America the unpopular
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
As the overthrow of Saddam Hussein showed, American conservatives believe that preemption, the overwhelming use of force, and going it alone are at times necessary to bolster US national security.
Liberals beg to differ. The New York Times, speaking for many of the latter, editorializes against what it calls President George W. Bush's "lone-wolf record [and] overly aggressive stance," saying that these risk undermining his goals by provoking the world s enmity. All nine of the Democratic presidential candidates raise similar criticisms, as do the AFL-CIO, countless columnists, religious leaders and academics.
Beyond differing with the administration's specific actions in Iraq, the liberal argument challenges broader conservative assumptions about the utility of an assertive US foreign policy. The Bush administration, for example, was practically alone in rejecting two treaties (the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol) and two near-agreements (on small arms, on chemical and biological weapons). It also took other forceful steps (such as negating the ABM treaty with Russia and expanding NATO up to Russia s borders).
"Bush is creating new enemies faster than he is deterring old ones," is how Gerard Alexander of the University of Virginia sums up the liberal accusation – one that he incisively refutes in the November 3 issue of The Weekly Standard. Alexander discerns two elements to the liberal claim: other powers for the first time feel threatened by US actions; and they are responding by taking steps against Washington. Let's consider each of these elements.
Newly threatening: Looking back over the last half-century, Alexander notes many occasions when other powers felt alienated from Washington.
Today's tensions, in short, have a somewhat familiar air to them.
Taking steps against Washington: "Watching what people do and not simply what they say," Alexander points out, "remains the best test of what people really think of America." However noisy unfavorable opinion polls and rival diplomatic efforts may be, they do not in themselves amount to a crisis. A crisis would require other powerful states to take at least one of two steps:
The response to recent American actions has been limited to words, and so has limited significance.
"By all the usual standards, then," Alexander argues, "Europeans and most others are acting as if they resent some aspects of US policy, are irritated by America's influence, oppose selected actions the administration has taken, and dislike President Bush more than his predecessor, but remain entirely unthreatened by the United States." Annoyance hardly counts as enmity.
There is no persuasive evidence "that US policy is provoking the seismic shift in America's reputation that Bush's critics detect." Translated into political terms, this means those critics need to find themselves another issue.
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