Bush might talk to other nations once in a while

Joe Bubman Column

It hit me when I went to a community service center during my 10-week study abroad program in Edinburgh, Scotland, with an American friend. While we were signing up to volunteer, a male supervisor sitting in the corner at the homeless shelter told a woman, “America and Israel are the world’s two biggest terrorist countries.”

It hit me harder that afternoon when a man approached me while I was looking at paintings in Edinburgh’s National Gallery. Interested in talking about politics and pressing me about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, he thought me preposterous when I spoke of the “war” in which the United States was involved.

It hit me again when a speaker in London’s Hyde Park lambasted more aspects of U.S. foreign policy than I knew existed – to the general approval of the ever-expanding crowd.

And it hit me repeatedly in my conversations with British students, whose disdain for President Bush appeared as universal as American approval of him in the days immediately following Sept. 11.

In Britain, the nation recognized as our closet ally, dislike of the U.S. government and its policies was stronger than I ever could have imagined.

Sept. 11 made clear the hostility people around the world feel toward the United States. But the sympathy expressed in the West and throughout the world for the victims of those attacks has given way to antipathy, if not enmity, toward our government.

But even in Britain? The country we fought with in World War I to keep the world safe for democracy, and again in World War II to save the world from Nazis?

Trying to justify the inane comments such as those made at the homeless agency would be an exercise in futility. I am sick of America being maligned by citizens of countries whose noteworthy contributions to the world are far inferior to those of our nation.

On the other hand, our government has made criticizing us far too easy. Nations like Britain have been alienated not necessarily by our policies, but by our blatant disregard for their concerns.

Making unilateral decisions on issues that impact the rest of the world such as Kyoto, missile defense and Iraq causes unnecessary problems and dissent.

Protecting American interests should be our priority, no matter who disapproves of our policies. But strengthening our national security and paying heed to European and Russian concerns are not mutually exclusive.

It is not preposterous to assume that our military strength alone will not always be enough to solve all our problems. If the “axis of evil” is indeed an axis, then having allies on whose support we can rely is imperative.

Given its superpower status and daunting obligations around the globe, the United States should not be trying to win a popularity contest. But alienating our closest allies, as the Bush administration has done both before and after Sept. 11, is about as sensible as planning an Associated Student Government trip to the Bahamas.

The United States should prioritize the safety of its citizens above all else, but a little consultation with its friends across the Atlantic would not hurt. When the time comes to confront the “axis of evil,” it might even be essential.