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

(Page 6 of 9)

(Ironically, Americans are most dubious about the aspects of their country that foreigners like best – its movies, its consumer goods and its culture. The Monitor/TIPP poll found that Americans overwhelmingly feel the US has a positive impact on fighting terrorism, or boosting the world economy, but are divided about its global cultural impact: 47 per cent consider it positive, against 44 per cent who think it is negative.)

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Mr. Abdul Rahman is one of the astonishingly numerous people in the Middle East who do not believe Osama bin Laden was responsible for the Twin Towers attack. He thinks that Israel and the American government organized the atrocity so as to justify a war on the Islamic world.

Despite that sort of criticism aimed against it, many more governments are friendly to the US than was the case during the cold war, and many more have adopted the liberal democratic capitalist credo that America has been energetically exporting.

Not that it always gets them where they had expected to go, especially when Washington itself betrays the principles it seeks to impose on others, such as free trade.

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Over the roar of the blast furnace in the Severstal steel mill at Cheropovets, 250 miles north of Moscow, Gennady Borisov will give you an earful on that subject. The tariffs on foreign steel imports of up to 30 percent that Bush announced last March to shield domestic producers from competition have hit everything in Cheropovets from Mr. Borisov's paycheck to local kindergartens.

As fire and smoke belch from the belly of one of the largest steel mills in the world, Mr. Borisov wipes the sweat from his brow with the grimy sleeve of his work shirt. "America wants to dictate its terms to the whole world," he complains. "They think they are superior. Their economy allows them to do it."

Accustomed to sermons from Washington about the value of open markets and free trade, Russians attribute the protectionist US stance on steel to an American disregard for international norms that they feel has grown since Sept. 11.

Severstal must now seek new markets for the steel it had planned to sell in America – and those markets are following Washington's protectionist suit. Severstal has pledged not to lay off any workers, but it has abandoned planned wage increases in view of the projected loss of profits.

The ripple effects – amplified by a cyclical downturn in the steel industry – are felt all over town, where the steel mill's 45,000 employees make up 15 per cent of the population.

Normally, for example, Severstal's tax payments constitute 80 percent of the city budget. But because of the drop in profits, the company's tax payments for the first half of 2002 are only half what they were last year.

That means that a city program to slowly wean people off Soviet-era perks such as free water and electricity has been dramatically sped up. Thirty kindergartens once funded by Severstal are now run by the cash-strapped city authorities.

"As a consequence, all citizens feel that they are paying more money for their apartments and to live," says Olga Ezhova, a Severstal spokeswoman. "This is the pain inflicted by the American decision."

The pain is only made harder to bear by the fact that Russia has been an enthusiastic partner in Washington's "war on terror." "We were spellbound" on Sept. 11, says Ms. Ezhova. "It was a shock. We hoped that after such a tragedy and our reaction to it, when [President Vladimir] Putin gave his hand to America, we had a common cause, and thought that this called for an appropriate reaction.

"Of course [the tariffs] are such a small thing by comparison," she adds. "But what we heard in March did not correspond to our attitude to America."

And even in countries where capitalism is well established, some of the shine has rubbed off the American way of doing business in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom scandals.