Anti-Americanism is at record levels thanks to U.S. policies such as the war in Iraq, and Washington's perceived hypocrisy in abiding by its own democratic values, U.S. lawmakers said Wednesday.
A House of Representatives committee report based on expert testimony and polling data reveals U.S. approval ratings have fallen to record lows across the world since 2002, particularly in Muslim countries and Latin America.
It says the problem arises not from a rejection of U.S. culture, values and power but primarily from its policies, such as backing authoritarian regimes while promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
"Our physical strength has come to be seen not as a solace but as a threat, not as a guarantee of stability and order but as a source of intimidation, violence and torture," said Bill Delahunt, chairman of the subcommittee on international organizations, human rights and oversight.
"We have dangerously depleted what (former president Ulysses S) Grant identified as our greatest source of international power -- our reputation for what he called conscience. I would substitute the phrase 'moral authority,'" Delahunt added.
The report blames specific policies for falling approval ratings, notably the war in Iraq, support for some repressive governments, a perception of bias in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and the "torture and abuse of prisoners" in violation of treaty obligations.
It says "disappointment and bitterness" has grown from the perception that much-vaunted U.S. values "have been selectively ignored by successive administrations" for national security or economic ends.
The committee also says unilateralism, particularly in military action, has led to "anger and a fear of attack that are transforming disagreements with U.S. policy into a broadening and deepening anti-Americanism."
These factors, as well as visa and immigration issues, have helped create a "growing belief in the Islamic world that the United States is using the 'war on terror' as a cover for its attempts to destroy Islam," the report concludes.
A Republican member of the subcommittee, Dana Rohrabacher, disagreed with the report and its premise, telling a Washington hearing where the document was released that "I don't think the United States needs to apologize" for its acts.
There had been mistakes in the war on terror, notably in the field of human rights, he said, but argued the United States must not base its foreign policy on public opinion but on "what is right."
He also disputed polling figures suggesting widespread anti-Americanism in Europe, noting that voters in France and Germany and in parts of eastern Europe have recently elected pro-American governments to power.
"I believe that we still have a great deal of people around this world who in their heart understand that America is the force, the only force that is going to protect the decent people of the world against radical Islam, communists, Nazism... and thank God we're still willing to do it," he said.
Delahunt retorted that the report "was not in any way meant to apologize -- it's about our national security." He said it was the first step in deciding how to "win hearts and minds, so that it's a win-win for everyone."
At the meeting, the subcommittee also heard testimonies for their next report on the impact of the United States' declining reputation on foreign policy.
Esther Brimmer, director of research at John Hopkins University's Center for Transatlantic Relations, noted that after the September 11, 2001, European nations were keen to help the United States, including in Afghanistan.
But their support was "deeply impacted by the invasion of Iraq," and cooler relations contributed to Washington's failure to secure Macedonia's membership of NATO and to undermine its role in reforming the U.N.'s human rights mechanisms, she said.© Wire reports