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

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

In a small, plain office over a downtown Seoul grocery, eight young men hunch over a bank of computers. They aren't writing software or playing video games. This is a command center for protest against American soldiers in Korea. Everyone wears a black ribbon that reads "US troops withdraw."

The group – one of dozens like it – sprang up after a US armored vehicle accidentally killed two Korean girls walking along a country road in June. The incident continues to galvanize anti-American feeling across the country. Members canvas neighborhoods, run e-mail campaigns detailing American soldiers' alleged crimes, and help organize a permanent silent vigil outside the presidential palace.

"We are like a military operation" says their leader, known only as Mr. Kim. "US troops here are a mistake of history and we won't be one country until they leave; 9/11 is not our problem."

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Most Americans believe they are making a sacrifice – stationing 38,000 soldiers here – to defend South Koreans against possible Communist attack. Most ordinary Koreans, however, believe the US troops are actually here to promote American interests, opinion polls show. And "since 9/11, a strange but virulent anti-Americanism has gripped South Korea," notes one expatriate American who works at a US company in Seoul.

"The underlying reason that Uncle Sam is about as popular as the plague," he adds, "is because of a paradigm shift in the minds of a new generation of South Koreans" who regard the US troops as a colonial presence.

Along with Japan, South Korea is one of America's chief strategic partners in the Pacific. But you wouldn't think so to watch a recent music video by popular all-girl Korean band S.E.S. It features cowboy-booted Americans being beaten up, fed to dogs, and tossed off buildings.

Nor are American diplomats reassured by recent polls showing that nearly half of Koreans approved the February trashing of the US Chamber of Commerce in Seoul and that 60 percent of Koreans "don't like" America.

But if the US doesn't wear a white hat here, where then?

South Korea today offers one of the sharpest, and most surprising, examples of anger at the US role in the world since Sept. 11. The current campaign grew out of the girls' deaths – and a widespread sense that the US authorities handled the case clumsily. But there's more to it than that. It seems to feed on old grudges and a deep dismay at a newly unilateral America, touting a "with us or against us" approach.

• • •

A year ago, in the wake of Sept. 11, even some of Washington's fiercest critics proclaimed in sympathy, "We are all Americans." But those sentiments began to fade after the inadvertent US bombing of civilians in Afghanistan. Today, even some of the country's firmest friends are alarmed by America's apparent unwillingness to take into account the views of other nations on issues ranging from the environment to dealing with Iraq.

As the sole superpower for the past decade, America was already retooling its relationship with the rest of the planet before Sept. 11. It pulled out of the Kyoto treaty on climate change, a step that rankled many. But the attack on America accelerated the change. The United States feels threatened by Al Qaeda, and it's making its vast military and political superiority felt with unprecedented vigor – sending soldiers into Central Asia, Georgia, and the Philippines.

That is having an effect. Scores of interviews with government officials, political analysts, and ordinary citizens from one side of the globe to the other suggest that the US is now widely perceived as arrogant and – as war with Iraq looms – potentially reckless.

You can hear the misgivings in the voices of Russian steel workers burned by Washington's decision this year to ignore free-trade principles and raise import tariffs. You can see them in a McDonald's franchise in Jakarta that works to hide its American connection.

And in South Korea, for the first time, anti-Americanism is no longer a fringe emotion, fashionable on the political extremes. It has become a mainstream current of respectable opinion.

Fault-finding with America is becoming an instrument of national solidarity, especially among younger people like Yonsei University student Ham Chang, who thinks older generations that fought alongside US troops have been "brainwashed."

"My friends feel like the US acts as boss of the world," says Mr. Ham, who is studying literature. "Sept. 11 was terrible ... but the US is using it as an excuse to do what it wants. The US government is in Korea to divide us. The US wants us weak and divided. They are not here for our security."

In an unusually candid acknowledgement of the problem, President Kim Dae Jung told reporters last Friday that he's worried by "a growing trend toward anti-American sentiment."

