The Arrogant Empire

The United States will soon be at war with Iraq. It would seem, on the face of it, a justifiable use of military force. Saddam Hussein runs one of the most tyrannical regimes in modern history. For more than 25 years he has sought to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and has, in several documented cases, succeeded. He gassed 60,000 of his own people in 1986 in Halabja. He has launched two catastrophic wars, sacrificing nearly a million Iraqis and killing or wounding more than a million Iranians. He has flouted 16 United Nations resolutions over 12 years that have warned him to disarm or else, including one, four months ago, giving him a "final opportunity" to do so "fully and immediately" or face "serious consequences." But in its campaign against Iraq, America is virtually alone. Never will it have waged a war in such isolation. Never have so many of its allies been so firmly opposed to its policies. Never has it provoked so much public opposition, resentment and mistrust. And all this before the first shot has been fired.

Watching the tumult around the world, it's evident that what is happening goes well beyond this particular crisis. Many people, both abroad and in America, fear that we are at some kind of turning point, where well-established mainstays of the global order--the Western Alliance,

European unity, the United Nations--seem to be cracking under stress. These strains go well beyond the matter of Iraq, which is not vital enough to wreak such damage. In fact, the debate is not about Saddam anymore. It is about America and its role in the new world. To understand the present crisis, we must first grasp how the rest of the world now perceives American power.

It is true that the United States has some allies in its efforts to topple Saddam. It is also true that some of the governments opposing action in Iraq do so not for love of peace and international harmony but for more cynical reasons. France and Russia have a long history of trying to weaken the containment of Iraq to ensure that they can have good trading relations with it. France, after all, helped Saddam Hussein build a nuclear reactor that was obviously a launching pad for a weapons program. (Why would the world's second largest oil producer need a nuclear power plant?) And France's Gaullist tendencies are, of course, simply its own version of unilateralism.

But how to explain that the vast majority of the world, with little to gain from it, is in the Franco-Russian camp? The administration claims that many countries support the United States but do so quietly. That signals an even deeper problem. Countries are furtive in their support for the administration not because they fear Saddam Hussein but because they fear their own people. To support America today in much of the world is politically dangerous. Over the past year the United States became a campaign issue in elections in Germany, South Korea and Pakistan. Being anti-American was a vote-getter in all three places.

Look at the few countries that do publicly support us. Tony Blair bravely has forged ahead even though the vast majority of the British people disagree with him and deride him as "America's poodle." The leaders of Spain and Italy face equally strong public opposition to their stands. Donald Rumsfeld has proclaimed, with his characteristic tactlessness, that while "old Europe"--France and Germany--might oppose U.S. policy, "new Europe" embraces them. This is not exactly right. The governments of Central Europe support Washington, but the people oppose it in almost the same numbers as in old Europe. Between 70 and 80 percent of Hungarians, Czechs and Poles are against an American war in Iraq, with or without U.N. sanction. (The Poles are more supportive in some surveys.) The administration has made much of the support of Vaclav Havel, the departing Czech president. But the incoming president, Vaclav Klaus--a pro-American, Thatcherite free-marketer--said last week that on Iraq his position is aligned with that of his people.

Some make the argument that Europeans are now pacifists, living in a "postmodern paradise," shielded from threats and unable to imagine the need for military action. But then how to explain the sentiment in Turkey, a country that sits on the Iraqi border? A longtime ally, Turkey has fought with America in conflicts as distant as the Korean War, and supported every American military action since then. But opposition to the war now runs more than 90 percent there. Despite Washington's offers of billions of dollars in new assistance, the government cannot get parliamentary support to allow American troops to move into Iraq from Turkish bases. Or consider Australia, another crucial ally, and another country where a majority now opposes American policy. Or Ireland. Or India. In fact, while the United States has the backing of a dozen or so governments, it has the support of a majority of the people in only one country in the world, Israel. If that is not isolation, then the word has no meaning.

