- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2003

LONDON — History has seen many superpowers, from the empires of Rome and ancient China to the vast colonial conquests of Britain and France. But never has a single nation so dominated the planet as the United States at the start of the 21st century.

This, in the eyes of many around the world, is far from a good thing. They worry that America is a superpower out of control, “unrestrained by any laws or any conventions other than its national interest,” said James Rubin, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state who lives in London.

In the wake of the Iraq war, even some of America’s closest friends and allies worry that too much power and influence rests in the hands of one nation. They fear the consequences for the international political system and for humanity.

“It does worry me that we are in a world today where we only have one huge superpower, which does not need anybody and can follow whatever policy it wants,” said Axel Poniatowski, a conservative member of the French parliament.

American power is indeed enormous. Its armed forces circle the planet, dwarfing the militaries of other nations. The U.S. economy is the biggest player in the global marketplace. American ideas and culture are everywhere, whisked by movies, television and the Internet to every corner of the world.

With the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union, no other nation or likely alliance of nations can match U.S. power.

America’s critics also worry about what the United States will do with that power. Since George W. Bush became president, they have watched with mounting concern as America spurned the Kyoto protocol on global warming, rejected the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court to try Americans and withdrew from arms-control treaties.

All, they say, done with an arrogance that tells the rest of the world it doesn’t matter.

Traits that make Mr. Bush popular at home, such as simple, straight talk, can appear frightening abroad. Top officials such as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld add to the apprehension with their bluntness — a bluntness some critics interpret as disdain for the views of other nations.

“We are all rather uncomfortable with Bush. Our pro-American loyalty has been quite heavily strained by the Bush administration,” said Menzies Campbell, a leader of the Liberal Democrats, a British opposition party.

Few nations, though, appear to see America as a threat to their sovereignty. Many criticize U.S. policy but consider America a relatively benign superpower. There is barely a suggestion, except in some circles, of any U.S. ambitions to conquer the world.

There also is great friendliness and good will in most countries toward Americans — as opposed to the U.S. government. Polls in Europe and elsewhere show that more unites Americans and most nations than divides them.

“We don’t need to dramatize these problems,” said Vladimir Baranovsky, deputy director of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow.

But, at the same time, there is rising unease about America and increasing criticism of the sole superpower. “The imperious and arrogant in Washington believe the rights of man come not from God but from the generosity of Uncle Sam,” wrote the New Straits Times in Malaysia.

The sentiment is bolstered by growing anti-Americanism, some of it based on stereotypes about the United States.

“I think that most people get obsessed with the U.S. because of its immense wealth and power,” British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in a British Broadcasting Corp. interview. “It has become fashionable, this kind of anti-Americanism, and it is a convenient parody.”

The United States is blamed for everything from global warming to genetically altered crops, even as the world does its best to emulate American lifestyles. Abroad, McDonald’s and Starbucks are madly popular and yet often the first targets in any political protests.

Opposition to the United States is nothing new. Similar views abounded during the 1960s and throughout the Vietnam War, when U.S. foreign policy was seen as arrogant and incompetent, alienating rather than winning friends. William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick’s 1958 best seller, “The Ugly American,” gave a name to the overbearing Americans overseas.

But the stereotype of the Ugly American has had a resurgence. It is reflected in editorials and speeches and informal conversations that betray a concern around the world that Washington wants only to serve American interests — that its only interest in other countries is how they can boost U.S. security and prosperity.

“We have created an impression throughout the rest of the world that the U.S. is the bully of the playground, and that does not do well over the long term,” said Ted Galen Carpenter, an analyst at the Cato Institute, a think tank in Washington.

Even nations allied with America are concerned that one nation has so much power. Friendly governments say it’s fine sleeping with an amicable elephant, until it rolls over in the night.

“I am not concerned that the U.S. is too strong, I am sometimes concerned how they use their strength,” said Karsten Voigt, adviser to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

The U.S. attack on Iraq crystallized those fears, even among many of America’s traditional allies, such as France and Germany.

