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Americans Abroad

George W. Bush: Persona Non Grata

by LAURA CARLSEN

Much of the world sees President George W. Bush as a persona non grata. Unilateral actions, false intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and scandals from Halliburton to the president’s National Guard service are giving America and its president a bad name. A raft of offensive statements by top diplomats have left the president with a major international image problem.

President Bush’s latest boast–"I’m a war president"was apparently meant to demonstrate his guts in an election year. But for many nations, his statement constituted an outright threat. In the aftermath of the Kay report on WMDs (or lack thereof) in Iraq, foreign editorials have railed against a strategy of ends justifies the means in bringing about regime changes that respond to U.S. interests. Given that the United States is not currently involved in a formal war, the president’s bellicose language"I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign policy matters with war on my mind"has set other nations, allies and foes alike, on edge. Around the world, the administration’s approach to international affairs has governments and their citizens feeling alienated and apprehensive.

In the Americas, Bush policies have lately provoked what must be a record number of diplomatic complaints. Most recently, the trial of a British intelligence officer for leaking a confidential memo has reopened wounds in Mexico and Chile over a scheme in March to tap the phone lines of countries that refused to condone military action in Iraq.

Bush’s front man for Latin America and the Caribbean, Roger Noriega , is hardly the diplomat to solve this growing image problem. Noriega, Asst. Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, has ruffled feathers throughout the region. In Mexico, he accused the country of playing "political games" in its relationship with the U.S., drawing an indignant response from the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In Argentina, Noriega publicly criticized the government’s domestic policies and advocated that the Kirchner government break ties with Cuba. President Kirchner retorted: "We’re through being used as a carpet… nobody can sit us down, and much less challenge us, because we are an independent country with dignity."

The Bush administration has suffered a significant loss of leadership already as a result of snubbing its nose in diplomatic relations. Treated as children by clumsy and arrogant U.S. diplomats (Noriega also referred to Mexico’s refusal to back the Iraqi invasion as "a misunderstanding of our common interests"), many nations are rebelling with angry rhetoric and contrary policies.

International trade meetings reflect this defiance. The failure of the World Trade Organization talks in Cancun, the implosion of the FTAA in Miami, and the lack of results at the Special Summit of the Americas in Monterrey are evidence of the mounting resistance to <U.S.-tailored> economic integration. They also reflect a widespread and deepening rejection of the "our way or the highway" diplomacy of the Bush administration.

All this may not matter too much to Bush and his policy team. The neoconservative advisors charting this path have never put much stock in alliances. In the short view, animosity abroad can be seen as a small price to pay for global hegemony.

The administration’s philosophy is that power is never negotiatedit is exercised. Belief in the unassailable power of the U.S. comes coupled with the conviction of the nation’s divine mission in global affairs. As President Bush told the country in his State of the Union Address last month: "America acts in this cause with friends and allies at our side, yet we understand our special calling…"

But what may seem sublime to some, appears ridiculous to many abroadand dangerously so. As a result we are seeing a resurgence of some of the ugliest stereotypes of American bullying and hubris.

Worst of all, characteristics associated with the "war president" are increasingly being applied to common Americans as well. At the soccer match between Mexico and the U.S., the Mexican crowd broke out in chants of "Osama, Osama." Pro-terrorists? No, just anti-what the U.S. has come to represent in the world.

The Mumbai World Social Forum in India last month expressed similar, though somewhat more sophisticated, anti-American sentiments. Speakers and participants frequently crossed that delicate line between a criticism of U.S. foreign policy and censure of U.S. society as a whole.

As U.S. citizens, we can point to the polls that show Bush’s popularity has dropped below 50 percent. We can remind the world that the president was not even elected by the majority of voters. But what we can’t do is pretend that anti-Americanism doesn’t exist.

Among huge parts of the global population, George W. Bush has become not only a reviled political leader but also a symbol of U.S. aggression.

Sadly, as global hostility grows, we could all be painted with the same brush.

LAURA CARLSEN directs the Americas Program of the Interhemispheric Resource Center. She can be contacted at laura@irc-online.org.