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

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

(Page 7 of 9)

In Japan, for example, "They've been having to listen to 'We know how to do things right and you don't' " from America for the past 10 years, says Ronald Bevacqua, a financial-markets expert from New York who has lived in Tokyo for a decade. "Now, when the stock market burst and these scandals came out, we found out that America was no better than Japan was 10 years ago," he adds. "The whole moralistic thing that America has been preaching was bogus."

Skip to next paragraph

• • •

From his plush office high above the traffic that clogs the streets of Bogotá, an American oil company executive watches through his plate-glass window as a detachment of Colombian army soldiers patrols a wealthy residential district nearby.

This has been a tense year for him – tense enough that he doesn't feel safe giving his name. He knows that he is a juicy target for leftist guerrillas, especially since Sept. 11 landed him on the front lines of America's "war on terror."

Colombia has been enmeshed in political violence for more than half a century, and leftist rebels have long viewed US oil companies as thieves of the nation's resources. But Sept. 11 raised the stakes, as Washington folded Colombia into its global war.

The attacks on New York and Washington a year ago "changed the rules of the game," says one of the oil executive's Colombian colleagues, also unwilling to identify himself. No longer does the US government feel any hesitation in helping the Colombian government fight insurgents.

The State Department put Colombia's two largest rebel groups – and a right-wing paramilitary force that often cooperates with the army – on its list of terrorist groups. Earlier this summer, Congress approved the use of aid to fight the insurgents, not just the drugs trade they profit from.

That has jacked up the pressure, and the security risks for foreign oil workers. The US executive is now required to use a bulletproof car driven by a chauffeur trained in evasive tactics, and he scarcely ever leaves the capital.

"I have the feeling that I'm appreciated [by Colombians] for what I do," he says. "And I think there's even greater appreciation because people look at you and say 'You're here even though you are more vulnerable than you were before.'

"I think that in most Colombians' minds, America is the good guy," he adds. "It's the big brother that can help you when you've had your nose bloodied by the bully."

On the other side of the world, in another country battered by violence, America's "war on terror" is also welcome. In the Philippines, where US troops spent six months this year training local troops to fight Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic guerrilla group, polls have found overwhelming public support for their assistance.

"There has been no negativism at all, zero," says Richard Upton, a longtime American resident of Manila. "The Filipinos have been very mature about this: They needed some help so the US came in to help."

• • •

But in countries that have not suffered such direct exposure to terrorism, and where America is suspected of pursuing its own interests around the world at the expense of others, the erosion of support for the US is more evident.

In Europe, for example, Washington's almost single-handed prosecution of the war in Afghanistan, and its apparent readiness to stage a preemptive invasion of Iraq alone, has bred the uncomfortable feeling "that we don't matter any longer," says French analyst Dominique Moisi.

"America should at least give the impression that it needs its friends – show a sense of modesty," Moisi suggests, if it wants to cultivate support.

A Europe-wide poll last April by the Pew Research Center found that 85 percent of Germans, 80 percent of the French, 73 percent of Britons, and 63 percent of Italians felt that Washington was acting mainly on its own interests in the "war on terror," while less than 20 percent of Europeans thought it was taking allies' views into account.