Advertisement

A Superpower’s Sorrow, Comeuppance

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There is no shortage of reasons in much of the world to dislike the United States. From European capitals to the coca fields of South America to the assembly lines of Southeast Asia, the nation can appear arrogant and selfishly fixated on its own politics and interests.

Its unparalleled power makes it a lightning rod for a host of grievances brought by allies, adversaries and outright enemies.

Ghoulish scenes of Palestinians dancing and rejoicing over Tuesday’s mass slaughter in New York and Washington are only the most extreme and recent public expression of anti-Americanism--or at least a wariness of American power--that has followed the United States’ rise as a superpower, through conflicts in the Cold War and since.

Beneath the sorrow and dismay voiced abroad this week over the deadly attacks on American cities is an undercurrent of rebuke from critics who hope that the devastation will temper what they see as the superpower’s sense that it can dictate to everyone else. For much of the world, America’s grief is also its comeuppance.

Advertisement

“People are really deeply shocked by the doomsday-like pictures,” said Mirjana Bobic, a popular author and head of cultural programming on Serbian state television in Yugoslavia. “But you know, every stick has two ends, and if you are beating others, you should expect a boomerang effect.”

“It’s like shock therapy for the United States, not to be too arrogant,” said Bagus Prasetyo, 23, who works for South Korean auto maker Hyundai in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital.

While there may be ample reasons for anger toward the United States, the nation remains a source of admiration and a magnet for immigrants from around the world--criticized more for bullying and double standards than for its way of life. Anti-American sentiment often does not extend to ordinary citizens, who bore the brunt of Tuesday’s attacks.

Few U.S. enemies possess the ideology and motivation to stage suicide hijackings like the ones that sent airliners crashing into the World Trade Center and Pentagon--attacks for which no one has claimed responsibility.

Advertisement

Although the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 showed that America has its own terrorists, speculation has focused on extremist Muslim organizations that believe they are fighting for their faith.

Hatred of the United States, Israel’s strongest ally, has risen to a fever pitch among many Palestinians and throughout the Islamic and Arab world over the past year of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

Yet anti-American sentiment is far broader and appears to have intensified after President Bush, who took office in January, opposed a draft treaty on global warming and revived an unpopular U.S. proposal for a “Star Wars"-like missile shield.

Bush was a focus of protests this summer when more than 100,000 demonstrators besieged a Group of 8 summit in Genoa, Italy, to rail against a model for the global economy that they say neglects the poor and harms the environment. The Bush administration provoked an outcry at the U.N.-sponsored World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, this month when its delegation walked out, protesting bias against Israel.

“There are lots of degrees of anti-Americanism, but it would be dangerous to lump them all together,” said Sergio Romano, a former Italian ambassador to Moscow. “There are growing divergences between the United States and other countries, but many who are critical of America would never dream of resorting to what we saw Tuesday.”

Risk of Pushing U.S. Toward Isolationism

The danger, he and other commentators say, is that Americans will perceive a uniformly hostile world and push their leaders toward unilateral action or isolationism.

The view from Moscow was harsh.

Advertisement

“U.S. foreign policy has been characterized by a high degree of self-confidence, complacency and intoxication with its own power following the Cold War,” Vladimir Lukin, a deputy speaker of the Russian parliament and a former ambassador to Washington, said in an interview.

“If the U.S. prefers to pretend that it rules the world, such myopia will continue to result in horrible acts of terror,” he added.

About half the callers to a television program called “Night Flight” in the Russian capital on Tuesday night said they were sorry for the victims of the attacks “but not for America.”

In Beijing, the People’s Daily advised Bush to take the disaster as “a serious warning” against “hegemonist foreign policies.” A posting on one of China’s increasingly nationalist Internet chat room sites said Tuesday’s attacks were “the result of America being the world police.”

U.S. officials acknowledge that Americans often underestimate the effect of their government’s policies on people around the world.

“If President Bush goes on television and says we’re going to get the terrorists and those who harbor them, that means a lot of people are going to suffer,” one U.S. diplomat said. “We think we’re doing it for the right reasons . . . but our policies have enormous impact, and many people have suffered a lot because of what they see as our arrogance.”

A Young Know-It-All That Eclipsed Others

American arrogance, in the view of many, is rooted in part in its status as a relative newcomer to the role of superpower.

Advertisement

China’s 5,000 years of history and advanced civilization are sources of pride for its leaders and citizens. The idea that the country has been eclipsed and often lectured by such a young know-it-all is galling, like a veteran worker taking orders from a squeaky new boss, a reversal of the reverence for age that marks Chinese Confucian thinking.

Realizing that its destiny is tied to America, the Chinese have felt powerless to challenge Washington over the bombing of their embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia’s capital, by NATO warplanes in 1999 and U.S. spy missions off the Chinese coast.

Likewise, many Arabs and Muslims view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as far older than the Americans perceive.

To them, the conflict is a continuation of centuries of Western meddling. They think that the West, which today includes America, declared war on Islam with the first Crusade--a Christian holy war more than 1,000 years ago. They see the establishment of Israel as the United States’ insertion of Jews into the region, another step of Western conquest.

