Perspective: Target for Criticism

Power alone does not a leader make.

America stands, alone, at the pinnacle of world power. One writer recently compared it to the Roman Empire: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that the central feature of the world at the outset of the 21st century is the enormous power of the United States. … In the league standings of global power, the United States occupies first place—and by a margin so large that it recalls the preponderance of the Roman Empire of antiquity” (Foreign Affairs, Sept./Oct. 2002).

In fact, as a July/August 2002 article in the same journal points out, America anticipates spending more on defense in 2003 than the next 15 to 20 biggest spenders combined. The U.S. has “overwhelming nuclear superiority, the world’s dominant air force, the only true blue-water navy, and a unique capability to project power around the globe.” California’s economy alone is the fifth-largest in the world, behind the economy of the United Kingdom.

With such dominant military and economic power, America naturally assumes a major leadership position among nations. But, more and more, this huge disparity in power between America and everyone else is not being viewed as justification for greater American influence, but as an imbalance that must be corrected.

One article phrased the problem this way: “The preponderance of America’s power—economic, political, military and cultural—is fast becoming a liability. In State Department meeting rooms it’s called the ‘hegemony problem,’ a fancy way of describing the same resentment that children harbor for the biggest, toughest and smartest kid in school. …

“The complaint abroad is not that America is withdrawing into an isolationist shell, as it has so often in the past. Rather, foreigners diagnose America as suffering from a bad case of ‘me first’” (Los Angeles Times, March 26, 2000).

Two types of leaders people will not willingly follow are bullies and hypocrites. Yet America is often seen as both.

As an example, in June, when President Bush announced that he would only work with the Palestinians on Middle East peace initiatives if they changed their government, many took notice—and not in a positive way. As Anatole Kaletsky wrote in the Times (London), “There was a chillingly Orwellian quality to his proposal that Palestinians should vote for leaders approved in advance by Israel and Washington” (June 28). We should not be surprised that the world perceives such directives as bully tactics, and anything but democratic.

America lectures the world, then expects the world to agree with its advice, follow that advice, and act like America.

But other nations do not think like America. In fact, some want nothing to do with what they see emanating from the States. Not only are many disaffected with the omnipresence of its immoral culture, they perceive screaming hypocrisy in American foreign policy. As one writer put it, “[T]he United States has supported right-wing dictators and violent, undemocratic forces around the world in the name of anti-communism, stability and the fostering of U.S. economic interests. Inevitably, this has come back to haunt us” (Seattle Times, Sept. 20, 2001). Consider the U.S. support and arming of Saddam Hussein, in opposition to Iran, during the 1980s. Or the U.S. support sent to the Taliban in Afghanistan—and the cia support to Osama bin Laden—during the same decade, as they fought against the Soviet-backed regime.

Being a leader that operates by different rules does not encourage the world to follow a nation’s example. America, in doing so, has helped make itself a target for an increasingly virulent strain of criticism around the world.

How true are the words of John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony: “[W]e must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.”