March 26, 2000 |  Print this story LA Times

                                            Goodwill Toward U.S. Is Dwindling Globally
                                               The nation's prominence as the world's sole superpower leaves
                                            even allies uneasy. They fear that Washington has lost its longtime
                                            commitment to international order.

                                            By TYLER MARSHALL, JIM MANN, Times Staff Writers

                                                 WASHINGTON--America's dominant shadow has long been
                                            welcome in much of the world as a shield from tyranny, a beacon of
                                            goodwill, an inspiration of unique values.
                                                 But 10 years after communism's collapse in the Soviet Union left
                                            the United States to pursue its interests without a world rival, that
                                            shadow is assuming a darker character. The preponderance of
                                            America's power--economic, political, military and cultural--is fast
                                            becoming a liability.
                                                 In State Department meeting rooms it's called the "hegemony
                                            problem," a fancy way of describing the same resentment that
                                            children harbor for the biggest, toughest and smartest kid in school.
                                                 While there always have been those who resented America's
                                            power, influence and priorities, even allies have grown queasy in the
                                            waning years of the Clinton administration. They are unsettled by
                                            fears that, in its hour of triumph, the United States seems to have
                                            lost its commitment to the global community and the international
                                            order it helped create from the ashes of World War II. The
                                            sentiment is mounting that no single country--however benevolent
                                            or well intentioned--should hold such a monopoly.
                                                 The complaint abroad is not that America is withdrawing into an
                                            isolationist shell, as it has so often in the past. Rather, foreigners
                                            diagnose America as suffering from a bad case of "me first."
                                                 Free of the need to contain the Soviet Union, a goal that guided
                                            foreign policy for nearly half a century, the United States during the
                                            Clinton years has focused on new objectives: pressing American
                                            commercial interests in the global economy, championing
                                            democracy and intervening militarily to protect human rights.
                                                 These goals concern foreign leaders less than the manner in
                                            which they have been pursued--a manner that appears inconsistent,
                                            sporadic and occasionally capricious. With communism
                                            vanquished, American political leaders appear to have tossed aside
                                            their inhibitions against using their foreign policy differences as an
                                            arena for partisan bickering.
                                                 Last year's rejection by the Senate of a treaty banning nuclear
                                            weapons testing is a case in point. America's allies and adversaries
                                            alike interpreted the move not as a judgment of the treaty's merits
                                            but as part of a Republican vendetta against President Clinton.
                                                 While the damage is not necessarily irreversible, it strains old
                                            friendships and diminishes America's ability to rally support. It risks
                                            depriving the U.S. of the goodwill that has been a priceless asset
                                            for decades--in building the post-World War II order, winning the
                                            Cold War and setting the international agenda.
                                                 "It's a very big issue," acknowledged Deputy Secretary of State
                                            Strobe Talbott.
                                                 The backlash is global:
                                                 * In the Persian Gulf, where the United States rallied 38 nations
                                            to its cause to fight Iraq in 1991, only Britain answers the call to
                                            strike the same nation seven years later.
                                                 * At a retreat deep in the French countryside, the presidents of
                                            America's oldest ally (France) and Washington's fast-emerging
                                            Asian adversary (China) spent much of their time mulling a common
                                            problem: the enormity of American power.
                                                 * In New Delhi well before Clinton's recent visit, the Russian
                                            prime minister suggested that India, China and Russia form a
                                            partnership as a counterweight to the United States.
                                                 * In Tokyo, the Japanese government announced plans to
                                            develop its own intelligence-gathering satellites, a sign of its desire
                                            to build an independent military capability.
                                                 * In Brussels, the European Union's drive for a common foreign
                                            and security policy is propelled in part by the conviction among
                                            America's closest friends that they can no longer rely on the United
                                            States to "be there" to the extent that they could during the Cold
                                            War. Even in NATO's U.S.-led intervention in Kosovo, one of the
                                            chief U.S. objectives was to avoid casualties.
                                                 Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington points to a
                                            "shrinking circle of governments who see their interests coinciding
                                            with those of the United States." He says the consistent 4-1
                                            American majority of earlier years among the five permanent U.N.
                                            Security Council members (the United States, Britain, France and
                                            China against the Soviet Union) has degenerated into a potential
                                            standoff, with the U.S. and Britain siding against Russia and China,
                                            and with France holding a swing vote.