It is also too easy to dismiss the current crisis as one more in a series of transatlantic family squabbles that stretch back over the decades. Some in Washington have pointed out that whenever the United States has taken strong military action--for example, the deployment of Pershing nuclear missiles in Europe in the early 1980s--there was popular opposition in Europe. True, but this time it's different. The street demonstrations and public protests of the early 1980s made for good television images. But the reality was that in most polls, 30 to 40 percent of Europeans supported American policies. In Germany, where pacifist feelings ran sky high, 53 percent of Germans supported the Pershing deployments, according to a 1981 poll in Der Spiegel. In France, a majority supported American policy through much of Ronald Reagan's two terms, even prefer-ring him to the Democratic candidate, Walter Mondale, in 1984.

Josef Joffe, one of Germany's leading commentators, observes that during the cold war anti-Americanism was a left-wing phenomenon. "In contrast to it, there was always a center-right that was anti-communist and thus pro-American," he explains. "The numbers waxed and waned, but you always had a solid base of support for the United States." The cold war kept Europe pro-American. For example, 1968 was a time of mass protests against American policies in Vietnam, but it was also the year of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Europeans (and Asians) could oppose America, but their views were balanced by wariness of the Soviet threat and communist behavior. Again, the polls bear this out. European opposition even to the Vietnam War never approached the level of the current opposition to Iraq. This was true outside Europe as well. In Australia, for example, a majority of the public supported that country's participation in the Vietnam War through 1971, when it withdrew its forces.

But today no such common threat exists, and support for America is far more fluid. Center-right parties might still support Washington, but many do so almost out of inertia and without much popular support for their stand. During the recent German election, Gerhard Schroder campaigned openly against America's Iraq policy. Less noted was that his conservative opponent, Edmund Stoiber, did so as well, at one point (briefly) outflanking Schroder by saying he would not even allow American bases in Germany to participate in the war.

In one respect, I believe that the Bush administration is right: this war will look better when it is over. The military campaign will --probably be less difficult than many of Washington's opponents think. Most important, it will reveal the nature of Saddam's barbarous regime. Prisoners and political dissidents will tell stories of atrocities. Horrific documents will come to light. Weapons of mass destruction will be found. If done right, years from now people will remember above all that America helped rid Iraq of a totalitarian dictator.

But the administration is wrong if it believes that a successful war will make the world snap out of a deep and widening mistrust and resentment of American foreign policy. A war with Iraq, even if successful, might solve the Iraq problem. It doesn't solve the America problem. What worries people around the world above all else is living in a world shaped and dominated by one country--the United States. And they have come to be deeply suspicious and fearful of us.

The Age of Generosity
Most Americans have never felt more vulnerable. September 11 was not only the first attack on the American mainland in 150 years, but it was also sudden and unexpected. Three thousand civilians were brutally killed without any warning. In the months that followed, Americans worried about anthrax attacks, biological terror, dirty bombs and new suicide squads. Even now, the day-to-day rhythms of American life are frequently interrupted by terror alerts and warnings. The average American feels a threat to his physical security unknown since the early years of the republic.

Yet after 9-11, the rest of the world saw something quite different. They saw a country that was hit by terrorism, as some of them had been, but that was able to respond on a scale that was almost unimaginable. Suddenly terrorism was the world's chief priority, and every country had to reorient its foreign policy accordingly. Pakistan had actively supported the Taliban for years; within months it became that regime's sworn enemy. Washington announced that it would increase its defense budget by almost $50 billion, a sum greater than the total annual defense budget of Britain or Germany. A few months later it toppled a regime 6,000 miles away--almost entirely from the air--in Afghanistan, a country where the British and Soviet empires were bogged down at the peak of their power. It is now clear that the current era can really have only one name, the unipolar world--an age with only one global power. America's position today is unprecedented. A hundred years ago, Britain was a superpower, ruling a quarter of the globe's population. But it was still only the second or third richest country in the world and one among many strong military powers. The crucial measure of military might in the early 20th century was naval power, and Britain ruled the waves with a fleet as large as the next two navies put together. By contrast, the United States will spend as much next year on defense as the rest of the world put together (yes, all 191 countries). And it will do so devoting 4 percent of its GDP, a low level by postwar standards.

American dominance is not simply military. The U.S. economy is as large as the next three--Japan, Germany and Britain--put together. With 5 percent of the world's population, this one country accounts for 43 percent of the world's economic production, 40 percent of its high-technology production and 50 percent of its research and development. If you look at the indicators of future growth, all are favorable for America. It is more dynamic economically, more youthful demographically and more flexible culturally than any other part of the world. It is conceivable that America's lead, especially over an aging and sclerotic Europe, will actually increase over the next two decades.

