Anger at U.S. Policies More Strident at U.N.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
UNITED NATIONS -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad grabbed headlines last week by blasting U.S. policies from the dais of the U.N. General Assembly. But while their words were harsh, in many ways they merely expressed in bolder terms what a number of other world leaders and foreign diplomats believe.
Anti-Americanism never really left the United Nations, but this year's gathering of world leaders demonstrated an unusually strident disrespect for the United States. The United States is perceived as weakened by a draining war in Iraq, while many of its adversaries feel emboldened with newfound oil wealth.
Resentment of American power has also been exacerbated by the United States' close association with Israel during the recent war in Lebanon and even the administration's campaign for greater democracy throughout the Middle East. A theme running through a number of the speeches delivered here is that democracy cannot be imposed through force.
"Our peoples have a keen interest in the achievement of a larger measure of democracy, human rights and political reform," said Ahmed Aboul Gheit, foreign minister of Egypt, which receives more than $2 billion in annual aid from the United States. "However, we now see that some seek to impose these concepts by military force. They proceed from the assumption that their principles, values and culture are superior and thus worthy of being imposed on others."
As Chavez put it in his fiery speech, which was greeted by wild applause in the chamber: "They say they want to impose a democratic model. But that's their democratic model. It's the false democracy of elites, and, I would say, a very original democracy that's imposed by weapons and bombs and firing weapons. What a strange democracy. . . . What type of democracy do you impose with Marines and bombs?"
The rising anger at American policies comes as some U.S. officials privately acknowledge that they feel stymied on many international fronts: The war in Iraq is going poorly, the drive for sanctions against Iran's nuclear program has faltered, the disarmament talks with North Korea are all but dead, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is frozen, and the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region seems unsolvable.
In Bush's second term, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other administration officials have mounted an assertive effort to mend ties frayed by the Iraq war and to work more closely with international bodies such as the United Nations. Before Rice became secretary, the administration was scornful of European efforts to negotiate with Iran, but for the past year, the United States has worked patiently to build consensus, even offering to talk to Iran for the first time in a quarter-century.
But judging from the complaints at the United Nations, the administration gets little credit for those efforts.
Smaller nations resent the proliferation of annual report cards issued by the State Department, often under congressional mandate, that grade countries on how well they observe human rights, allow the practice of religion, combat drugs and other issues.
Last Monday, the State Department issued its list of countries that are major suppliers, producers or transporters of narcotics, and once again Bolivia was on the list. The next day, Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, held up a coca leaf during his speech to the General Assembly and denounced what he called a "neo-imperialist" approach to coca eradication. "With all respect to the government of the United States, we are not going to change anything," Morales said. "We do not need blackmail or threats."
"I think that there is perhaps more of an inclination to vent those emotions here because they think they are more likely to get a positive reception," U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton told reporters Friday. "But I think that behavior doesn't do them any credit, and it certainly doesn't benefit the United Nations."
Philippe Douste-Blazy, France's foreign minister, attributed some of the anger to the "globalization of pictures and images," which he said meant "different civilizations and cultures then rub increasingly against each other, far more so than before."
"You may believe yourself stronger because you have your own values of strength," he said in an interview, referring to the United States. "But for others there are other values. Therefore, I believe what is essential and ideal is to have respect of others and therefore knowledge of others. That is why the clash of civilization is in fact a clash of ignorance."
In Lebanon, Douste-Blazy said Israel responded to unjustified attacks by Hezbollah with "disproportionate force." In the wake of that war, he said that his tour through the Middle East "showed that public opinion was becoming radicalized."
Because the current administration is perceived as being close to Israel, anger at Israeli policies was attributed to the United States in some of the speeches. In his speech, Chavez sarcastically referred to Bush's rhetorical device of speaking directly to people in some countries, such as Lebanon.
"He spoke to the people of Lebanon. Many of you, he said, have seen how your homes and communities were caught in the crossfire," Chavez said. "How cynical can you get? What a capacity to lie shamefacedly. The bombs in Beirut with millimetric precision? This is crossfire? He's thinking of a western, when people would shoot from the hip and somebody would be caught in the crossfire. This is imperialist, fascist, assassin, genocidal -- the empire and Israel firing on the people of Palestine and Lebanon. That is what happened."