                                                 A recent example: When Russia objected to the
                                            U.S.-sponsored nomination of Swedish diplomat Rolf Ekeus to
                                            lead U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq, it was quickly joined
                                            by both France and China, dooming America's candidate.
                                                 "We've lost the sense of what we're really good at: getting
                                            people to join us," Brent Scowcroft, national security advisor during
                                            the Reagan and Bush administrations, said in an interview. "We
                                            don't think as much about the effects of our actions on other
                                            people. We don't consult, we don't ask ahead of time. We behave
                                            to much of the world like a latter-day colonial power. It's a very
                                            dangerous thing that's happening."
                                                 Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, who served as chairman of the
                                            House International Relations Committee, says the distance
                                            between America and the world it dominates is particularly evident
                                            at the United Nations.
                                                 "I don't want to blow this into a major crisis," said Hamilton,
                                            who now heads the Woodrow Wilson Institute, a
                                            Washington-based think tank. "But I put it in the category of
                                            serious concern."
                                                 His concern grew when Senate Foreign Relations Committee
                                            Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) warned the U.N. in January that
                                            the United States would pull out if the world body did not serve
                                            American interests. The crusty lawmaker's message wasn't entirely
                                            new, but delivering it in person gave it additional oomph, and even
                                            the ambassadors of America's closest allies resented his threatening
                                                 In a world filled with skepticism and stifling bureaucratic
                                            barriers, America has stood out as a special place: an unlikely
                                            melting pot of immigrants, fresh ideas and freedom that people
                                            everywhere aspire to, whether their governments agreed with U.S.
                                            policy or not; a powerful nation promoting universal values but not
                                            pushing for new land. Any erosion of this feeling would directly
                                            affect America's global influence.
                                                 "If you don't have it, you need a gendarme on every corner,"
                                            said Charles William Maynes, director of the Washington-based
                                            Eurasia Foundation. "Society internationally, just as domestically,
                                            depends on deference--deference to tradition, to authority, to law,
                                            to treaty commitments. If you lose that, the only thing you can back
                                            it up with is force, and there isn't enough force to go around.
                                                 "There's still a reservoir of goodwill for America, but we're
                                            squandering it."
                                                 Contributing mightily to this concern was the way in which the
                                            Senate voted last year to kill the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban
                                            Treaty, not on its merits but largely as a tactical ploy by
                                            Republicans in a game of domestic political "gotcha" with Clinton.
                                                 Such casual dismissal of a treaty widely viewed outside the
                                            United States as a cornerstone of a safer world seriously wounded
                                            America's stock as the global superpower. "It's had a profound
                                            effect," said former Defense Secretary William J. Perry.
                                                 Some European commentators equate the vote with the
                                            Senate's 1920 rejection of the Versailles Treaty establishing the
                                            League of Nations--one step down the path that eventually led to
                                            World War II.
                                                 "It was similar to 1920, but with hubris and nukes thrown in,"
                                            said French defense analyst Francois Heisbourg.
                                                 "The impression is one of complete disregard for the rest of the
                                            world," said Denis Lacorne, a specialist on transatlantic relations at
                                            the Center for International Studies in Paris. "If you are as
                                            multicultural as you claim to be, how can you show such little
                                            interest in the outside world?"
                                                 Beyond the test ban treaty, critics point to a host of other
                                            American deeds, misdeeds and nondeeds.
                                                 In 1997, powerful U.S. lawmakers declared an international
                                            agreement to control so-called greenhouse gases "dead on arrival"
                                            in the Senate. The Clinton administration declined to join more than
                                            130 other nations in signing a treaty banning the use of land mines,
                                            insisting that the United States is a special case.
                                                 Likewise, the United States refused to join more than 90
                                            countries establishing an International Criminal Court in 1998 after
                                            unsuccessfully insisting on immunity from prosecution for American
                                            soldiers and diplomats--but not those of other countries. Delegates
                                            to the founding conference for the court cheered the defeat of a
                                            U.S. attempt to exempt American soldiers.
                                                 The United States, which in the 1960s threatened action against
                                            nations that were late in their dues payments to the U.N. and other
                                            world organizations, has itself become a major deadbeat.