Given this situation, perhaps what is most surprising is that the world has not ganged up on America already. Since the beginnings of the state system in the 16th century, international politics has seen one clear pattern--the formation of balances of power against the strong. Countries with immense military and economic might arouse fear and suspicion, and soon others coalesce against them. It happened to the Hapsburg Empire in the 17th century, France in the late 18th and early 19th century, Germany twice in the early 20th century, and the Soviet Union in the latter half of the 20th century. At this point, most Americans will surely protest: "But we're different!" Americans--this writer included--think of themselves as a nation that has never sought to occupy others, and that through the years has been a progressive and liberating force. But historians tell us that all dominant powers thought they were special. Their very success confirmed for them that they were blessed. But as they became ever more powerful, the world saw them differently. The English satirist John Dryden described this phenomenon in a poem set during the Biblical King David's reign. "When the chosen people grew too strong," he wrote, "The rightful cause at length became the wrong."

Has American power made its rightful cause turn into wrong? Will America simply have to learn to live in splendid isolation from the resentments of the world? This is certainly how some Americans see things. And it's true that some of the opposition to the United States is thinly veiled envy. "Scratch an anti---American in Europe, and very often all he wants is a guest professorship at Harvard or to have an article published in The New York Times," says Denis MacShane, Britain's minister for Europe.

But there lies a deep historical fallacy in the view that "they hate us because we are strong." After all, U.S. supremacy is hardly a recent phenomenon. America has been the leading world power for almost a century now. By 1900 the United States was the richest country in the world. By 1919 it had decisively intervened to help win the largest war in history. By 1945 it had led the Allies to victory in World War II. For 10 years thereafter America accounted for 50 percent of world GDP, a much larger share than it holds today.

Yet for five decades after World War II, there was no general rush to gang up against the United States. Instead countries joined with Washington to confront the Soviet Union, a much poorer country (at best comprising 12 percent of world GDP, or a quarter the size of the American economy). What explains this? How--until now--did America buck the biggest trend in international history?

To answer this question, go back to 1945. When America had the world at its feet, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman chose not to create an American imperium, but to build a world of alliances and multilateral institutions. They formed the United Nations, the Bretton Woods system of economic cooperation and dozens of other international organizations. America helped get the rest of the world back on its feet by pumping out vast amounts of aid and private investment. The centerpiece of this effort, the Marshall Plan, amounted to $120 billion in today's dollars.

Not least of these efforts was the special attention given to diplomacy. Consider what it must have meant for Franklin Roosevelt--at the pinnacle of power--to go halfway across the world to Tehran and Yalta to meet with Churchill and Stalin in 1943 and 1945. Roosevelt was a sick man, paralyzed from the waist down, hauling 10 pounds of steel braces on his legs. Traveling for 40 hours by sea and air took the life out of him. He did not have to go. He had plenty of deputies--Marshall, Eisenhower--who could have done the job. And he certainly could have summoned the others closer to him. But FDR understood that American power had to be coupled with a generosity of spirit. He insisted that British commanders like Montgomery be given their fair share of glory in the war. He brought China into the United Nations Security Council, even though it was a poor peasant society, because he believed that it was important to have the largest Asian country properly represented within a world body.

The standard set by Roosevelt and his generation endured. When George Marshall devised the Marshall Plan, he insisted that America should not dictate how its money be spent, but rather that the initiatives and control should lie with Europeans. For decades thereafter, the United States has provided aid, technical know-how and assistance across the world. It has built dams, funded magazines and sent scholars and students abroad so that people got to know America and Americans. It has paid great deference to its allies who were in no sense equals. It has conducted joint military exercises, even when they added little to U.S. readiness. For half a century, American presidents and secretaries of State have circled the globe and hosted their counterparts in a never-ending cycle of diplomacy.

Of course, all these exertions served our interests, too. They produced a pro-American world that was rich and secure. They laid the foundations for a booming global economy in which America thrives. But it was an enlightened self-interest that took into account the interests of others. Above all, it reassured countries--through word and deed, style and substance--that America's mammoth power need not be feared.

