, and they look poorer than ever."

Contributing: Greg Barrett of GNS reporting from Cairo.

RELATED STORIES
Strength of culture makes U.S. loved, hated on the Arab Street

Essay: Perception of U.S. and its policies lend to combustible environment

INTERACTIVE MAP:
U.S. relations with the world

CONTINUE ON TO: PART 2

Return to top of page | Return to contents

©2002, Gannett News Service

 

 

Before Sept. 11, the image was that “the president was CEO of the world. Now the president is head sheriff.”

Emad Adeeb
Egyptian television and newspaper journalist

 


"The belief in bin Laden as the leader of this terrorist attack was a very high number at one point. I think it's eroded."

Undersecretary of State Charlotte Beers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


“Ever since the U.S. takes sides, we dislike the United States. The Jews will see their prophecy come true when all the Christians disappear and all the Muslims disappear.”

Mohammed Attia, 27,
Giza, Egypt

 

 

 

 

“What is most dangerous to us post-September 11th is not just the terrorists … it’s allowing any kind of civilization clash to ignite because we weren’t paying attention enough.”

Sen. Chuck Hagel
R-Neb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


"Sometimes the world needs to recognize that not everything is a shade of gray."

National security adviser Condoleeza Rice with President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Gannett News Service
photos by Heather Martin
Morrissey