                                                 For nearly two years, the U.S. withheld $1 billion in dues to the
                                            U.N. while the White House and the Republican Congress wrestled
                                            over whether to allow any of that money to be spent on abortion.
                                            And the U.S. has fallen behind in its dues to the International
                                            Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Organization of American
                                            States and an array of others.
                                                 Countless little things also contribute to the view that America
                                            considers itself not only special but detached.
                                                 Former German opposition leader Wolfgang Schaeuble, viewed
                                            as the likely next chancellor of Europe's economic behemoth until
                                            his party's recent political scandal, was forced to cancel a planned
                                            trip to Washington last year because the senior policymakers he
                                            wanted to see had no time for him.
                                                 Many expect the distance between America and its friends to
                                                 Pressure from Congress for a new national missile defense
                                            system that would protect America--and America alone--against a
                                            limited attack looms as the next issue. Allies fear that a decision to
                                            go ahead would not just add to worries about America's isolation
                                            but also touch off the first arms race in defensive weapons.
                                                 Some foreign affairs specialists argue that an American missile
                                            defense system would be in the allies' interest because the United
                                            States cannot preserve peace in the world or project its force if it
                                            feels under threat. But they admit that the administration must work
                                            harder to get its message across.
                                                 Festering trade frictions, especially with America's traditional
                                            friends in Europe, are a special concern because they so quickly
                                            become explosive political issues.
                                                 At last fall's World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, the
                                            American hosts found themselves so out of touch with so many
                                            nations that they were forced to suspend business without reaching
                                            any agreements at all. The result was a major embarrassment for
                                            the United States, especially because such events are normally
                                            scripted in advance to assure at least some kind of agreement.
                                            Critics accused the U.S. of failing to consult with other participants
                                            in advance, out of the arrogant assumption that particularly the
                                            smaller nations would naturally follow its lead.
                                                 "This worries me more than any one thing," said Sen. Charles
                                            Hagel (R-Neb.), one of a new generation of internationalists in the
                                            Senate. "It worries me first because most of us are not picking this
                                            up on our radar--this sense that we don't care about what our
                                            trading partners or our allies . . . think. It's going to come back and
                                            snap us in some ways that are very bad for this country."
                                                 The complaint of lack of consultation reaches well beyond trade
                                            issues. In 1998, U.S. officials declared that funding for North
                                            Korea's civilian nuclear reactors--more than 80% of which is
                                            coming from Japan--could go ahead despite North Korea's
                                            test-firing of a medium-range missile over Japan.
                                                 "The Japanese were not included in any way in these
                                            negotiations," said Michael Green, a Japan scholar at the Council
                                            on Foreign Relations. "They were absolutely furious."
                                                 Why has the United States become so aloof? Analysts point to
                                            four major causes:
                                                 * A president who engages only episodically on the international
                                            issues and too often has failed to use either the personal prestige or
                                            the power of his office to pursue key foreign policy goals.
                                                 * A Congress that cares little about foreign affairs in the wake of
                                            the Cold War and seems to understand even less.
                                                 * A relationship between the two branches of government that is
                                            so poisonous in the wake of Clinton's impeachment that a simple
                                            political vendetta can trump the national interest. When the Berlin
                                            Wall collapsed more than a decade ago, so too did the long-held
                                            tradition that partisan politics ends at the water's edge.
                                                 * An American public generally receptive to an active global
                                            role for the United States, but inattentive to world affairs and
                                            confused by partisan backbiting now that its principal reference
                                            point--the evil of communism--has all but vanished as a major
                                                 While opinion polls during the run-up to last October's nuclear
                                            test ban treaty vote in the Senate found that 80% of the public said
                                            they supported treaty ratification, surveys taken after the vote found
                                            that less than half even knew that it had been defeated.
                                                 "It's a familiar pattern of public support for foreign affairs in this
                                            country--a mile wide and an inch deep," noted Alton Frye, who
                                            tracks how foreign affairs issues are handled with Congress for the
                                            Council on Foreign Relations. "The country is . . . ready to follow a
                                            lead, but when the president and Congress disagree, the public is
                                                 In Congress, interest in foreign affairs has plummeted as much
                                            as a result of changing priorities as of public apathy. The absence of
                                            any visible threat to the nation's security also helps reduce
                                            international issues to just one more arena for partisan politics.