Where Bush Went Wrong
George W. Bush came into office with few developed ideas about foreign policy. He didn't seem much interested in the world. During the years that his father was envoy to China, ambassador to the United Nations, director of the CIA and vice president, Bush traveled two or three times outside the country. Candidate Bush's vision amounted mostly to carving out positions different from his predecessor. Many conservatives thought the Clinton administration was over-involved in the world, especially in nation-building, and hectoring in its diplomacy. So Bush argued that America should be "a humble nation," scale back its commitments abroad and not involve itself in rebuilding other countries.

Yet other conservatives, a number of whom became powerful within the administration, had a more sweeping agenda. Since the early '90s, they had argued that the global landscape was marked by two realities. One was American power. The post-cold-war world was overwhelmingly unipolar. The other was the spread of new international treaties and laws. The end of the cold war had given a boost to efforts to create a global consensus on topics like war crimes, land mines and biological weapons. Both observations were accurate. From them, however, these Bush officials drew the strange conclusion that America had little freedom to move in this new world. "The picture it painted in its early months was of a behemoth thrashing about against constraints that only it could see," notes the neoconservative writer Robert Kagan. For much of the world, it was mystifying to hear the most powerful country in the history of the world speak as though it were a besieged nation, boxed in on all sides.

In its first year the administration withdrew from five international treaties--and did so as brusquely as it could. It reneged on virtually every diplomatic effort that the Clinton administration had engaged in, from North Korea to the Middle East, often overturning public statements from Colin Powell supporting these efforts. It developed a language and diplomatic style that seemed calculated to offend the world. (President Bush has placed a portrait of Theodore Roosevelt in the White House. TR's most famous words of advice are worth recalling: "Speak softly and carry a big stick.") Key figures in the administration rarely traveled, foreign visitors were treated to perfunctory office visits, and state dinners were unheard of. On an annual basis, George W. Bush has visited fewer foreign countries than any president in 40 years. Still, he does better than Dick Cheney, who has been abroad only once since becoming vice president.

September 11 only added a new layer of assertiveness to Bush's foreign policy. Understandably shocked and searching for responses, the administration decided that it needed total freedom of action. When NATO, for the first time in its history, invoked the self-defense clause and offered America carte-blanche assistance, the administration essentially ignored it. It similarly marginalized NATO in the Afghan war. NATO has its limitations, which were powerfully revealed during the Kosovo campaign, but the signal this sent to our closest allies was that America didn't need them. Thus as seen by the rest of the world, 9-11 had a distressingly paradoxical effect. It produced a mobilization of American power and yet a narrowing of American interests. Suddenly, Washington was more powerful and determined to act. But it would act only for its own core security and even pre-emptively when it needed to. Bush later announced an expansive, vague Wilsonian vision--which has merit--but his style and methods overshadowed its potential promise.

The Bush administration could reasonably point out that it doesn't get enough credit for reaching out to the rest of the world. President Bush has, after all, worked with the United Nations on Iraq, increased foreign aid by 50 percent, announced a $15 billion AIDS program and formally endorsed a Palestinian state. Yet none of these actions seems to earn him any good will. The reason for this is plain. In almost every case, the administration comes to multilateralism grudgingly, reluctantly, and with a transparent lack of sincerity. For a year now, President Bush has dismissed the notion that he should make any effort toward a Middle East peace process, even though it would have defused some of the anti-Americanism in the region as he sought to confront Iraq. Suddenly last week, to gain allies on Iraq and at the insistence of Tony Blair, Bush made a belated gesture toward the peace process. Is it surprising that people are not hailing this last-minute conversion?

Nowhere has this appearance of diplomatic hypocrisy been more striking than on Iraq. The president got high marks for his superb speech at the Security Council last September, urging the United Nations to get serious about enforcing its resolutions on Iraq and to try inspections one last time. Unfortunately, that appeal had been preceded by speeches by Cheney and comments by Rumsfeld calling inspections a sham--statements that actually contradicted American policy--and making clear that the administration had decided to go to war. The only debate was whether to have the United Nations rubber-stamp this policy. To make matters worse, weeks after the new U.S.-sponsored U.N. resolution calling for fresh inspections, the administration began large-scale deployments on Iraq's border. Diplomatically, it had promised a good-faith effort to watch how the inspections were going; militarily, it was gearing up for war with troops that could not stay ready in the desert forever. Is it any wonder that other countries, even those that would be willing to endorse a war with Iraq, have felt that the diplomacy was a charade, pursued simply to allow time for military preparations?