America’s motivation — born in the attacks of September 11 — is not widely embraced or understood.

In some quarters, America was seen as wanting war at any price, brushing aside international bodies and laws designed, no matter how imperfectly, to avoid war and ensure peace collectively.

It was a system the United States played a major role in creating after World War II, with bodies such as the United Nations. Traditionally, U.S. foreign policy has stressed building alliances, consulting others and seeking peaceful solutions.

There are those who see recent American actions as the death knell for a system that has lasted more than half a century. “The United Nations is nothing anymore,” said Sher Aga, who teaches aviation at the Air Force Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Is America willing to remain first among equals, many wonder, or has collegiality been replaced by a raw, menacing assertiveness some saw in America’s campaign against Saddam Hussein?

“The Americans need to see that we need to be consulted. They are just one part of the world,” said Ulrike Guerot, an analyst on the German Council on Foreign Relations.

Many nations see good relations with the United States as a top priority no matter the cost, fearing what they might lose if they stood up to Washington. Even critics of U.S. policy don’t want to risk a confrontation that could cost them trade or the shelter of Washington’s defense umbrella.

Allies such as Britain have for years backed America in almost any situation, often so that they could retain their sway with Washington. Prime Minister Tony Blair risked his political career in the face of massive domestic opposition, backing Mr. Bush on Iraq because he suggested, in part, that it was the only way to influence Washington and have any hope of countering its more aggressive policies.

Others, mainly France and Russia, speak of creating a “multipolar” world in which U.S. power is countered by alliances, principally the European Union.

But the European Union was badly split over Iraq, with many of its members backing Washington. And Russia and France, would-be leaders of any coalition to counter U.S. power, are themselves viewed suspiciously by other nations.

Even those who want a coalition to counter America, such as French President Jacques Chirac, want to work with Washington. There is no desire to again divide the world into rival camps, as in the Cold War.

For all the global angst, the problem is not as severe as it may seem. U.S. military power is massive, but it does not appear to be wielded promiscuously. Most nations know they need not fear it.

In many areas, America cannot go it alone. The United States is dependent on the global economy for its prosperity. And it needs cooperation of the rest of the world for everything from the fight against terrorism to the free movement of people and ideas in an ever-shrinking and interdependent world.

“There is no reason why the interests of the U.S. and the interests of the rest of the world need diverge. When it comes to global threats of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, crime, drugs, global warming, disease — if America acts to blunt those threats, the world is better off,” Mr. Rubin said.

There are American policy-makers who say the United States should be prepared to go it alone in pursuit of its interests. But other foreign analysts believe that Washington must consult with allies and others to build consensus and ensure that its leadership is wanted rather than endured. The primacy of international law and bodies such as the United Nations must be reasserted, they say.

“The rules should have universal application. If the United States has the right to carry out a preventative war, then other countries should have the same right,” said Sergio Sarmiento, a leading Mexican newspaper columnist and analyst.

And America’s friends and allies must do a better job of influencing Washington by putting forth a united front on key issues, analysts say.

“They must make it plain that the U.S. must act within the framework of international … law, and that unilateral action outside the law, however justified in the short term … could well bring their country into disrepute. And that would be a tragedy for all,” said Douglas Hogg, a former British government minister.

Some observers, however, doubt the United States will return to the old patterns of consultation and consensus building. Already there is the threat of trade wars with the European Union, whose combined economy is larger than America’s.

“I am deeply troubled by the way we seem to be moving backward historically away from a world of collective security and international community back toward something that looks more like self-help, each for his own,” said Charles Kupchan, a professor at Georgetown University.

Still, many analysts believe that Washington will work out its differences with its friends and allies and restore the traditional consensus, just as splits over the Vietnam War or the 1980s protests in Europe over U.S. cruise missiles were mended.

As Joost Lagendijk, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, put it: “There will be rapprochement again between the Americans and the Europeans, and sooner than some skeptics want to believe.”

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