                                                 "Congress, the Senate specifically, is peopled by individuals
                                            who arrived here with . . . a blank slate on notions relating to
                                            foreign policy and America's power in the world," said Sen. Joseph
                                            R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the ranking minority member of the Senate
                                            Foreign Relations Committee. "I'd bet that in the last eight to 10
                                            years, not 1% of those who come here talked about foreign policy
                                            during their campaigns."
                                                 Interest in foreign affairs is so low among Senate Republicans
                                            that they have struggled to fill the party's 10 slots on the Foreign
                                            Relations Committee. Last year, they considered--but put off--a
                                            proposal to downgrade the committee's importance. Senators may
                                            sit on just one high-level committee; demoting Foreign Relations
                                            might encourage some to select it as a second choice.
                                                 But political analysts say it is wrong to blame Congress alone.
                                            They trace much of the problem to a failure of presidential
                                                 "We've got a president who's not interested in foreign policy, so
                                            domestic lobbies are decisive when foreign policy issues arise," said
                                            Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to President Carter.
                                                 For instance, domestic political concerns last spring led to
                                            Clinton's failure to agree with China on the terms of Beijing's entry
                                            into the World Trade Organization and to his determination to
                                            avoid American casualties during the Kosovo bombing campaign,
                                            Brzezinski said.
                                                 The damage does not appear permanent. Some analysts are
                                            convinced that, if a new, involved president takes office next
                                            January, accompanied by a clear-sighted staff and decent relations
                                            with Congress, that would go a long way. It remains unclear,
                                            however, whether either Al Gore or George W. Bush, who have
                                            their parties' presidential nominations all but locked up, would come
                                            to office with such a favorable constellation.
                                                 Richard Haass, a foreign affairs specialist at the Brookings
                                            Institution in Washington, also hopes for a more actively engaged
                                            business community and a new emphasis on foreign affairs by
                                            nonprofit foundations.
                                                 "It can't be fixed overnight," he said. "You just hope it doesn't
                                            take events to fix it--because if it does, it's going to be a disaster
                                            that focuses the mind."
                                                 Hagel says that American business will push foreign affairs back
                                            toward the top of the national agenda as the country's $2.2 trillion
                                            in total international trade binds American prosperity ever tighter to
                                            the world at large. "This is starting to build," he said.
                                                 Others are counting on the younger generation to reverse
                                            America's go-it-alone tendencies. "We've got an entire generation
                                            who see the world in very different terms than we did," Biden said.
                                            "You tell them we can do everything on our own in this
                                            interconnected world, and they'll tell you you're crazy."
                                                 Until then, analysts prescribe a measure of humility for the
                                            world's only surviving superpower.
                                                 "Triumphalism is hard to control," said Maynes of the Eurasia
                                            Foundation. "We have to be conscious of the shadow we cast."
                                                                    * * *

                                                 A World of Troubles
                                                 Unhappiness with U.S. dominance is building around the globe,
                                            among both America's traditional allies and its longtime adversaries.

                                                 European Union: Reflexive pro-Americanism is waning among
                                            leaders who cut their teeth on anti-American protests of the 1960s,
                                            not on American aid packages in the 1940s.
                                                                    * * *
                                                 Russia: Disillusionment with what Russians see as second-rate
                                            treatment by the U.S. and anger with American condemnation of
                                            Moscow's assault on Chechnya are sinking relations to lowest point
                                            since Cold War.
                                                                    * * *
                                                 China: Political wounds still fester in the wake of U.S. bombing
                                            of Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia last spring, proposed legislation
                                            boosting aid to Taiwan and official allegations that China infiltrated
                                            American nuclear installations.
                                                                    * * *
                                                 Latin America: Resentment toward U.S. trade policies that are
                                            viewed as protectionist is driving South and Central America to
                                            regard the European Union as the role model for greater economic
                                                                    * * *
                                                 South Asia: Washington's efforts to coax India and Pakistan to
                                            sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, especially after
                                            the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the treaty, have diminished U.S.
                                                                    * * *
                                                 Japan: Anger over casual U.S. response to recent North
                                            Korean missile test and U.S. flirtation with China is fueling a drive
                                            to establish a military capacity independent of the United States.