“The U.S. acts only out of its interests,” said Saad Mughari, an imam who is one of the most popular preachers in the Gaza Strip.

“Where is its humanity? Where is its conscience?” asked Mughari, who sympathizes with the militant Islamic movement Hamas.

“Why does the U.S. support Israel when it has so many interests in the Arab world?”

The vast majority of Palestinians felt sorrow and not joy at the terrorist attacks, said Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian commentator and sometime spokesman for the Palestinian Authority.

Anti-Americanism and the Legacy of Cold War

Some of today’s anti-Americanism is a legacy of the Cold War, which obliged, or allowed, the United States to impose its will on people--often against the interests of those people.

Through a string of military interventions, U.S.-sponsored coups and strong-arming, countries in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia got governments that were allies of the United States--but enemies of their own people. This convinced many that despite its preaching about justice and democracy, the United States followed a double standard.

Yugoslavia’s half a century under Communist rule made it easy, after the Cold War, for manipulative leaders such as Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic to blame the United States for the conflicts that tore the federation apart in the 1990s.

Serbs could argue with reason that Washington’s later support for ethnic Albanian nationalist guerrillas in Kosovo province amounted to a double standard. The United States punished the Serbs for atrocities but tended to look the other way when ethnic Albanian rebels killed Serbs, they contend.

America has created enemies, too, by failing to see the dark side of policies that, however well intentioned, were rife with contradictions.

One case in point was its intervention in Somalia in 1992 to neutralize warlords so that aid workers could safely feed emaciated, dying children. By 1993, when the famine was over, U.S. troops were dragged into a deadly confrontation with Somalia’s biggest warlord and lost their image of humanitarian neutrality.

In another example, the United States provided early support for Afghanistan’s Taliban militia in the 1990s, at least partly to stabilize the Afghan stretch of a route sought by Unocal, the American oil company, for an oil and natural gas pipeline that would bypass Iran.

The Taliban later gained power in nearly all of Afghanistan, but the Clinton administration did not take a stand against the regime’s human rights abuses until Saudi exile Osama bin Laden’s radical Islamist terrorist group, which had safe haven in the country, bombed two U.S. embassies in East Africa.

President Clinton ordered airstrikes against suspected training bases in Afghanistan in 1998, prompting Unocal to give up its pipeline project.

In the Middle East, hatred of the United States is multifaceted.

For Palestinians, anti-Americanism is largely geopolitical and rooted in the fight with Israel over land and rights. For radical Islam, which has grown rapidly as a popular movement and an armed threat, anti-Americanism is based on fundamental cultural values; the capitalist West has represented the infection of immoral values, the spreading of alcohol, drugs and pornography.

“The problem is much deeper than Osama bin Laden, or any other particular terrorist,” said Shaul Shay, an Israeli political scientist who specializes in Islam. “Osama bin Laden represents a trend, a confrontation between civilizations.”

In Latin America, anti-American sentiment has waned somewhat as the region modernized and democracy spread during the 1990s.

In Cuba and among Colombian narco-guerrillas, hatred of the United States is very real and brutal. Elsewhere, it is cheerfully and exasperatingly confused.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has gone out of his way to embrace every enemy of the United States--guerrillas in Colombia, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi. Nonetheless, Chavez likes to quote Jefferson, Lincoln and Walt Whitman along with Mao Tse-tung.

Latin Americans seem to cultivate an anti-Americanism that is political, not personal.

In Bolivia, a media-savvy Aymara Indian, Evo Morales, has become a Che Guevara-like figure in the Chapare jungle, where 200,000 indigenous coca growers have fought U.S.-funded drug interdiction with dynamite and aging rifles. They chant slogans such as “Long live coca! Death to the Yankees!”

Once asked about the menacing words, Morales looked apologetic and said, “They are really referring to the system, not to the people.”

*

Times staff writers Maura Reynolds in Moscow, Sebastian Rotella in Paris, Alissa M. Rubin in Belgrade, Ann M. Simmons in Johannesburg, Paul Watson in New Delhi, Tracy Wilkinson in Jerusalem, Michael Slackman in Cairo, Richard C. Paddock in Jakarta and Henry Chu in Beijing contributed to this report.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

U.S. Roles

Some U.S. actions--open or covert--in recent decades have angered people in different parts of the world and led them to conclude that the United States ignores their interests or is hostile to them:

*

1954: Overthrow of government in Guatemala.

*

1960s: Attempts to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro.

*

1960s-'70s: Vietnam War.

*

1967: Support for military coup in Greece.

*

1967: Support for Israel in Middle East War and in subsequent conflicts with its Arab neighbors.

*

1973: Covert support for destabilization of Salvador Allende’s government in Chile, leading to military coup.

*

1970s: Support for shah of Iran.

*

1980s: Covert and then open support for Contra rebels in Nicaragua. Secret arms sales to Iran to finance the Contras.

*

1986: Air attack on Libya.

*

1991: Persian Gulf War and subsequent sanctions against Iraq.

*

1992-94: Intervention in Somalia.

*

1995-99: Bombing campaigns to force peace settlement in Bosnia-Herzegovina and to drive Yugoslav army out of Kosovo.


Advertisement