The world is watching with horror and anticipation. A lone state with a history of violence in the Middle East boasts a stockpile of nuclear weapons, which it might use against other countries.
That state’s leader, with close ties to religious fundamentalists and a recent history of international belligerence,
is one of the most hated and feared men on the planet. If you think I’m talking about Iran, you’re close. But I’m actually describing the United States, as seen through the eyes of a majority of the world’s population.
In just about every international poll taken since 2003, the majority of people in the world are absolutely terrified of the United States. That’s because that was the year the Bush administration
announced that international norms don’t quite matter (or are “quaint,” in the words of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales) and that, despite the lack of a good reason
for doing so, the U.S. was going to invade Iraq.On March 20, 2003, despite historically unprecedented worldwide protests, the bombs started falling on Baghdad and the rest is … well, you know. Since that day four years ago, our once-positive image around the world has plummeted on what seems like a monthly basis.
In the most recent poll conducted by the BBC World Service in late January, 73 percent of people in the 25 countries surveyed said they disapproved of the war in Iraq. Even our traditional best buds – Canada and Great Britain – gave us a thumbs down.
It should come as no surprise then, that as the same officials in Washington are making similar charges against Iraq’s neighbor, that the world’s population – including most Americans – is skeptical and nervous.
President Bush’s 2007 State of the Union address in January was filled with what many saw as provocative and hostile remarks about Iran, accusing it of interfering in Iraq and of funding Lebanese militant groups.
Both charges, to be fair, are almost certainly true to an extent, but their inclusion in the State of the Union address was reminiscent of similar lines from the 2003 State of the Union address, in which Bush laid out the case for attacking Iraq. Those justifications, now widely understood to be faulty, contained much of the same rhetorical hostility and saber-rattling as the 2007 speech.
Given recent history, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Iran is now taking steps toward a nuclear program. Iran wants to get its hands on a nuke to deter an American or Israeli attack on their country.
The common assumption that Iran would use a nuclear weapon in a strike against any country is probably false. Instead, Iran could feel that it needs a deterrent against the world’s most powerful state, which just nearly destroyed its neighbor and has been virtually promising to do the same to them since Bush’s 2002 “axis of evil” speech.
This isn’t to say that Iran should develop nuclear weapons, but it’s exceedingly difficult for the rest of the world to take the U.S. seriously on this issue, especially since the world disapproves of our choices in Iraq.
To be sure, the Iranian nuclear program, now presumably underway, is a bad thing. But it is yet another bad thing in the Middle East for which we have primarily ourselves to blame. Preventing that program from coming to fruition will require an extraordinary degree of international cooperation and – as recommended by the Iraq Study Group in last December – direct diplomacy.
Before any of that is possible, actions need to be taken to fix two things whose remnants are figuratively strewn about the war-torn Middle East: American credibility
and Iraq itself.
John Paul Titlow can be reached at