President Bush's favorite verb is "expect." He announces peremptorily that he "expects" the Palestinians to dump Yasir Arafat, "expects" countries to be with him or against him, "expects" Turkey to cooperate. It is all part of the administration's basic approach toward foreign policy, which is best described by the phrase used for its war plan--"shock and awe." The notion is that the United States needs to intimidate countries with its power and assertiveness, always threatening, always denouncing, never showing weakness. Donald Rumsfeld often quotes a line from Al Capone: "You will get more with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone."

But should the guiding philosophy of the world's leading democracy really be the tough talk of a Chicago mobster? In terms of effectiveness, this strategy has been a disaster. It has alienated friends and delighted enemies. Having traveled around the world and met with senior government officials in dozens of countries over the past year, I can report that with the exception of Britain and Israel, every country the administration has dealt with feels humiliated by it. "Most officials in Latin American countries today are not anti-American types," says Jorge Castaneda, the reformist foreign minister of Mexico, who resigned two months ago. "We have studied in the United States or worked there. We like and understand America. But we find it extremely irritating to be treated with utter contempt." Last fall, a senior ambassador to the United Nations, in a speech supporting America's position on Iraq, added an innocuous phrase that could have been seen as deviating from that support. The Bush administration called up his foreign minister and demanded that he be formally reprimanded within an hour. The ambassador now seethes when he talks about U.S. arrogance. Does this really help America's cause in the world? There are dozens of stories like this from every part of the world.

In diplomacy, style is often substance. Consider this fact: the Clinton administration used force on three important occasions--Bosnia, Haiti and Kosovo. In none of them did it take the matter to the United Nations Security Council, and there was little discussion that it needed to do so. Indeed, Kofi Annan later made statements that seemed to justify the action in Kosovo, explaining that state sovereignty should not be used as a cover for humanitarian abuses. Today Annan has (wrongly) announced that American action in Iraq outside the United Nations will be "illegal." While the Clinton administration--or the first Bush administration--was assertive in many ways, people did not seek assurances about its intentions. The Bush administration does not bear all the blame for this dramatic change in attitudes. Because of 9-11, it has had to act forcefully on the world stage and assert American power. But that should have been all the more reason to adopt a posture of consultation and cooperation while doing what needed to be done. The point is to scare our enemies, not terrify the rest of the world.

The Way to Buck History
In 1992, Paul Wolfowitz, then a senior official in the first Bush administration, authored a Pentagon document that argued that in an era of overwhelming American dominance, U.S. foreign policy should be geared toward maintaining our advantage and discouraging the rise of other great powers. The premise behind this strategy is perfectly sensible. The United States should attempt to lengthen its era of supremacy for as long as it can. Any country would try to do the same (though a wise one would not be foolish enough to announce it). For that reason, the elder Bush ordered the Pentagon to water down the document so that it was not quite so arrogant.

In principle, American power is not simply good for America; it is good for the world. Most of the problems the world faces today--from terrorism to AIDS to nuclear proliferation--will be solved not with less U.S. engagement but with more. The lesson of the 1990s--of Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Rwanda--is surely that American action, with all its flaws, is better than inaction. Other countries are simply not ready or able, at this point, to take on the challenges and burdens of leadership. Around the world, people understand this. In a global survey taken last year, the most intriguing--and unreported--finding was that large majorities of people in most countries thought that the world would be a more dangerous place if there were a rival to the American superpower. Sixty-four percent of the French, 70 percent of Mexicans, 63 percent of Jordanians felt this way. (Ironically, old Europe was more pro-American on this issue than new Europe. Only 27 percent of Bulgarians agreed.)

