FEAR, FRIENDS, AND 9/11….The cover of this week’s issue of Newsweek is titled “Why America Scares the World.” However, as has been noted time and time again, Fareed Zakaria’s cover story really should have been titled “Why Bush Scares the World.”
It’s a terrific story, one that everybody should read all the way through. There are a ton of paragraphs that I’d like to excerpt, but I’ll make do with just this one:
But should the guiding philosophy of the world?s leading democracy really be the tough talk of a Chicago mobster? In terms of effectiveness, this strategy has been a disaster. It has alienated friends and delighted enemies. Having traveled around the world and met with senior government officials in dozens of countries over the past year, I can report that with the exception of Britain and Israel, every country the administration has dealt with feels humiliated by it.
?Most officials in Latin American countries today are not anti-American types,? says Jorge Castaneda, the reformist foreign minister of Mexico, who resigned two months ago. ?We have studied in the United States or worked there. We like and understand America. But we find it extremely irritating to be treated with utter contempt.? Last fall, a senior ambassador to the United Nations, in a speech supporting America?s position on Iraq, added an innocuous phrase that could have been seen as deviating from that support. The Bush administration called up his foreign minister and demanded that he be formally reprimanded within an hour. The ambassador now seethes when he talks about U.S. arrogance. Does this really help America?s cause in the world? There are dozens of stories like this from every part of the world.
Zakaria’s observation that the most powerful nation in the world somehow feels as if it is “besieged” is a telling one. Time and again, when I try to figure out what is happening in America, I keep coming back to the palpable sense of fear that seems to envelop us. We are seemingly afraid of everything: child molesters, terrorists, street crime, sharks ? in a way that is wildly out of proportion to the actual danger they present. (I took the train up to Los Angeles once a couple of years ago and then took the bus to my destination. The bus! My Irvine friends were incredulous and acted as if I had gone mad. Was I scared? Did anyone attack me? The thought had never occurred to me.)
Our reaction to 9/11 has been the same. Instead of making use of the outpouring of support that we got in its aftermath, we have turned in on ourselves, and in the process we have changed from the flawed but generous nation that we are into a mean and paranoid country that lashes out at friends and enemies alike.
But we are not a cornered animal, and I hope that someday soon we will begin to peek out from our self-imposed isolation and realize it. The world is a dangerous place, yes, but it is far less dangerous when you face it with your friends at your side. We have many such friends in the world today, if we would only open our eyes long enough to see them.