Clear and Present Danger


By Muqtedar Khan *

Al-Ahram Weekly
June 19 - 25, 2003
Issue No. 643

Is American foreign policy a threat to its very security? Muqtedar Khan answers in the affirmative

The world is becoming anti-American. Not only do most people around the world look on the US with disfavour, they also dislike President Bush, whose popularity is even questionable in the United States, where Tony Blair is more trusted and admired. More and more people are less keen on cooperating with the US in foreign policy or in the war on terror. Growing anti-Americanism will not only undermine that campaign, but its extreme manifestations in the Muslim world are attracting new and numerous recruits to the ranks of Al-Qa'eda and affiliated or similar groups. Experts are in agreement that the primary reason people now hate America is American foreign policy. Its arrogant unilateralism, its untrustworthy rhetoric and its belligerent posturing are alienating and angering people in the East and West.

A recent poll of perceptions of the United States by the Pew Research Centre that was conducted in 20 countries indicates that since last year America's popularity has declined considerably across the globe. Even in traditional allies such as Turkey, 83 per cent of the population views the US negatively -- up from 55 per cent last year. In Europe, America's, long-time ally and cultural cousin, a majority of people look upon the US with disfavour.

According to the Pew study, there are two basic reasons why anti-Americanism is becoming a global culture: US foreign policy and the persona of President Bush. The events of 11 September 2001 essentially identified two goals for American foreign policy -- eliminating immediate security threats to the nation and winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. This essentially translated into taking care of Al-Qa'eda and the Al-Qa'eda phenomenon. While Al-Qa'eda posed grave threats in the short term, the Al-Qa'eda phenomenon -- the rise of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world that attracted recruits to the organisation and similar groups -- posed a more severe and long-term challenge. President Bush and his foreign policy team were correct in their initial diagnosis, but unfortunately the policy decisions that they have made since have merely contributed to enlarging rather than shrinking the Al-Qa'eda phenomenon.

The Pew study essentially confirms the claims of most policy analysts outside the government. The war on Iraq has conveyed the impression that the US is determined to exercise force against Arab and Muslim nations more as a revenge for 11 September than as a strategy to prevent attacks. The problems that Iraqis have faced during the continuing US occupation of their country and the failure to find the huge stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction that Bush and Powell claimed Iraq possessed, has hurt American credibility and raised serious questions about its motives and its policy objectives.

The continuing chaos in Afghanistan and the threats following the Iraq war to Syria and then Iran have created a climate of apprehension and resentment against America. Citizens of Pakistan, Nigeria and Indonesia all feel that their country is next on the US list. The fear that the US is out to attack other countries makes the global security environment less stable. It discourages cooperation, makes the world unsafe for Americans to travel and do business and radicalises moderates. It increases the flow of material and moral support to militant groups, weakens and places American allies and pro-democracy intellectuals and groups on the defensive. In general, anti-Americanism makes it difficult to promote peace and stability and fight extremism.

Rather than ensuring American security, it seems that American foreign policy, in particular the invasion and now occupation of Iraq, have created conditions that put the US and its interests at greater risk. President Bush is surrounded by policy hawks who view 11 September as an opportunity to reassert the prerogatives of the American empire through a unilateral use of force. They wish to reshape the world to perpetuate America's imperial aspirations. Unfortunately for them the world is unwilling to cooperate. The harder they push, the more resentment they'll generate and the more difficult it will become to save the empire and its interests at minimal costs.

It is time to take the world seriously and reassess the tactics that have been employed until now. Perhaps the president would do well to change his foreign policy team as he did with his economic policy team. At the very least, he should return the foreign policy portfolio to the State Department and insist that the Department of Defense execute, not make foreign policy. The president might also do well to focus on allaying the fears of the international community and reassure people throughout the world that the US is neither threatening them nor will it pursue its interests at the expense of those of everyone else.

It is time for the US to once gain become an invisible imperial power, managing the world through multilateralism, diplomacy and leadership and by defining self-interest as shared interests. The current strategy of "in-your-face" politics is seriously damaging the US's reputation and alliances and undermining US security.

About the Author: The writer is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute's Saban Centre for Middle East Policy and the author of American Muslims: Bridging Faith and Freedom.

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