U.N. debate marked by anti-U.S. sentiment

Early days of General Assembly talks underscore troubled American image

Associated Press

September 23, 2006

UNITED NATIONS - The hallmark of this year’s U.N. General Assembly debate has been the heavy anti-American tone from not only its rivals like Iran and Venezuela, but also a host of more moderate nations, a trend underscoring the United States’ troubled image in the world.

One after another, speakers in the General Assembly have lamented a world gone wrong — renewed turmoil in the Middle East, a wider gap between rich and poor, anxiety about human rights abuses. While the U.S. is not mentioned often, the reference is clear.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, for example, accused powerful nations of failing to solve the Middle East conflict, and argued a more equitable world is in rich nations’ interests — “as long as they do not make the mistake of ignoring the hideous cry of the excluded.”

The United States is blamed indirectly for not doing enough to stop Israel’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and is seen as spearheading the drive to curb Iran’s nuclear program — a campaign many nations believe is unnecessary. Countries lament the dominance of the U.N. Security Council and seek a greater U.N. role in the fight against terrorism.

“What it boils down to is a sense that the world doesn’t believe that the United States is acting in its interest anymore, whereas it used to at a much greater level,” said Nancy Soderberg, a deputy U.S. ambassador to the U.N. during the Clinton and Bush administrations.

The issue was thrust to the fore over the first few days of the General Assembly with a string of speeches from leading critics of the United States — the presidents of Bolivia, Iran, Sudan and Venezuela — who also riffed on their anger toward America at lengthy news conferences.

Applause after calling Bush 'the devil'
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was the most bombastic, outstripping even Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by branding Bush the devil. What surprised many listeners was not necessarily the remarks, which were typical for Chavez, but the applause and titters of laughter that he received in response.

“A few years ago that would have been heard in stony silence,” Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis said. “Not because people were afraid to show their agreement, but because they wouldn’t have agreed with it. If I was working for the American government, that’s what would worry me.”

A June poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that America’s image in 15 nations dropped sharply in 2006. Less than a third of the people in Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan and Turkey had a favorable view of the United States. According to that poll, America’s continuing involvement in Iraq was seen as a worse problem than Iran and its nuclear ambitions.

The anger toward the United States seems itself to reflect a larger concern about the world. There is a sense Mideast turmoil mirrors a wider division between Muslims and the West. Poor nations seem to want a greater say in U.N. reform, where the United States is only one of many nations pushing for change.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan acknowledged those divisions in his speech, saying they were so great they now “threaten the very notion of an international community, upon which this institution stands.”