President George W. Bush’s first nine months in office were marked by an alarming hostility toward the rest of the world. He sneered at the United Nations, and rejected international treaties on global warming, biological weapons, and the establishment of an international court.
Then came September 11, and along with it a new openness in the Bush administration’s approach to other nations. Overtures were made to Europe, Indonesia, Russia and Pakistan.
The White House began receiving foreign heads of state. Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair was hailed as a great friend of America. Canada’s troops were put under U.S. command. The war against terrorism, it was said, was a global one.
Now, it seems, all that has changed. The first signs that the Bush administration was back to its old tricks? Its withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, its reluctance to provide financial aid in the rebuilding of Afghanistan, and its defiance of the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war.
Now, with the Taliban vanquished, Washington has announced it still isn’t ready to give up the fight, with a proposed expansion of the war on terror to the “axis of evil” — otherwise known as North Korea, Iran and Iraq.
And the rest of the world, including some of America’s closest allies and partners, is furious. French Foreign Minister Hubert VÃ©drine has called Washington’s approach “simplistic.” European Union Foreign Affairs Minister Christopher Patten wrote in The Financial Times that America’s victory in Afghanistan had reinforced the dangerous belief that “the projection of military power is the only basis of true security.”
Joschka Fischer, Germany’s Foreign Affairs Minister, said, “the international coalition against terror does not provide a basis for doing just anything against anybody and certainly not by going it alone.” Chinese leaders have threatened “serious consequences” if the U.S. attacks Iraq, and South Korea is furious over North Korea’s inclusion on the “evil” list, fearing that it has compromised years of that nation’s diplomatic overtures to its isolationist northern neighbour.
And in a joint media briefing last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Jean ChrÃ©tien said unilateral action in Iraq “will lead nowhere,” with the Prime Minister adding that Canada “is not implicated in any plans for Iraq or for other nations.”
So, what do you do when your friends and supporters say, “Enough is enough, this is no longer the appropriate approach to terrorism”? Do you listen to their counsel? Do you smooth ruffled feathers, and seek co-operation? Do you step back and receive direction from the United Nations?
Not if you’re Vice-President Dick Cheney, who said in a speech over the weekend that “America has friends and allies in this cause, but only we can lead it. Only we can rally the world in a task of this complexity against an enemy so elusive and so resourceful. The United States and only the United States can see this effort through to victory.”
And not if you’re President George W. Bush, who, also over the weekend, stated that the U.S. “would not blink” in its fight against terrorism, and added that Canada stands with America on this “incredibly important crusade to defend freedom.” (This despite the fact that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice called up the Prime Minister’s foreign affairs adviser for a clarification of ChrÃ©tien’s remarks.)
Washington’s message and tone seem purposely antagonistic. As New York Times reporter David Sanger noted this past weekend, “in appearances across the country, (Bush) has built on the axis of ‘evil’ phraseology of his State of the Union address, knowing full well that each repetition irritates and divides the countries he once hailed as his great coalition partners.”
Since September 11, some Americans have, with regard to Muslims in the Middle East, rather naively wondered, “why do they hate us so much?” As allies in Europe, Asia and North America have once again been alienated by Washington, they may now wonder why the rest of the world dislikes them, too.
In a nutshell: for their government’s arrogance and presumptuousness, for its isolationism and its dangerous foreign policy, for its refusal to compromise or co-operate, for its expansion of military action despite the rest of the world’s advice and interests.
The real question that should be asked now, however, is not why the rest of world doesn’t like or doesn’t support America, but rather why does America care so little about the rest of the world?