US Is Driving Its Friends Away
By Clyde Prestowitz
4 October 2002
South China Morning Post
(c) 2002 South China Morning Post. All Rights Reserved
"If you attack Iraq without adequate United Nations authorisation,
Indonesia and Malaysia will blow up. With the UN you can manage it.
Without the UN it will be a disaster ."
Those words, spoken by a prominent Southeast Asian leader at a recent
con-ference on anti-Americanism sponsored by the US State Department,
were ech-oed by other participants from virtually every part of the
globe and should serve as a reality check for the US Congress as it
considers a possible resolution autho-rising a US attack on Iraq.
In the wake of President George W. Bush’s appeal to the United Nations
to enforce its resolutions calling for Iraq to dismantle its weapons of
mass destruc-tion, a great debate has erupted on US editorial pages and
within the Democrat-ic and Republican parties over how long to wait for
the UN to act and under what circumstances the US should be pre-pared
to go it alone.
As this debate moves to Congress, it is critically important for that
largely paro-chial body to gain some inkling of how the rest of the
world feels about America and how it might react to a solely US showing
in Iraq. Representing a cross-section of government, academic and media
experts from around the world, conference participants emphasised that
sentiment about the US has changed dramatically since the outpouring of
support that flowed after September 11.
Then, as US embassies around the world were buried in flowers, and as
candlelight vigils in Teheran were ac-companied by expressions of
sympathy and support from Chinese President Jiang Zemin, French flags
flew at half mast along the Seine in Paris.
Now, an instinctive affection overseas for Americans as people and an
admira-tion for US institutions and values is being soured by policies
and attitudes that conference participants said seem at odds with what
the US has preached in the past as well as with the interests of much
of the rest of the world.
Foreign concerns about the US cover a broad range of issues, but four
stand out. First, in the Israeli-Palestinian con-flict, Washington is
seen by most foreign observers to be favouring Israel. This, coupled
with much US media commen-tary that seems to link Islam and extrem-ism,
has inflamed anti-American senti-ment throughout the Muslim world by
creating the impression that America is attacking Islam itself.
Second, America’s attitude towards its allies is often seen as
inconsistent and self-serving. Pakistan, for example, has sometimes
felt like a tennis ball as it bounced from being a friend during the
Cold War to the object of harsh criticism for lack of progress on
democracy, to being a friend again when needed for support of the US
strike against Afghani-stan, and then back to the doghouse for its
conflict with India over Kashmir.
Third, there is widespread dismay over US unilateralism as demonstrated
by US rejection of international treaties such as the Kyoto agreement
on global warming, the international agreement to ban chemical and
biological weapons, the treaty limiting exports of small arms, the
agreement banning use of land mines, and the International Criminal
Court, all of which Washington played a large role in initiating.
Many longtime friends of America feel Washington is reneging on its
obli-gations as a global citizen. This fear is exacerbated by the
fourth issue of con-cern, which is the new doctrine of pre- emptive
attack. No nation in history has had the relative power of the US, and
this has accrued when the world has shrunk so that the might of America
is omnipresent. Even a benign hegemony with that much power is
frightening. A hegemony of such enormousness that commits itself to
pre-emptive action as it sees fit is frightening.
All of these concerns become fused in the case of Iraq. While there is
no love in the Muslim world for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein,
Washington’s threats of an attack to achieve a change of regime are
interpreted as just more evi-dence of US hostility to Islam. Yes,
peo-ple know Mr Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, but so, they
note, do many other nations, including China, North Korea, Russia,
India, Pakistan, Iran and Israel.
And yes, they know Iraq is in violation of UN resolutions, but so is
Israel. So why is the US focus only on Iraq, they ask. In the Muslim
world, the an-swer is obvious: US hatred of Islam. There is also fear
of American incon-sistency.
Yes, people know Mr Hussein gassed his own population, but the US
voiced no outrage at the time. Indeed, it continued to back Iraq as a
bulwark against Iran. Will America flip-flop again in the future,
leaving its allies in the lurch? Finally, there is fear of setting a
dangerous precedent in terms of interna-tional law. If the US decides
unilaterally to remove Mr Hussein today, whom will it target tomorrow?
Will only countries that embrace Western values be tolerat-ed?
All these fears are generating opposi-tion to US action that can be
assuaged only by clear UN backing. Even longtime US allies like Germany
are firmly insist-ing that they will provide no assistance unless it is
on the basis of UN authorisation.
Rather than being an obstacle, the UN could be an opportunity for the
United States. As one UN ambassador at the conference emphasised: ‘‘No
country wants to endanger its bilateral relations with America over
multilateral institu-tional matters. The United States can get the
blessing it needs if it will only ask.’’
As evidence of this, he noted that the Security Council had recently
granted the US certain exemptions from the ju-risdiction of the new
International Crim-inal Court despite initial opposition.
In view of this, Congress would be wise to consider the possibility
that the fastest and easiest road to Baghdad lies through New York and
the UN Security Council and to craft its resolution with that in mind.
Copyright e2002, (Economic Strategy Institute)
Clyde Prestowitz is president of the Economic Strategy Institute in Washington