Anti-Americanism Is Providing a Glue

Times Staff Writer

The outpouring of anti-American rhetoric at the United Nations this week is demonstrating how anger at the United States is uniting the developing world in a way not seen since the 1980s, U.S. officials and analysts say.

Leaders such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Sudan’s Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are divided by background and political philosophies, but they spoke as one at the General Assembly regarding perceived U.S. bullying and misdeeds.

Chavez denounced the “imperialist empire,” Ahmadinejad railed against U.S. officials’ pretensions to be the “rulers of the world,” and Bashir complained about powerful intruders trampling his country’s sovereignty.


“There’s a new sense of the oppressed versus the oppressor,” said a senior U.S. official, who asked to remain unnamed. “What they have in common is their hatred of the U.S., and it’s created this solidarity across Third World lines.”

That solidarity hasn’t been seen in the developing world since leftist liberation movements faded after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he said.

The fallout from the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and other Bush administration policies may be particularly visible in the new bonds between many Muslim nations and populist regimes of South America, an alliance that some call the “axis of the south.”

Chavez has become a hero among Muslims, flattered with huge posters in Beirut and given lavish coverage in the news media from Morocco to Pakistan.

Anti-Americanism was the overarching theme last week in Havana at a 118-nation summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, whose headliners included Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales. The leaders embodied a burgeoning spirit of defiance toward “the worldwide dictatorship by the United States,” declared Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage Davila.

There is little doubt of the deepening unpopularity of the United States, even among longtime allies. Though the U.S. government has doubled its spending on public diplomacy, a poll this year by the Pew Charitable Trusts showed wide dissatisfaction with a central pillar of U.S. foreign policy, the “war against terrorism.”

When people in largely Muslim nations were asked whether they approved of “U.S.-led efforts to fight terrorism,” 82% in Egypt said no, as did 74% in Jordan, 77% in Turkey and 50% in Pakistan. The results in some European countries were similar. In Spain, 76% of those surveyed said they did not approve; in France, it was 57%.

U.S. officials say they don’t believe the growing Third World solidarity constitutes a strategic threat.

Though Chavez visits Iran and Syria, and talks about defense ties, oil sales and economic deals with these countries, North Korea and others, administration officials take the view that the Venezuelan’s declarations are mostly posturing to create an impression at home that he has stature as a world leader.

The administration acknowledges that such contacts reinforce anti-Americanism and add to the already sobering public diplomacy challenge. “It creates this impression that everybody is rising up against the Americans, and that’s a problem,” said the senior U.S. official.

Some outsiders say these new bonds are more than an image problem.

Chavez, for example, has won substantial support from Latin American governments for his bid to win a nonpermanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, even as the Bush administration has campaigned to have the seat go to the friendlier Guatemala. If Venezuela wins, the United States, in addition to facing a barrage of rhetoric, will have a harder time collecting the votes it needs on the council.

This Third World solidarity also has made it easier for Bashir to block a U.N. peacekeeping deployment in the Darfur region of his country, said Lee Feinstein of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

Bashir “has succeeded in interfering with the U.N. deployment by depicting this as an old-fashioned ‘us versus the United States,’ ” said Feinstein, a senior State Department official during the Clinton administration. “The American ability to credibly rally the international community on behalf of the vulnerable in Darfur has been eroded by this unpopularity.”

Feinstein said that in drawing together these parts of the world, U.S. unpopularity “has created real diplomatic problems for the country, many of them second-order, but also some big ones.”

The State Department has sought to not overreact to the efforts of Chavez and others to forge such alliances, but domestic pressure has been building from conservatives for U.S. diplomats to do more about the situation.

Prominent Republican lawmakers regularly ask State Department officials what more diplomacy can do about Chavez’s efforts to build power alliances. And it is clear that this week’s outpouring of anger in New York has spread alarm in some quarters and will bring more pressure for the administration to react.

“The Non-Aligned Movement threw down the gauntlet to U.S. global power this week,” said Nile Gardiner, a foreign policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. “This is a huge public diplomacy challenge, but also a strategic threat.” He said Chavez’s words were “the strongest attack from any foreign leader on U.S. soil in decades.”

Still, analysts and U.S. officials point out that though the shared anti-Americanism of these countries is striking, so too are their differences.

Although advocates of this “axis of the south” describe it as similar to the leftist liberation movements of 20 years ago and earlier, Arab leaders and Africans do not generally share their leftist leanings. And Chavez has yet to win the leadership role in Latin America he craves.

Feinstein said that even though the withering denunciations by Chavez and Ahmadinejad drew applause this week, overall, members of the United Nations were much more united behind American-style views of democracy and economics than they had ever been.

“Opposition has hardened into anti-Americanism and shifted government policy in many places around the world, but the U.N.’s membership is much more in sync with traditional U.S. foreign policy goals and ideals than at any time since the U.N.’s founding,” he said. “The tragedy is, the Bush administration hasn’t been able to take advantage of that fact.”