Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Is America the 'good guy'? Many now say, 'No.'

(Page 3 of 9)



That is what Sgt. Larry Moore's job is all about. A soldier with the 489th Civil Affairs Battalion based in Knoxville, Tenn., he steps out of his pickup truck into the bright sunlight scorching the village of Karabagh, north of Kabul, and surveys the war-scarred desolation around him.

Skip to next paragraph

The few mud walls that are standing are pocked with bullet holes and the star burst signatures of rocket-propelled grenades. Shattered adobe buildings melt back into the dusty floor of the plain. But in the middle of the village rises a red-brick schoolhouse where 1,200 boys and girls will soon be studying, courtesy of the US Army.

"This school will be excellent," says Sergeant Moore with satisfaction, as he watches a turbaned tribesman use an adze to smooth ceiling beams while a dozen workmen in long shirts and billowing pantaloons slather on mortar and lay bricks. "It's going to do wonders for the village."

Karabagh's new school is one of hundreds of humanitarian-aid projects that the US military is funding in Afghanistan, and it has won over Dermont, a village elder. A few months ago, he says, American soldiers on patrol "saw our children studying under the shadows of trees and they decided to build a school. The school is a light in the darkness. I hope my children will be able to see."

Moore takes an idealistic view of his work. "We're doing this because these people need help," he says. "We are doing it for the same reason you would do it for your neighbor. Do it because that's what's in your heart. America has a kind heart."

The US Agency for International Development says it has sent $530 million in humanitarian aid in Afghanistan this year, making America the largest single donor to the war-torn country. But that does not impress Karabagh policeman Abdul Ghafur. "We have two targets," he says, "the reconstruction of Afghanistan and eradicating the terrorists. The US is more interested in the war against terrorists. We are more interested in reconstruction."

For Col. Nick Parker, a British officer who is director of operational planning at coalition headquarters in Kabul, those two goals go hand in hand. "The US is not doing this for purely altruistic reasons," he suggests. "If the US doesn't do it, in five years we'll all be back here fighting another terrorist organization."

• • •

When American goals match local aspirations, America has no difficulty presenting itself as the good guy. That is the logic behind the doctrine of "integration" outlined recently by Richard Haass, the State Department's director of policy planning, who described it as "persuading more and more governments, and at a deeper level, people to sign on to certain key ideas as to how the world should operate for our mutual benefit."

But getting the rest of the world to want what America wants is only one side of the coin, argues Professor Nye. America also has to offer other countries things they value if foreigners are to accept American moral leadership.

"Failure to pay proper respect to the opinion of others and to incorporate a broad conception of justice into our national interest will eventually come to hurt us," Nye argues in his recent book, "The Paradox of American Power."

In the eyes of many global activists, Washington is ignoring that warning. In Johannesburg, for example, Korean environmental activists protested against Mr. Bush's absence from the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development. "He only cares about his personal war against terror," said Kim Yeon Ji of the Korean Federation for the Environment. "They want us all to join in with their war, but in the battle for the environment, we are all here and he says, 'Sorry, I'm on vacation.' We are very angry."

America's reluctance to join other countries in tackling issues they think are important – its current efforts to undermine the new International Criminal Court, for example; its rejection of an international treaty limiting biological weapons; or its refusal to strengthen a convention against torture – are squandering global goodwill, say critics.

Permissions