In the aftermath of September 11, the chairman of the House International Relations Committee noted that the war on terrorism has revealed the need to overhaul U.S. foreign policy. “Can anyone doubt that the sum of our efforts has been insufficient?” asked Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) on October 10, opening a hearing into the role of public diplomacy in the campaign against terrorism. “Our efforts at self-defense, which should be supported by every decent person on this planet, instead spark riots that threaten governments that dare to cooperate with us.”
Mr. Hyde was referring to the Islamic world, of course. According to a disquieting recent poll, America’s image abroad is deeply at odds with its self-perception everywhere, including Western Europe. The Pew Charitable Trust’s survey of the world’s opinion-forming elites (http://www.people-press.org/1219012.htm) found that 56 percent of respondents outside of the United States think that U.S. foreign policy—especially in the Middle East—was a major cause of the attacks.
In France, Le Monde’s Herve Kempf summed up the mood of many Europeans when he wrote (January 8) that the attacks “did not change America’s position on dealing with major world issues.” This view was shared by Pascal Boniface of the Institute for International Strategic Relations, who commented in the Parisian daily Libération (January 7) that the collapse of the Taliban reinforces Americans’ belief that they are almost always right and that they can always impose their point of view: “America has learned nothing and could face other rude awakenings.” On the conservative side, Jean-Pierre Ferrier lamented, in Le Figaro (January 4), the demise of Europe and its military incompetence, manifested in three wars initiated and led by the United States in the past ten years:
Iraq presented the opportunity to verify the individual faithfulness of the members of the Alliance. Kosovo showed the minimal role that was played by European allies whose participation the Pentagon considered as a weakening factor militarily but nevertheless diplomatically useful. Afghanistan served to summarize the situation: The allies have the obligation to participate in missions decided by the United States following the guidelines determined by Washington. In each instance the rules are the same: At most, the Europeans have the right to information, or to the impression that they have been kept informed.
In Russia, Sovetskaya Rossiya’s Vasiliy Safronchuk warned on December 29 there have been no real changes inside Russia or in its relations with the West since September 11. The current regime is wooing the West, hoping for Russia to be recognized as a partner, but that is not acceptable those who seek global hegemony:
It is surprising how easily Putin fell for the antiterrorist trap Bush set up for him. He readily joined the U.S. action against Afghanistan and used his influence to get Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to pitch in and offer their bases for the U.S. aviation and airborne troops. The ungrateful Washington responded by declaring its withdrawal from the ABM Treaty . . . Putin has Russia bonded with the U.S. war chariot against all those who oppose American global hegemony.
While the decision by President Bush to serve formal notice on December 13 that the United States was pulling out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia was largely ignored at home, abroad it was seen as his most important foreign-policy decision so far. Most U.S. allies in the antiterrorist struggle see the step as proof that Washington’s multilateralist rhetoric was only a tool used to help the administration garner international support immediately after the terror attacks. A commentator for the London Independent summed up the mood on December 14:
Increasingly, the question is being asked: is the administration, emboldened by military success in Afghanistan, reverting to the bad old days before 11 September? The U.S. is again riding roughshod over international deals it does not like . . . and talking of sending its hi-tech posses after Iraq and other countries with whom it has scores to settle.
It is remarkable that not one single major daily newspaper in Europe or Canada endorsed President Bush’s argument that September 11 underscored the need for missile defense. Indeed, one commentator after another made the opposite case: that the terrorist attacks show the uselessness of a missile shield. The view from the Kremlin was given by Anatoli Anisimov in Moscow’s official Parlamentskaya Gazeta (December 15):
Everything we have heard over the last few years about the basically new non-confrontational, if not partner-like, relationships between the U.S. and Russia, has turned out to be empty talk. When the Americans needed support for their military action in Afghanistan, they called us a partner. But they forgot the partnership once they decided that they wanted to scrap the ABM Treaty, a cornerstone of the disarmament policy. It is true what people say about charity beginning at home. With the damage done, no praise for President Putin’s restraint will repair it.
In Britain, the Economist commented on December 15 that “Mr Bush is right to take a radical look at America’s arms-control commitments in a dangerous world,” but added that the test of any treaty or policy should be a practical one: whether it enhances stability and security.
