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Issue Date:  March 5, 2004

U.S. imperialism provokes backlash

U.S. belligerence may be a time bomb waiting to be detonated


The world is filled with statements that the United States is in defiance of international law because of its invasion of Iraq and its aggressiveness elsewhere. The Bush White House and the Pentagon deny the contention, but they do so with the clear insinuation that it does not really matter.

This difference is changing the world’s attitude toward the United States. After 9/11, the United States had the sympathy of the planet. Today, more and more nations are opposed to the new unilateralism of the United States, with its defiance of the long-established and universally followed doctrine that only the United Nations can sanction the invasion of one country by another -- unless there is a genuine threat to the safety of a sovereign nation.

A recent Gallup poll shows that the majority of the citizens in Britain think the United States is a “threat to peace.” A BBC survey found that 60 percent of Indonesians viewed the United States as a greater menace than al-Qaeda. Even 25 percent of Canadians share that view.

It seems impossible to get the American people to accept the fact that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and that leaders in Iraq were not involved in the activities of al-Qaeda. The White House hopes that people will forget all of this when they are reminded of the removal of Saddam Hussein.

The American people admire a strong president who asserts U.S. power against ruthless foreign potentates. That admiration goes back to 1898, when U.S. leaders seized the Philippines; it remained a colony until 1954. A majority of Americans probably approved the allocation of $3.5 billion to the leaders of El Salvador because the White House concluded they were fighting a communist threat.

But the present threat of terrorism might be different. The White House knows this and is seeking to form a coalition of nations to join in its occupation of Iraq.

But the tide of world opinion against the United States is a phenomenon seldom before witnessed with regard to America’s foreign policy. This is especially true among the world’s Arab and Islamic nations. Some 1.3 billion persons who are Muslims (one-fifth of the planet’s 6.2 billion) rage at the ways in which the United States humiliates the leaders of a venerable nation, a society that has been an esteemed cultural center for centuries.

It may be impossible to overstate the new and fighting antagonism that Muslim societies have to the aggressiveness of the United States. Long-held animosities at the imperialism of the United States may coalesce into multinational conspiracies that could erupt in violence even more hideous than 9/11.

The belligerence of the United States toward nations like France and Germany and scores of less powerful countries may be a time bomb waiting to be detonated. Imagine the consequences for the United States if the Arab world decided to de-crease or eliminate the flow of oil from the complex of nations that constitutes, in a broad sense, the Middle East. In 2002, this area had 68 percent of the world’s proven oil resources and 41 percent of the world’s proven natural gas reserves. In 2020, this area is projected to produce roughly 42 million barrels of oil per day -- 39 percent of the global production total of 107.8 billion barrels per day. The United States is projected to use 25 percent of that amount.

Imagine the marvelous results that would flow to the United States if it offered its immense natural resources to help some of the awful agonies that exist. Consider the following:

  • Some 8,000 persons die every day from AIDS. An additional 13,700 get infected every day. The United States has contributed to efforts to cure this pandemic but has done nothing comparable to the $87 billion that has been appropriated to rebuild Iraq.
  • At least 32,000 children die every day from malnutrition. A presidential commission chaired by Sol Linowitz in 1980 recommended that the United States make the elimination of hunger -- especially among children -- the No. 1 objective of its foreign policy. Imagine the esteem the United States would have today if it had adopted that policy in 1980.
  • The world stands appalled every day as dynamite, various explosives and conventional weapons kill soldiers and civilians almost indiscriminately. Is it not possible to limit the production of these weapons and control their distribution? Some will say that small weapons are like tobacco, guns and narcotics and are uncontrollable. But hardly any effort has been made by the United States to eliminate or at least limit the production and distribution of the weapons that produce violence around the world.

A new, radical and dangerous foreign policy has been adopted since 9/11. The administration seeks to downplay and even deny what becomes more undeniable every day. Even hawkish hardliners like Zbigniew Brzezinski lament President Bush’s “paranoiac view of the world” and the “extremist demagogy” of the administration.

The desire for American hegemony is more visible and more imperialist every day. Whenever any question is raised about it, the only response is that the threat of terrorism justifies everything.

Trying to contain governments from being imperialistic has been a problem for centuries.

Tacitus, the noted historian of the Roman Empire, wrote about the year 56 A.D. that the empire had turned vast areas into wilderness and called it peace.

Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, March 5, 2004

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