"It may be difficult for us to sustain the same mood we grew up with," says one older Korean diplomat who served in Washington. "We know the US helped us. But those under 40 ... aren't swayed by what we think. Their human nature is anti-US."

• • •

Respect for American values – freedom and democracy – persists, as does admiration of its free-enterprise prosperity. A visa for the US is still prized. But because of the way the US is wielding its military and political clout – more than its cultural hegemony – that admiration is increasingly overlaid by mistrust, misunderstanding, resentment, and even hostility across a broad spectrum of countries and citizens. There's a feeling that Washington doesn't care about them or their concerns.

"Foreign perceptions of the United States are far from monolithic," found a recent task force on public diplomacy set up by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York. In Afghanistan and the Philippines, for example, US soldiers are generally well received. "But there is little doubt that stereotypes of the United States as arrogant, self-indulgent, hypocritical, inattentive, and unwilling or unable to engage in cross-cultural dialogue are pervasive and deeply rooted."

That is a far cry from the average American's perception. Sixty-six percent of Americans regard their country's actions as "usually or almost always" beneficial to the world according to a Monitor/TIPP poll taken in the past week.

"I'm amazed ... that people would hate us," President Bush said last October. "Like most Americans I just can't believe it. Because I know how good we are."

Some say that is enough. "The rich hegemon will usually be unpopular, deservedly or not," says Lewis Manilow, a veteran public diplomacy specialist who dissented from the CFR report. "Americans want to be loved, but isn't it more important that we tell the world where we stand and follow up with appropriate action?"

Certainly, the US now holds greater economic, political, military, and cultural sway over the rest of the world than any power since the Roman Empire. It is the only military power with global reach, spending more on guns and soldiers than the next 11 countries combined. It has 27 percent of the world's economic output, equal to the next three biggest countries combined. And it is in a league of its own when it comes to film and TV exports.

But brute strength does not always add up to leadership, and raw power rarely fosters the sense of international common purpose needed to address problems with the environment, disease, immigration, or global economic stability.

"Military power is necessary but not sufficient," argues Joseph Nye, dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. "The US should pay more attention to its ability to attract others to work with it."

• • •

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.

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.

In France, warns Dominique Moisi, a prominent foreign-affairs analyst, "there is a growing tendency in public opinion to view the US as a rogue state."

• • •

Not that this makes Americans personally unpopular, as Jacqui Resley's employees will attest.

Ms. Resley, a Kansan, strides around her crafts factory in Nairobi, constantly taking charge. "David," she admonishes one shy potter. "Stop painting those lines so squiggly. They look ugly."

Encouraging, correcting, yelling, insisting on it all being done the way she thinks best, the tall and angular Resley pushes her 70 Kenyan workers to their limits. "There is this attitude here of 'We can't do it,' and I say 'For God's sake why not?' she says, grimacing as she watches a weaver fumbling a ball of thread.

"She is bossy," acknowledges Fidel Namisi, the company's computer technician. "Bossy and hyper and good-hearted ... very American."

Thirty years ago, inspired by a John Wayne movie filmed in the Serengeti plains, Resley picked up and set off to hitchhike across Africa. The Vietnam War was raging, and long before she reached Nairobi, she discovered that not everybody loved America.

"A lot of people just didn't like you because of the war," she remembers. "But no matter what Godforsaken place you found yourself in there was always someone with a Coke, complaining about Vietnam but also asking if you could help them to get a visa to the US."

Today, she still runs into people like that, but Resley no longer carries a backpack. Now she runs Weaverbird, the company she founded that supplies many of the high-quality carpets, wall hangings, and pots that decorate Kenya's best hotels. She has also become one of Nairobi's best-known community activists, agitating against corruption and litter and in favor of government accountability. As the only human face her workers can put on a distant superpower, Jacqui Resley hears a lot from them – good and bad – about America. On Sept. 11, Jane Mukonyo was on the factory floor, ball-winding wool, when she heard about the attacks on the radio. "Everyone looks around for Jacqui" she recalls. "We wanted to tell her we felt so bad."

