WASHINGTONRespect is a two-sided coin. On the one side is admiration, on the other
fear. The weighting of respect shown to the United States by the rest of the
world has been rebalanced in the past two years. The preponderance of admiration
has given way to fear of its military, trade and financial power.
Likewise, to a visitor to Washington, the
balance of attitude has changed here, too. A quiet self-confidence here that the
United States was a model for economic growth as well as a source of personal
liberty and political institutions has waned. In its place is realization of the
scope of American power in a uni-polar world. With that has come a willingness,
even delight, to ride roughshod over friends and allies who are now deemed
But for Sept. 11, the unilateralism which
was an early mark of the new Bush administration would probably have been
tempered by the realities of global leadership in a complex world. However, the
attack so aroused a U.S. sense of grievance that the world is now expected to go
along with every response, rational or irrational, focused or emotional, that
has flowed from it.
President George W. Bush's "axis of evil"
speech was greeted with astonishment in most countries. But here even critics
who thought the words clumsy considered it "just too bad for them" if foreign
friends were offended by the crude threats and lack of concern for others'
interests - including such key allies as South Korea and Germany. In the bipolar
era it was possible to divide the world into black and white spheres, even if
that was not accepted by the nonaligned group. The Soviet empire and militant
communism were real threats to enough countries. If Al Qaeda is such a threat to
the West, how come there is so little consultation with actual allies or
building of bridges to potential ones?
Why link North Korea to Iran, or Iran to
its old enemy Iraq? Why ignore most NATO allies? Why insist on a U.S. troop
presence in the Philippines, stirring up nationalist sentiment as well as
suspicion among Muslim neighbors?
The answer lies partly in the scale of
U.S. military power. It is now estimated by Paul Kennedy of Yale that with the
latest budgeted boost, the United States will account for 40 percent of global
military spending, double its global share of GDP. Its arms technology has left
friends and potential foes far behind. Even China's arms boosts have made little
difference to the global balance. In military terms the United States barely
needs allies to conduct wars against the likes of Iraq, let alone the Taliban.
No wonder rivals are cowed and friends ignored. Whether ever greater military
capacity is much defense against Al Qaeda is another matter.
Yet Pax Americana rests on the consent of
others as well as on U.S. firepower. Consent in turn rests on respect for U.S.
principles of government, and for the merits of an open world economic order.
Economic globalization requires a degree of international cooperation noticeably
absent from recent U.S. diplomacy.
The perception has grown of an America
that now has a callous attitude to poor nations, excessive influence over the
IMF and the World Bank, and an unwillingness to make concessions in the
interests of multilateralism. Its hand-off approach to the wreckage of currency
policies in Argentina that it once encouraged and its contemptuous view of Japan
are all part of this unilateralism.
Yet in the economic sphere America's
power rests heavily on its ability to continue to use the dollar's reserve
currency role to finance its own deficits. It is impossible to predict when this
will end, but it is unsustainable.
Meanwhile, Enron and Nasdaq have taken
some of the shine off entrepreneurship. Post-September "national interest"
self-censorship by the media has undermined America's promotion of free media
internationally and given succor to authoritarians. Ditto the detentions of
non-Americans and the treatment of prisoners.
The most visible backers of anti-U.S.
terrorism have been defeated, and others will now lie low. But the aims of
terror - to undermine institutions, relationships, trust - may be progressing
underground. Sympathy for America can easily shift to cynicism.
The United States may feel almighty, but
to maximize its positive global influence it needs friends, and they have their
own legitimate national interests. The balance between fear and admiration of
the United States needs readjustment. That at least is the wish of its admirers.
International Herald Tribune