Friday, September 10, 2004

Spreading Liberty To People You Don't Like

Columnist Fareed Zakaria has recently penned a piece that raises some very interesting points concerning the neoconservative worldview, and the grandiosity of their vision for global realignment. Zakaria illustrates how, when embarking on such a bold mission, it is important to have the support of the world, especially the areas targeted for transformation. Here is Zakaria's take:

Bush's speech had a powerful central theme: the connection between the United States and the progress of liberty worldwide. He celebrated that link and rejoiced in its successes...

Bush is right to note that after World War II, because "generations of Americans held firm in the cause of liberty, we live in a better and safer world." But in those years the United States adopted a series of wise, generous policies and a conciliatory style that made it much loved in the countries we were trying to help. Spreading democracy requires allies, particularly among the targets of one's affection.

The picture could not be more different today. Bush does not seem aware that the intense hostility toward him in every country in the world (save Israel) has made it very difficult for the United States to be the agent of freedom. In every Arab country that I have been to in the last two years, the liberals, reformers and businessmen say, "Please don't support us. American support today is the kiss of death."

The Republican convention had two alternating approaches toward foreigners. On the one hand, it repeatedly ridiculed them. The cheapest applause lines in New York last week were ones that ended in "the French," "Paris" or, worst of all, "the United Nations," which was probably meant to conjure up images of envious Third Worlders plotting against America. On the other hand, Republicans constantly declared they were going to deliver the blessings of liberty to the far corners of the world. This is the party's dilemma -- it wishes to spread liberty to people whom it doesn't really like. [emphasis added throughout]
Zakaria touches on a facet of this story that has either been under-reported or mis-reported by the media at large: the fact that animosity to George Bush and the policies of the neoconservatives is endangering our mission in Iraq, and the overall goals of combating the increasing popularity of radical Islamist jihadism, while at the same time encouraging the spread of democracy throughout the Muslim world, and the rest of the globe. Whether it be undermining the efforts of democratic reformers in the Middle East by stigmatizing their efforts as "American" and thus tainted, increasing the popularity and recruitment capacity of Osama Bin Laden by making his propaganda seem more credible, or alienating our allies and international organizations by gratuitously deriding them as obsolete, backwards, and weak, the Bush administration has accumulated a flock of albatrosses that imperil the most audacious foreign policy experiment since rapprochement with the Soviets.

Enter John Kerry, who has claimed throughout his campaign that he will be able to smooth over the wrinkles in our relationships with our allies, and improve our image in the rest of the world. He states, emphatically, that he will be able to "internationalize" the effort in Iraq where Bush has failed. These campaign promises have been met with mostly disbelief and incredulity, if not condescending sneers, from the right wing media and punditry.

Gregory Djerejian, an insightful and thoughtful right-leaning blogger from the
Belgravia Dispatch, had this to say about Kerry's assertion that he would be able to better involve the international community in Iraq:

All this sounds swell. But there are lots of problems with it. The biggest one, in my view, is that nearly all of this is already being done by Bush. Bush has already reached out to NATO most recently during the Istanbul summit this past summer. An initial NATO mission is already on the ground analyzing how best to assist the 'train and equip' effort. Yes, it's pretty de minimis fare. But why should we believe John Kerry will be able to secure massive German and, particularly, French participation in a NATO-led 'train and equip' effort (let alone providing large troop contingents)? Simply because he isn't Bush and Berlin and Paris will like the smell of him better? Or because he will dangle a few more reconstruction contracts there way? Sorry, but I'm not buying. [emphasis added]
His contention, if I may paraphrase, is that Kerry would be dealing with the same intractable allies in "Old Europe" (France and Germany) and that he wouldn't fare any better than Bush in that regard. The other component of the argument is that, absent France and Germany, Bush has built an expansive coalition of the willing in Iraq, so internationalization is already a reality (this of course leaves out the absence of Mexico, Canada, Russia, China and Belgium to name a few, and the overall lack of meaningful contribution from the allies already in the coalition).

These arguments ignore a few important realities. First of all, they ignore the fact that Bush really has poisoned the relationship with Chirac and Schroeder to the degree that they don't want to help him out in any way, and are more than content to see him dangle in the wind. This may be petty, and it may not be the best course of action vis a vis the people of Iraq, but that is what happens when you go out of your way to belittle and insult world leaders. They hold a grudge. Kerry, on the other hand, has no such baggage and his entreaties could provide an ideal opportunity for our erstwhile European allies to return the relationship to a more cordial and cooperative nature.

Beyond the personal dimensions of the dispute, though, lies the very real fact that the populations in most countries around the world, including the coalition countries, are extremely hostile to George Bush as a leader, and to the foreign policy he has implemented. This lack of popular support has very serious ramifications in terms of the quality and quantity of support we can expect from our allies. Aside from making Germany and France's future participation unlikely, this overwhelming public opinion limits the degree to which members of the "coalition of the willing" can increase upon, and perpetuate, their existing levels of support. Simply put, if a politician faces defeat for supporting Bush, he or she will likely pull out that nation's troops, or at the very least not send additional troops. Aznar already faced the wrath of Spain's electorate, and Blair in Britain, John Howard in Australia, and Berlusconi in Italy have seen their once proud popular mandates erode to the level of potential defeat at the polls.