Whatever happens next—whether the treaty is amended, replaced by some new understanding with Russia or just scrapped—the same stability-preserving test should apply. Announcing America’s intention to withdraw increases pressure on Russia to reach a new understanding. Scrapping the treaty without one could set off a new arms race, undermining security all round.
On December 14, the Economist’s online column “Global Agenda” greeted with alarm President Bush’s decision to scrap the treaty before it is clear what will replace it:
The worry is that China may now want to build up and modernise its nuclear arsenal—which many in Washington argue would have happened anyway. Some of Mr Bush’s advisers argue that, for similar reasons, legally-binding international arms-control agreements are a waste of time: friends have no need of them; adversaries cheat, thus creating a false sense of security. But the legal norms embodied in treaties do at least give everyone the right to know what others are up to, and to act when rules are broken.
In France, the verdict on President Bush’s action was uniformly negative. As Washington correspondent Jean-Jacques Mevel reported for Le Figaro (December 13):
The White House’s unilateral decision will undoubtedly bring to the forefront the accusation that the U.S. is opportunistic . . . Its reasoning is clear: What friend or ally could dare raise its voice in protest as long as the president is at war against Osama Ben Laden and his terrorists? . . . The hardliners in the Bush administration are now in the lead.
In Belgium, Mia Doornaert argued in De Standaard (January 3) that “America does not feel accountable to anyone about the goals of its future operations”:
It insulted Putin by withdrawing from the ABM Treaty. Moreover, the United States worried friend and foe by talking about possible attacks against Iraq. That obvious unilateralism is a strange result of ‘9/11’—the date that should have made the US realize that even the mightiest nation does not live on an island.
In Holland, the Trouw’s editorial of December 24 maintained that, in the aftermath of the war in Afghanistan, the international coalition against terrorism is creaking because the United States is being suspected of wanting to bomb other countries:
The United States is being reproached, and not without reason, that it is dealing as opportunistically and arrogantly with the world as it did before September 11. This Administration is doing much too little to take the sting out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a conflict that contributes to the hate and jealousy in the Arabic and Muslim world with regard to everything which the U.S. stands for. Thus apparently nothing has changed since the eleventh of September. . . . That is a pity, because terrorism is far from eradicated in the world, and every momentum to deny its material and emotional base should be grasped.
The tone of Middle Eastern commentary was much harsher and, on the whole, rather gloomy. The most respected daily newspaper in the Arab world, Cairo’s Al Ahram, commented on the last day of 2001:
The Arab world has never suffered such horrible setbacks—in all its issues—as in 2001. This started with the arrival of President Bush and the election of Sharon in Israel. Arabs have shown total inability to make predictions about the new American administration. Arab naivete reached the point that some of them even believed Bush’s background in the oil industry and his father’s old relations could make American policies more sympathetic to Arabs and less biased toward Israel. But events have proven the opposite to be the case . . . The Arab world witnessed no change in either thinking or policies. . . . They have failed to rearrange their ranks, reconcile belligerent parties, and emerge from the tunnel of empty exaggerations to realistic, effective policies. . . . Naturally then, the Middle East reached an impasse with the first American shock [on September 11]; Israel kidnapped the Palestinian issue under the excuse of fighting terrorism.
In the first week of the new year, the State Department decided to deal with the United States’ image problem in the Islamic world by drafting Muhammad Ali into the administration’s public-relations campaign. He has been recruited by Hollywood to star in a 30-second spot to be aired in Muslim nations. That the effort is doomed became clear from Ali’s initial statement on the September 11 attacks:
People say a Muslim caused this destruction. I am angry that the world sees a certain group of Islam followers who caused this destruction, but they are not real Muslims. They are racist fanatics who call themselves Muslims, permitting this murder of thousands . . . Islam is a religion of peace. It does not promote terrorism or killing people.
This p.c. malarkey is useful for domestic tranquilization, but it defies belief that the geniuses at Foggy Bottom are countering the animosity caused by U.S. policy in the Middle East by having a black Muslim convert preach to his coreligionists about who the “real Muslims” are and what Islam is really all about. New York advertising executive Charlotte Beers, who has been recruited to “direct the marketing of American values to the Muslim world, especially to young men who can fill the ranks of militant movements,” has a lot of learning to do.