Is U.S. Foreign Policy a Threat to U.S. Security?

The world is turning against the United States. Most people across the planet dislike U.S. President George W. Bush. Even in his own country he is not as popular, trusted, and admired as other leaders, such as British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Experts are in agreement that the primary reason why people now hate the United States is the Bush administration’s foreign policy. More and more people are less keen on cooperating with the U.S. government in that policy or in the war on terror. Its exclusively self-regarding outlook, its arrogant unilateralism, its unwise and untrustworthy rhetoric, and its belligerent posture is alienating and angering people in the East and the West. Growing opposition will not only undermine the war on terror, but its extreme manifestations in the Muslim World are attracting new and numerous recruits to the ranks of al Qaeda and associates.

A recent poll of people’s perceptions of the United States taken by the Pew Research Center (online at http://www.people-press.org/) in 20 countries indicates that since last year the United States’ popularity has declined considerably across the globe. Even in a traditional ally such as Turkey, 83% of the population views the United States negatively. Last year this number was only 55%. In Europe, a long-time U.S. ally and cultural mate, majorities of people find disfavor with the United States. According to the Pew study, the two basic reasons why rejection of the United States is becoming a global culture are: Bush’s persona and U.S. foreign policy.

The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon prompted two U.S. foreign policy goals: eliminating immediate threats to the nation’s security and winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim World. This essentially translated into taking care of the grave short-term threats posed by al Qaeda and the more severe, long-term challenge raised by the al Qaeda phenomenon–the rise of anti-U.S. sentiment in the Muslim World, which attracts recruits to al Qaeda and associates. Bush and his foreign policy team were correct in their initial diagnosis, but unfortunately the policy decisions that they have made since have merely contributed to enlarging rather than shrinking the al Qaeda phenomenon.

The Pew study confirms the claims of most policy analysts outside the government. The war on Iraq has conveyed the impression that the United States is determined to exercise force against Arab and Muslim nations more in revenge for Sept. 11 than as a strategy to prevent attacks. The problems that Iraqis have faced during the continuing U.S. occupation, along with the failure to find the huge stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction that Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed Iraq possessed, has hurt U.S. credibility and raised serious questions about the administration’s motives and its policy objectives. The continuing chaos in Afghanistan and the post-Iraq-war threats to first Syria and then Iran have created a climate of apprehension of and resentment against the United States.

Citizens of Pakistan, the primary U.S. ally in the war on terror, as well as those in Nigeria and Indonesia, feel that their countries are next on the U.S. list. The fear that Washington is out to attack other countries makes the global security environment less stable. It discourages cooperation, makes the world unsafe for U.S. citizens to travel and do business, and radicalizes moderates. It increases the flow of material and moral support to militant groups and weakens U.S. allies and pro-democracy intellectuals and groups, placing them on the defensive. In general anti-U.S. sentiment makes it difficult to promote peace and stability or fight extremism.

Rather than ensuring U.S. security, it seems that U.S. foreign policy, particularly as manifested in the invasion and now occupation of Iraq, has created conditions that put the United States and its interests at greater risk.

Bush is surrounded by policy hawks who view the Sept. 11 attacks as an opportunity to reshape the world to perpetuate U.S. imperial aspirations through unilateral use of force. Unfortunately for them, the world is unwilling to cooperate. The harder they push, the more resentment they will generate and the more difficult it will become to protect their interests at minimal costs.

It is time to take the world seriously and reassess the tactics that have been employed until now. Perhaps the president would do well to change his foreign policy team–as he did with his economic policy team. At the least he must return the foreign policy portfolio to the State Department and insist that the Department of Defense execute, not formulate, foreign policy. The president might also do well to focus on allaying the fears of the global community and take steps to reassure its members that Washington is neither threatening them nor is it going to pursue its interests at the expense of everyone else.

It is time for the U.S. to turn once gain to managing international relations through multilateralism, diplomacy, and leadership and by defining self-interest as shared interest. The current strategy of in-your-face politics is seriously damaging the U.S. reputation and its alliances, while undermining U.S. security.