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U.S. Policies Stir More Fear Than Confidence

October 03, 2004|Jeffrey Fleishman | Times Staff Writer

BERLIN — The white guard shack still stands, but the American GIs have long since departed and there's a nostalgic cheapness to the postcards, gas masks, helmets and rusted Maxwell House coffee tins. Checkpoint Charlie, the fabled slice of concrete and barbed wire that epitomized the Cold War, seems an innocent artifact in a world awash in new dangers.

"There was a time when World War III could have started right here," said Juergen Thiel, standing amid bits of the Berlin Wall that sell for less than $20. "That's all changed."

International terrorism has given rise to new ground zeros. Much of Europe and the world feel insecure, but a growing number of nations no longer look to the U.S. for leadership and sanctuary. The Bush administration's unilateralist policies in Iraq and its perceived aloofness have left it less trusted at a time of widening global vulnerability, according to polls and interviews in more than 30 countries.

Osama bin Laden remains on the loose. Videos of hostage beheadings in Iraq flicker across the Internet. The nuclear aspirations of North Korea and Iran are troubling. Many countries feel powerless to stop the onslaught and recognize that the U.S. is the only nation militarily strong enough to serve as a bulwark against increasing dangers. But they also feel powerless to persuade Washington to adopt a more nuanced, multilateral strategy.

One of the sharpest differences between the U.S. and its longtime allies is over the issue of when to use force. A June poll conducted in part by the German Marshall Fund of the United States found that 54% of the Americans surveyed, compared with 28% of the Europeans, believed that military strength would ensure peace. Among Europeans, 73% said the war in Iraq had increased the threat of terrorism.

The disparity represents two dynamics: The world has yet to understand how Sept. 11, 2001, jolted America's sense of security, and the U.S. has underestimated how much international credibility it sacrificed in the Iraq war.

Analysts suggest that America's foreign policy wouldn't significantly change if Sen. John F. Kerry defeats President Bush in November. The division between the men, as seen by much of the world, comes down to style and personality.

Although his policies have yet to be fully articulated, Kerry is considered by much of the international community as the antidote to a bullying Bush administration. Bush's recent speech at the United Nations, analysts say, reaffirmed that the president was an ideologue with little inclination for building consensus or defusing terrorism by quieter means such as political and economic reforms.

"It is such a great humiliation," said Viktor A. Kremenyuk of the USA-Canada Institute in Moscow, "for other countries to be in a situation where they have to swallow something they do not like. And the one who makes them swallow this doesn't even try to put a decent face on this sorry business."

The citizens of 30 out of 35 countries from different regions, including Germany, Mexico, Italy and Argentina, support Kerry by more than a 2-1 margin over Bush, according to a poll by the Canadian research group GlobeScan and the University of Maryland. The survey also found that on average, 58% of respondents in those countries said the Bush administration made them feel worse about the U.S. versus 19% who said the president's policies made them feel better.

Writing recently in La Opinion, a conservative Buenos Aires daily, novelist Tomas Eloy Martinez lamented the prospect of a second Bush term. "The world -- which is hostile to Bush with an almost unanimous passion -- would be subjected to another period of rapaciousness, darkness and threats of war."

Roman newspapers last month quoted Britain's ambassador to Italy, Ivor Roberts, describing Bush as "the best recruiting sergeant" for the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

America's superpower status and the world's security fears have sparked conspiracy theories and made Washington a prism for disenchantment over everything from war to holes in the ozone layer. The grist for much of this is the lack of a significant ideological counterbalance to U.S. power. With Soviet-style communism vanquished, global anxiety is driven not by Moscow but by masked men instigating jihad and cagey regimes such as those in Tehran and Pyongyang.

In an essay, "The Five Stages of Anti-Americanism," author Judy Colp Rubin says that suspicion of Washington is so widespread that "many Chinese believe the U.S. deliberately started the SARS epidemic. Islamic leaders in three Nigerian states blocked critical polio inoculations for children, denouncing them as a U.S. plot to spread AIDS or infertility among Muslims."

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