Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Op-Ed Columns

America is finding itself bereft of allies


Dan Simpson, a retired diplomat, is a member of the editorial boards of The Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


LOOKING at the consensus of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that our risk from global terror has gone up, and at some sharp expressions of distaste for the American president at the U.N. General Assembly last week, one has to ask how much of this is new and how hard will it be for America to get past it?

Anti-Americanism is definitely not new. But it is cast differently now. It used to be a combination of envy that the American standard of living was higher than nearly everyone else's and hope that America would choose to share some of its wealth and modernity with other countries.

Iraq isn't the first place that the United States has become involved in a war against a smaller, ostensibly weaker country, a war that became increasingly unpopular at home and abroad. I balk at comparisons between the Vietnam and Iraq wars. The first, for example, took place in a Cold War context, which made it a different kettle of fish. One of the justifications for the Vietnam war was the domino theory - the idea that if communism triumphed in Vietnam it would spread to the rest of Southeast Asia as well. The Iraq affair, the Bush Administration still claims, could succeed in exporting freedom and democracy to the rest of the Middle East. (That thought has become so darkly absurd, with violent death and chaos rampant and continuing to grow in Iraq, that one wonders how President Bush finds the stomach to continue to repeat it.)

At the same time, President Lyndon B. Johnson by 1968 had probably become as unpopular as Mr. Bush is now, so this isn't new in that sense.

So what has changed? Or is it that we have changed?

It seems to me that countries like Iran and Venezuela reject totally any idea that the United States has any self-ordained right to interfere with their national policies, and they get their backs up at any suggestion otherwise. In the case of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, the problem is that there was an attempted coup against him in 2002, the Bush Administration hailed it prematurely for ideological reasons, and then it failed, leaving Mr. Chavez in office, angry and afraid of what might have happened.

Iran knows quite well what might have happened to it, having been fingered, with Iraq and North Korea, as a member of the "Axis of Evil." Iranians have never forgotten the U.S. overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh that put the Shah back in power in the 1950s. They also recall U.S. efforts to save the Shah's hide at the end of his regime. They also recall that the United States backed Saddam Hussein's Iraq in an eight-year, 1-million-casualty war against them.

So when the United States insists that Iran can't have a nuclear program, even though it is entitled to have a nuclear energy program consistent with its obligations as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and subject to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections, even Iranians less anti-western than President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are going to ask themselves what the White House is up to with its threats? And Iran will quite normally seek to rally support for itself among Muslims and others in what it sees as a face-off with the United States.

The North Koreans, with the still-small risk that the United States faces a confrontation with them, are just sad when it comes down to it. What they want is direct talks with us. They want to talk with us. They want us to take them seriously. That's basically what all the rocket-rattling and threats to make nuclear weapons are about. The ironic part is that the South Koreans would like us to talk to the North Koreans, too. It may even cross the South Koreans' minds that, if it wished to, the United States could play a constructive role in moving forward a project to reunify Korea.

But the most important question for Americans may be what has happened to us? What is different about the United States now as it is baited by critics, as opposed to the America that sometimes found itself at bay during the Cold War, such as when it got bogged down in Vietnam?

First, we have never been as bereft of allies as we are now. It appears that the only real ally we have is the United Kingdom under Tony Blair, and the end is near for his support. The Iraqi leaders whom we have backed will either go into exile when we leave or be killed.

The European countries in NATO are very reluctant to ante up more troops for Afghanistan. (They still vaguely see the point of that struggle, even though the Bush Administration basically flushed it when the United States chose to invade and occupy Iraq.)

The Asians, reading the Chinese characters on the wall, are pretty much indifferent to us, except on commercial matters.

The Japanese are rapidly moving toward assuring their own defense.

The Latin Americans, bolstered by some oil wealth and pretty much recovered from their economic problems, are regrouping sub-regionally.

Africans realize that we don't care about them and consequently don't care much about us: we have pretty much limited ourselves to ideological prescriptions and little concrete help for them. Can anyone imagine that the Republicans have tied AIDS help to Africa to religious-based ideas?

We will get a clean shave with the rest of the world if we elect in November at least one Democratic house of Congress, capable of putting the brakes on the Bush Administration's wilder dreams.

After that, the rest of the world will await a new American president in 2009, of whichever party, always hopeful that America will somehow overcome its demons and live up to its promise.

Dan Simpson, a retired diplomat, is a member of the editorial boards of The Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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