The real question is how America should wield its power. For the past half century it has done so through alliances and global institutions and in a consensual manner. Now it faces new challenges--and not simply because of what the Bush administration has done. The old order is changing. The alliances forged during the cold war are weakening. Institutions built to reflect the realities of 1945--such as the U.N. Security Council--risk becoming anachronistic. But if the administration wishes to further weak--en and indeed destroy these institutions and traditions--by dismissing or neglecting them--it must ask itself: What will take their place? By what means will America maintain its hegemony?

For some in the administration, the answer is obvious: America will act as it chooses, using what allies it can find in any given situation. As a statement of fact this is sometimes the only approach Washington will be able to employ. But it is not a durable long-term strategy. It would require America to build new alliances and arrangements every time it faced a crisis. More important, operating in a conspicuously unconstrained way, in service of a strategy to maintain primacy, will paradoxically produce the very competition it hopes to avoid. The last two years are surely instructive. The Bush administration's swagger has generated international opposition and active measures to thwart its will. Though countries like France and Russia cannot become great-power competitors simply because they want to--they need economic and military strength--they can use what influence they have to disrupt American policy, as they are doing over Iraq. In fact, the less responsibility we give them, the more freedom smaller powers have to make American goals difficult to achieve.

In many cases the United States simply can't "go it alone." The current crises over North Korea, Iran's nuclear program and the leakage of fissile materials from Russia are all good examples. And while the United States can act largely by itself in certain special circumstances, such as Iraq, the fewer allies, bases and air rights it has, the higher the costs will be in American lives and treasure. And those costs will become unbearable if the United States has to both wage war and pay for postwar reconstruction on its own.

--The war on terror has given the United States a core security interest in the stability of societies. Failed states can become terrorist havens. That means we must focus attention and expenditures on nation-building. For all its flaws, the United Nations is doing on-the-ground work to create stable societies in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Cambodia and Mozambique--and for the most part, it's succeeding. The European Union and Japan pay most of these bills. Were Washington to move to an entirely ad hoc approach, why would the rest of the world agree to clean up its messes?

Fighting terror also requires constant cooperation with countries across the globe. America could not have captured Qaeda strategist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed without the active partnership of Pakistan. And yet if you ask Pakistanis what they have gotten for this, they will point out that American tariffs continue to strangle their textile industry and U.S. aid remains meager. Having asked for help in de-Islamizing their education system--a matter of crucial concern to America--they have received little. Meanwhile the overall tone of Bush administration foreign policy has made General Musharraf embarrassed to be pro-American.

The last point is perhaps the most crucial one. Being pro-American should not be a political liability for our allies. The diplomatic fiasco over Turkey is an excellent example. For well over a year now it has been obvious to anyone watching that the Turkish people were deeply opposed to a war in Iraq. Yet the administration assumed that it could bully or bribe Turkey into giving it basing rights. But Turkey over the last year has become more democratic. The military is less willing to overrule politicians. The new ruling party, AK, is more open to internal debate than Turkey's other parties. It allowed its members to vote freely on the motion to allow America basing rights, only to have it defeated. Since more than 90 percent of the Turks oppose giving America basing rights, this should not have been surprising. The administration wants democracy in the Middle East. Well, it got it.

As usual, diplomatic style played a role. "The way the U.S. has been conducting the negotiations has been, in general, humiliating," says a retired senior diplomat, Ozdem Sanberk.

The costs of this mishap are real. If Turkey allowed America to open a second front, we could end the war more quickly and with fewer casualties, and the thorny issues relating to Turkish-Kurdish relations could be more easily handled. But the larger lesson is surely that in an increasingly democratic world American power must be seen as legitimate not only by other governments but by their people. Does America really want a world in which it gets its way in the face of constant public anger only by twisting arms, offering bribes and allying with dictators?

There are many specific ways for the United States to rebuild its relations with the world. It can match its military buildup with diplomatic efforts that demonstrate its interest and engagement in the world's problems. It can stop oversubsidizing American steelworkers, farmers and textile-mill owners, and open its borders to goods from poorer countries. But above all, it must make the world comfortable with its power by leading through consensus. America's special role in the world--its ability to buck history--is based not simply on its great strength, but on a global faith that this power is legitimate. If America squanders that, the loss will outweigh any gains in domestic security. And this next American century could prove to be lonely, brutish and short.