"I don't know too many Americans, just Jacqui and those I see on TV," says Joyce Njeri, a dyer who has worked at Weaverbird for 15 years. "But what I know I like."

Americans, she explains "know what they want, and others can't teach them too much. They want the bottom line. They take action. They are capable and have big, good ideas. America as a country, Njeri believes, is much the same. "But I have a question," she adds. "Why, if they have such good ideas, are they now bombing others just like they themselves are bombed?"

Mr. Namisi, the computer expert, is less enthusiastic. "I definitely think the US is a bully," he says. "They look down at the rest of us. They think their way is the only way."

Lunch break is over, and Resley charges onto the factory floor, her hands flying this way and that. "One, two, let's get moving here," she nags.

"Jacqui is an American and, yes, she is bossy too," says Namisi. "But we signed up to work for her, so we accept that. But neither Kenya nor any other country signed up to work for the US, so that is different."

• • •

Elsewhere in the world too, people are ambivalent about America: "Yankee Go Home, But Take Me With You," as an Indian politician, Jairam Ramesh, titled a talk he gave three years ago at the Asia Society in New York.

Chinese students are not shy about protesting US policies, but a demonstration outside the US Embassy in Beijing last month had an ironic twist in its tail: the college grads were demanding American visas.

"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.

"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.

(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.)

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.

• • •

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.

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."

• • •

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.

"The view from the Old World seems to be that this is an American war on American enemies, not a universal struggle against evil" wrote Kenneth Pollack, director of National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, commenting on the poll results.

Behind that view, which is common outside Europe too, lies a sense that Bush has not offered the world a vision of what he wants everyone to fight for, beyond asking them to fight against "evil."

In its pursuit of terrorists worldwide, America has lost sight of its larger role as a global leader, complains Wilfrido Villacorta, a professor of international relations at De La Salle University in Manila. "As the only superpower with global responsibility [America] must use its leadership to address pressing problems like poverty, the deterioration of the environment, and the promotion of free trade," he argues.

• • •

In the Arab and Muslim world, there is one cause above all others to which people want America to commit its leadership: an end to the Palestinians' plight. But few there have any hopes for the current administration, and many see the "war on terror" as a war on Islam. Any invasion of Iraq would be bound to foster even deeper resentment. "It will have a negative impact," Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf told the Monitor this week.

From Morocco to Medina and beyond, the idea of America as the "good guy" is considered laughable, given Washington's sturdy support of the Arabs' traditional enemy, Israel. On the contrary, parts of Osama bin Laden's message resonate, even with people who deplore almost everything about Al Qaeda.

That's the case with Selcuk Yilmaz, who runs a cellphone shop in Istanbul's hectic Taksim Square. "Osama bin Laden says something: America will not be comfortable if the people of Palestine will not be comfortable. That's just right," he says, as Turks and tourists browse for phones and bring their vacation snapshots to his Kodak counter.

"If a Muslim is harmed, every Muslim has a problem," he adds. And current US policy, he believes, "is a war against the Muslim people."

That perception is especially dangerous, worries Mostafa al-Feqi, chairman of the Egyptian parliament's foreign-affairs committee. "The Americans should talk more to the world, should talk more to Arabs and Muslims," he urges. "We want the layman in the Muslim world to know that Americans are not against his religion."

• • •

David Welch has felt Muslim anger at firsthand.

In 1979 he was a junior diplomat at the US Embassy in Islamabad when false rumors of American involvement in an attack on the Grand Mosque at Mecca, Islam's holiest site, inspired a Pakistani mob to invade the embassy compound and set it alight, using gasoline from the motor pool.

For six hours, Mr. Welch and a hundred of his colleagues cowered in the embassy's metal-lined security vault as the heat ignited glue beneath the floor tiles. Eventually he was rescued.