As evidence of the widespread disapproval of George Bush and, conversely, the support for John Kerry, there have been a series of polls recently that back up that premise, especially
one released this past Wednesday:

The poll of 34,330 people older than 15 from all regions of the world found that the majority or plurality of people from 32 countries prefer Kerry to Bush. "It is rather striking that just one in five people surveyed around the world support the re-election of President Bush," said Steve Kull, director of The Program on International Policy Attitudes of the University of Maryland, a co-sponsor of the survey...

Most traditional U.S. allies came out strongly favoring Kerry, while only those polled in Nigeria, Poland and the Philippines preferred Bush. Polling among some traditional U.S. allies found strongly negative attitudes toward Bush [such as Britain, Italy, Germany and Mexico].

"Even where the president does beat John Kerry, there is no enthusiasm apparent from the numbers," Kull said. "Those countries that support him for re-election also tend not to like his foreign policy."

The sample size, running from 500 to 1,800 people per country polled through a variety of means including face-to-face interviews, telephone or Internet was a fair measure of public sentiment, Kull said. Even when adjusted by weight of population in each country, results remained nearly identical, Kull said.

"Our average sample size per country of about 1,000 people is nearly double the number used by Gallup International for their annual Voice-of-the-People Poll," Kull said. "With numbers this robust it would be difficult to conclude anything but a broad feeling of dissatisfaction with Bush and his foreign policy."
In this environment, John Kerry would instantly increase the profile of the United States if he were elected in November. Furthermore, his popularity might provide some level of cover to politicians inclined to increase support in Iraq at his behest. To ignore the opinions of the populations in democracies as a factor in determining the foreign policy enacted by their leaders is a mistake, and an arrogant one at that. People who vote do affect the decision making ability of their leaders.

But that is only half of the equation. The other half is the impact Kerry's election might have on the allies we need that reside in what Zakaria called the "targets of [our] affection." We need a president who can engender more support than Bush in the Muslim world, someone who will not alienate moderates and lead them to proclaim in exasperation, "Please don't support us. American support today is the kiss of death."

Bush's popularity in the Muslim world has dragged America's image to an all time low. Despite what some on the right might claim, anti-Americanism is not a static quantity. It changes in relation to events on the ground. Granted there has been a decent amount of anti-Americanism over the past 50 years (though actually based on our foreign policy more than our identity), our unpopularity has increased sharply in recent years. As Francis Fukuyama pointed out, "the radicals swim in a much larger sea of Muslims-1.2 billion of them, more or less-who are not yet implacable enemies of the United States," but that is changing at an alarming rate. Our policies are increasing Osama's popularity, while eroding our own. Here is a
summary of the most recent Zogby poll numbers:

In Zogby's 2002 survey, 76 percent of Egyptians had a negative attitude toward the United States, compared with 98 percent this year. In Morocco, 61 percent viewed the country unfavorably in 2002, but in two years, that number has jumped to 88 percent. In Saudi Arabia, such responses rose from 87 percent in 2002 to 94 percent in June. Attitudes were virtually unchanged in Lebanon but improved slightly in the UAE, from 87 percent who said in 2002 that they disliked the United States to 73 percent this year.

The latest survey results out of the Middle East show that America's favorability rating is now, essentially, zero. That's down from as high as 75 percent in some Muslim countries just four years ago.

It was bad enough in 2002, when Zogby found that an appalling 35 percent of Jordanians and 12 percent of Saudis viewed us favorably. Now those figures are 15 percent and four percent respectively. We can't even buy friends. Egypt received some $4 billion last year in U.S. aid, yet only two percent of Egyptians responded positively. In a poll with a margin of error of about four points, that doesn't even move the needle.
As evidence of the nature of the lack of support for America, our "freedom" as Bush erroneously claimed vs. our policies (a fact he doesn't want to own up to):

Those polled said their opinions were shaped by U.S. policies, rather than by values or culture. When asked: "What is the first thought when you hear 'America'?" respondents overwhelmingly said: "Unfair foreign policy."

And when asked what the United States could do to improve its image in the Arab world, the most frequently provided answers were "Stop supporting Israel" and "Change your Middle East policy."
It should come as no great surprise that electing a president who does not insult the United Nations, from a Party that does not openly ridicule all things "French," might actually do more to involve the United Nations and allies such as France. Nor should it illicit snide remarks that some would suggest that Kerry and his foreign policy team might have a better image in the Muslim world and thus better prospects for aiding and abetting the reformers and pro-democracy elements that are operating there. It might actually help to have someone who "likes" the people he is trying to "spread liberty" to. He has a better chance of successfully rehabilitating America's image and restoring our ideals to their rightful place of prominence and respect. Kerry's claims are not outlandish nor are they the symptom of conceit. Let's put it this way, if the world were going to the polls in November, it would be Kerry in a tectonic landslide.

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