Unilateralism Wins Few Friends

On December 19, South Korea became the second U.S. ally to elect a leader who campaigned on a platform of anti-Americanism. The first was German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who turned his political fortunes around and won re-election in September on a pledge to keep Germany out of any U.S.-led military action against Iraq.

In South Korea, the governing party candidate, Roh Moo-hyun, was elected on a promise to pursue a path independent from the United States. South Korea experienced a wave of anti-American protests last year after a court-martial acquitted two American soldiers who, while on patrol in an armored vehicle, accidentally killed two South Korean teenaged girls. Roh also supports a "sunshine policy" with North Korea—something the United States opposes.

According to the Pew Global Attitudes survey, which interviewed more than 38,000 people in 44 countries, anti-Americanism is growing around the world.

In 19 out of 27 countries where trends can be measured, favorable opinion of the United States has slipped over the past two years. That diverse list of countries includes Argentina, Germany, Indonesia, and Kenya. There's even been slippage among the British. Most worrisome for the United States is the big drop in friendly feelings in two Muslim countries that are supposed to be U.S. allies in the war on terrorism, Turkey and Pakistan.

One country has conspicuously bucked the anti-American trend: Russia, where there's been a sharp increase in pro-American sentiment since 2000.

Yet it's still inaccurate to say that most of the world dislikes the United States. In 35 out of 42 countries, more people view the United States favorably than unfavorably. But in almost every case, those ratings have slipped since 2000.

The Muslim world is a striking exception to those mostly favorable feelings. The Pew Research Center reports, "True dislike, if not hatred, of America, is concentrated in the Muslim nations of the Middle East and in Central Asia"—Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, even Turkey. The exception is Uzbekistan, a Central Asian country once part of the Soviet Union.

Is the war on terrorism the main source of growing anti-Americanism? In the Middle East, it is—but not in the rest of the world. People in almost every country polled support U.S.-led efforts to fight terrorism. Again, the conspicuous exception is the Muslim world, which apparently sees the war on terrorism as a war on Islam. Majorities in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and even Indonesia say they oppose U.S.-led efforts to fight terrorism. So do a whopping 72 percent of South Koreans.

If most of the world is with the United States in the war on terrorism, what is the source of growing anti-Americanism? Unilateralism.

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reports that while there is broad support for the U.S. goal of combating terrorism, "there is an equally strong global consensus that the United States disregards the views of others in carrying out its foreign policy." For example, while majorities in Brazil, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, and Russia support the U.S.-led war on terrorism, most people in each of those countries say the United States does not take into account the interests of their country when it makes international policy decisions. In contrast, three-quarters of Americans think we do.

Here's a good example of that divergence: Two-thirds of Americans say the United States may take military action against Iraq because Saddam Hussein is a threat to peace—not because the United States wants to control Iraqi oil. But three-quarters of the French and a majority of Germans say the United States wants Iraq's oil. What about the British, America's closest allies? They're split: 45 percent say America's motive is peace, while 44 percent say the United States would be waging war for oil.

The irony is that the American public is not unilateralist. Americans—60 percent—believe war with Iraq is inevitable, according to last month's Gallup Poll. And most Americans say they would support military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power. But the public still has two conditions for going to war.

First, they want somebody to show proof that Iraq is producing weapons of mass destruction, and the U.N. inspectors would be fine. Two-thirds of Americans approve of the job the inspectors have been doing. Suppose the inspectors do not find proof, but the Bush administration has it. Is that good enough? Yes, most Americans would be willing to invade Iraq if the administration could come up with the proof. But suppose the inspectors do not find proof, and the administration has no proof. Then two-thirds of Americans would oppose an invasion.

ere's a second condition for going to war: United Nations approval. Suppose Saddam Hussein obstructs the U.N. inspectors. Only 31 percent of Americans would favor an immediate U.S. invasion, according to the Gallup Poll. Sixty-four percent would oppose an invasion. But a majority of Americans would support an invasion if the U.N. gave its approval.

The United Nations can swing American public opinion for or against an invasion. Americans do not want to take action without the support, or at least the approval, of other countries—regardless of whether they like us.