"I carried a dead marine off the top of that embassy that night," recalls Welch, now the US ambassador to Egypt. "I was told they hated us back then, too."

Today, he finds himself dealing with another outburst of anti-American feeling, albeit less immediately life-threatening. But neither the assault on the Islamabad embassy nor Sept. 11 has prompted any outward sense of repentance about America's role in the world.

It is time for America to listen, he says, but also to be heard. Fighting terrorists does mean taking "a look at the swamp in which these guys operate," he accepts. But Arabs, he insists, must "look at themselves a little bit and say 'What is it that we do that might be putting more putrid water into this swamp?' "

Welch hears a lot of complaints about America's disdain for Palestinian aspirations and its support for Israel. He points out that Bush has outlined his vision of a Palestinian state, and adds that critics "should recognize ... Americans do not like the murder of innocent people in the name of a political cause and they particularly cannot abide it after Sept. 11," he says. "So the association of the Palestinian cause with terrorism has come at great expense to their public support in the US. That is a fact. It doesn't take a diplomat to explain it to people. But they need to hear it."

• • •

The world can expect to hear more from America in the coming months, as the administration boosts its public diplomacy efforts in the wake of Sept. 11. Bush will soon announce the creation of a global communications office as a permanent White House fixture. Last year the State Department tapped J. Walter Thompson chairwoman Charlotte Beers to be the new undersecretary for public diplomacy, with the mission of rebranding America around the world.

"We learned that when you don't communicate, you are still communicating – a lack of interest, a lack of caring," says Tucker Eskew, deputy assistant to the president in the White House global communications unit.

Among the first fruits of the new policy is Radio Sawa, an Arabic-language station that replaced the Voice of America in the Middle East last April, offering Arabic and Western pop songs along with about 10 minutes of news each hour. It certainly reaches a wider audience – it seems as if every taxi driver in Amman, Jordan, tunes in – but critics wonder how good a job it does of explaining American policy, given its softer format.

And even the best public diplomacy efforts eventually run up against the reality of often unpopular policies. There was no disguising Bush's description of the Israeli prime minister as "a man of peace," even as his troops reoccupied the West Bank, points out Shibley Telhami, a Middle East expert at the University of Maryland.

"A single word from the president outweighs the millions we can spend on influencing hearts and minds," he says.

Christopher Ross, an American diplomat with long Middle East experience, was brought out of retirement to help Ms. Beers, and has been on two trips to the region to listen to ordinary people's gripes. "My impression is that the effort was very much appreciated," he recalls, "but then came their question: 'We are telling you all these things – what impact will it have?' I told them that I would report their views, but that policymaking is based on many things, not solely on what the foreign reaction is."

• • •

In the end, America may just have to resign itself to being unloved, conclude some officials at home and abroad. Its power, its wealth, its recurrent urges to make the world over in its image are bound to generate envy and resentment.

But the current administration's apparent readiness to come across as the "bad guy" – doing what it thinks is necessary now to defend America – is alienating the very friends and allies it needs to fight the war on terror, warns John Ikenberry, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington.

"If history is a guide, it will trigger antagonism and resistance that will leave America in a more hostile and divided world," he argues in the current issue of Foreign Affairs.

If the international debate over whether to invade Iraq is any measure, America is walking a lonely path. Twice in the 20th century, Americans decided that standing alone made the world a more dangerous place for them to live in. Will the new worldwide "war on terror" teach the same lesson?

Reported by staff writers Cameron W. Barr in Cairo; Scott Peterson in Moscow; Ilene R. Prusher in Istanbul and Tokyo; Howard LaFranchi in Washington; Danna Harman in Nairobi, Kenya, and Johannesburg, South Africa; Robert Marquand in Beijing and Seoul; Peter Ford in Paris and London; and by special correspondents Arie Farnam in Prague, Czech Republic; Dan Murphy in Jakarta, Indonesia; David Buchbinder in Kabul, Afghanistan; Abby Tan in Manila; and Kirk Semple in Bogotá, Colombia.

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