Despite all the concern being expressed over strained relations between the United States and its NATO allies, attention should not be diverted -- as it has been -- from the misgivings that American foreign policy is generating in many other parts of the world as well. Recently, the deluge of criticism has been well-nigh global, prompted mainly, of course, by the ill-fated military effort to rescue the American hostages in Tehran.
While the doubts voiced by our allies have gotten nearly all the publicity, they have been relatively polite and muted compared with the sharp rebukes from numerous other nations in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, Southwest Asia and the Far East, including our new superpower friend, the People's Republic of China.
The painful fact is that the United States is perhaps more isolated today -- and its world leadership more in question -- than at any other time during the post-World War II era. Although many events, notably Vietnam, have contributed, to the erosion of U.S. standing, Carter's erratic, flamboyant response to the Iran and Afghanistan crises has now made the cricitism endemic.
It's been years since China, obsessively anti-Russian, has agreed with the Soviet Union on anything let alone censure of the United States. But Peking, like Moscow, has strongly condemned Carter's Iranian policy, although for different reasons.
In a little -noticed statement by the government's official news agency, the Chinese said, "The U.S. sanctions against Iran and violation of Iran's territorial integrity will not help solve the hostage issue. . . . What is worse," the Chinese statement said (echoing our NATO critics), "the sanctions and rescue attempt created a situation on which the Kremlin could capitalize to push its southward thrust."
The more "protracted and deadlocked" the hostage issue becomes, Peking added, "the happier the Kremlin will be" -- a conclusion confirmed by the latest comments from Moscow. The Chinese feel that "the crisis diverts world attention from Russia's invasion of Afghanistan" and makes "it possible for the Soviet Union to act as if it is the guardian of Iran."
In the wake of the hostage raid, Ayatollah Khomeini, in his usual sweeping style, warned that "an attack on Iran" would be viewed as "an attack on all Moslem countries." For once, he was not far wrong. Virtually all of his Moslem neighbors, especially in the oil-rich Perian Gulf region, have been severely critical of Carter's policy.
Even Saudi Arabia, regarded as America's best friend in the area, has expressed "worry and regret" over the rescue attempt and condemned it as "inconsistent with international law." In Kuwait and the Emirate states, hitherto relatively friendly to the United States, the hostage mission was called "vicious" and "dangerous." In Bahrain, police had to quell anti-American Demonstrations.
As might be expected, the most extreme reaction was voiced by a spokeman for the Palestine Liberation Organization, who said. "This could be the beginning of the end for America in the Middle East." Few others would go that far, but the Syrian foreign minister did denounce the raid as "an act of piracy which reflects the bankruptcy of the American administrator." In Jordan, the press said the operation "had brought the entire Gulf area to the brink of disaster."
Beyond the Arab and Moslem world, however, U.S. policy has also raised hackles in Japan and India, two of the world's largest democracies. In the Pacific, our old allies, Australia and New Zealand, have been sending signals that they will support U.S. sanctions against Iran only up to a point.
In our own hemisphere, Jose Lopez Portillo, the president of Mexico, called Washington's decision to freeze Iranian assets in the United States "aggressive, precipitous" and a threat to the international monetary system.
Is everybody out of step except the United State? Should we keep on demanding that our allies "shape up," or should we, as urged by George Ball, former undersecretary of state, "welcome their counsel and not resent it"?
Ball warns against leaping to the "easy and cynical conclusion that European leaders are obsessed with their own narrow national interests." Though "we may hate to admit it," he add, "they could in fact save us from ourselves."
There are indications that the administration seems to think it can exert pressure on the NATO complex by appealing directly to European public opinion, on the assumption that the people are more eager for aggressive action than their officials. But are they?
The Gallop Poll has just asked the citizens of Britain, France and Germany whether they wanted their governments "to back the United states more" or "stay out of arguments" between the United States and Russia. They "stayout vote" won 55 to 33 in Britain, 66 to 8 in France and 37 to 32 in Germany.