Is American Foreign Policy a Threat to American Security?

Muqtedar Khan
Muqtedar Khan Former Brookings Expert, Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations - University of Delaware

June 1, 2003

The world is becoming anti-American. Not only do most people across the planet look upon the US with disfavor, they also dislike President Bush, who is not the most popular leader even in America where Tony Blair is more trusted and admired than him. More and more people are less keen on cooperating with the US in foreign policy or in the war on terror. Growing anti-Americanism will not only undermine the war on terror, but its extreme manifestations in the Muslim World is attracting new and numerous recruits to the ranks of Al Qaeda and their associates. Experts are in agreement that the primary reason why people now hate America is American foreign policy. 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.

A recent poll of people’s perceptions of America taken by the Pew Research Center in 20 countries, indicates that since last year America?s popularity has declined considerably across the globe. Even in traditional allies such as Turkey, 83% of the population views the world negatively. Last year this number was only 55%. In Europe, America?s, long time ally and cultural mate, majorities of people disfavor the US. According to the Pew study, there are two basic reasons why anti-Americanism is becoming a global culture; they are US Foreign policy and the persona of President Bush.

September 11, 2001 essentially identified two goals for American foreign policy—eliminating immediate security threats to the nation and its interests and winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim World. This essentially translated into taking care of Al Qaeda and the Al Qaeda phenomenon. While Al Qaeda posed grave threats in the short term, Al Qaeda phenomenon—the rise of anti-Americanism in the Muslim World, which attracted recruits to Al Qaeda and associates—posed a more severe and long-term challenge. President 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 essentially confirms the claims of most policy analysts outside the government. The war on Iraq has conveyed the impression that the US is determined to exercise force against Arab and Muslim nations more as a revenge for September 11 than as a strategy to prevent more attacks. The problems that Iraqis have faced during the continuing US occupation and the failure to find the huge stockpiles of WMD that Bush and Powell claimed Iraq possessed has hurt American credibility and raised serious questions about its motives and its policy objectives. The continuing chaos in Afghanistan and the post Iraq-war threats to first Syria and then Iran has created a climate of apprehension and resentment against America.

Citizens of Pakistan, America?s primary ally in the war on terror, Nigeria and Indonesia feel that their country is next on the US list. The fear that the US is out to attack other countries makes the global security environment less stable. It discourages cooperation, makes the world unsafe for Americans to travel and do business and radicalizes moderates. It increases the flow of material and moral support to militant groups, weakens and places American allies and pro-democracy intellectuals and groups on the defensive. In general anti-Americanism makes it difficult to promote peace and stability and fight extremism.

Rather than ensuring American security, it seems that American foreign policy, particularly its invasion and now occupation of Iraq, have created conditions which put the US and its interests at greater risk.

President Bush is surrounded by policy hawks that view September 11 as an opportunity to reassert the prerogatives of the American Empire through unilateral use of force. They wish to reshape the world to perpetuate America?s imperial aspirations. 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 save the empire and its 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 may 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 make foreign policy. The President might also do well to focus on allaying the fears of the global community and reassure them that the US is neither threatening them nor is it going to pursue interests at the expense of everyone else.

It is time the US once gain became the invisible empire, managing the world through multilateralism, diplomacy and leadership and by defining self interest as shared interests. The current strategy of in your face politics is seriously damaging US reputation and alliances and undermining US security.