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What Fuels Rift Between US and International Community? - 2003-06-09

Is a rising tide of global anti-Americanism following the war in Iraq a self-inflicted wound or a counter-attack on the United States by an international community that resents the use of military power by the Bush administration? Some foreign policy analysts say fundamental aspects of American society that differ greatly from those in other countries are fueling the rift.

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center of 16,000 people in 20 countries showed a dramatic drop in global support for the United States.

The poll showed antagonism toward America has deepened and widened in Europe, parts of Africa and Asia, and especially in predominantly Muslim countries.

Minxin Pei, a senior analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in a cover story in the current edition of Foreign Policy magazine that the rise of anti-American feelings can be traced to the differences in the core values of many people in the United States, compared with the values held by those in other countries. "When you look at social values, the conservatism of social values, the dominance of religion in social and political life, the United States is clearly very, very different from other industrial democracies," he said.

"Then you look at the recent rise of anti-Americanism in other countries ... not merely from those parts of the world that share very different values from us, but more worrisome to me, is anti-Americanism from those societies that share the same values," Mr. Minxin explained.

Francis Fukuyama, an author and professor of international political science at Johns Hopkins University, currently teaching at the School of Advanced International Studies, agrees that the role religion plays in American society is a major factor in the foreign policy of the Bush administration and how that policy is sold to domestic voters. He said, "It also, I think, gives a particular moralistic character to the way Americans think about themselves and the world. So it has always been the case that American foreign policy, although it pursued both realist and idealist agendas, usually had to be justified to the American people in moralistic terms, and there are plenty of examples of that," he said.

"The Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan could not be justified on narrow, strategic grounds, and really had to be seen as a crusade against a kind of globally evil communism; same thing with the two wars against Iraq. There is, I think, a very emotionally powerful element of moralism that, I think, is highly appealing," said Mr. Fukuyama.

Analysts say moralism appeals to Americans, because it stirs up feelings of patriotism and nationalism.

Polls routinely find Americans have the highest degree of national pride among Western democracies.

Minxin Pei said such feelings inevitably collide with passions in other countries. "The consequence of this is, American nationalism tends to generate enormous resentment in other societies, largely because American nationalism clashes with nationalism in other societies, due to the different natures of the two types of nationalism. The second one is that American nationalism tends to backfire on American foreign policy, especially when American policy-makers downplay, or underestimate the power of nationalism in other societies," Mr. Pei said.

One of the more striking aspects of the Pew poll is that in seven of the eight predominantly Muslim countries surveyed, a majority of the people say they are concerned their nation could be attacked by the U.S. military.

In addition to prewar Iraq, President Bush has declared that Iran and North Korea form what he calls an "axis of evil," and American officials say both countries have active nuclear weapons programs.

This has led to widespread speculation that, in the future, the United States may use force against them.

Professor Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins University said the Bush administration needs to explain more clearly its policy of using deadly force in the war on terrorism. "Nobody in the administration actually believed that this new doctrine of preventive war or pre-emptive war was open-ended. But they just did not bother to explain that," he said.

"You know, Colin Powell, the day after the 'axis of evil' speech, should have been traveling around from one foreign capital to another explaining that this was actually not an open-ended doctrine, but it had certain specific conditions, and so forth. But they did not do that, and in a way they have been tongue-tied in responding to what I think are reasonable, although exaggerated, fears on the part of other people that they could have satisfied, simply by articulating a little bit more their own thinking," Mr. Fukuyama said.

Analyst Minxin Pei said the Bush administration needs to soften the way it sells its foreign policy to people in other countries. "I think for a start, lower the rhetoric. The rhetoric is antagonizing a lot of people. Then think about adjustments in policy. I would say that the recent initiative on the Middle East is great, because that kind of real action can help change people's perception rather dramatically," he said.

Another noteworthy finding in the Pew poll was that people in predominantly Muslim nations are supportive of many of the aspects of American society. Those surveyed say they support democratic values, such as freedom of the press, multi-party political systems, freedom of expression and equal treatment under the law.

Analysts say the Bush administration should build on what it has in common with Muslim nations and other countries.

They say a firm commitment to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the successful reconstruction of Iraq could help reverse the rapid rise of anti-American sentiment around the world.