Is America the 'good guy'? Many now say, 'No.'
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"The international role of the US is rude, it is a very negative role," said Feng Ma, a young woman demonstrator who has won a full scholarship to the University of Maryland after preparing for five years. "But I view individuals separately. My friends live a comfortable life in Michigan. They work hard and they make in a year what it would take three years here to make.Skip to next paragraph
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"We may hate the US when it is rude to China," she added. "But we long to go there."
Nor is it hard to find people anywhere in the world ready to express their admiration for the values and ideals that have inspired America's growth especially in countries where such values are not officially shared.
"Yes, America wants to do good things in the world and spread democracy," says Yang Chu, a software salesman reading a raft of Saturday papers over a cup of coffee at a downtown Beijing Starbucks. "I wish China had more American-style democracy."
In Eastern Europe, too, plenty of middle aged people who knew life under Communism are grateful to the US for its role in bringing down the Soviet empire. (Warm feelings live on in the parlance of Czech hikers: When they find an especially beautiful site to pitch their tents, they call it "Amerika.") But that gratitude is ebbing away.
"I used to hold America in awe," says Vlastislav Vecerilek, a former air-traffic controller who has had a hard time making ends meet since he lost his job soon after Czechoslovakia's "Velvet Revolution." "But recently I have become annoyed with American policies.
"They promised us heaven and instead we got scraps," he complains. "We thought America was different from the Soviet Union, but in essence all superpowers are the same."
As gray flood waters crept toward the door of his Prague restaurant last month, waiter Jiri Kolar blamed America. "The floods [the worst in the city's history] are clearly caused by global warming, everybody knows that," he argued, as he took a break from carrying out food and electrical appliances.
"If the Americans don't stop their bad habits of pollution, we'll have more disasters," he predicted. "I am very angry at George Bush for rejecting the Kyoto Protocol. The Americans think only of themselves."
That sort of comment cuts no ice with Jan Urban, a commentator with the Czech service of US-funded Radio Free Europe. "There are now those in this country who believe anything the US does must be evil, but when those same people need help they will ask the US," he scoffs.
"Anti-Americanism here isn't so much hatred as it is envy," he adds. "It's a parent-child relationship. The child wants to be listened to and Dad is always busy."
If the world sometimes feels a need for American leadership, as Mr. Urban suggests, it is also hooked on American products.
Just ask Tayiba Abdul Rahman, a young Saudi mother who took her family holidays this summer in Turkey, rather than in America, where she has often been before. "I wouldn't go to America now. I don't want to be treated like a criminal," she says as she eats lunch at the Akmerkez, a new shopping mall in Istanbul that attracts the monied classes from around the Islamic world.
Frustrated by US policy in the Middle East, and upset by what they see as the way America has demonized Muslims since last September, Tayiba and her husband, Mohammed, are part of a grass-roots campaign at home to boycott US-made goods.
But Tayiba sheepishly admits that she couldn't pass up the lovely leather DKNY bag that sits on the table as the couple lunches with their two small boys. And although they have skipped the five American chain restaurants in the vast Akmerkez food court preferring Middle Eastern food they say they regret not having succeeded in weaning themselves off Coca-Cola and Pepsi, which the boys slug down with their rice and stewed eggplant.