Anti-American feeling? It's normal, says publisher Josef Joffe; U.S. is too seductive

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Anti-American feeling? It's normal, says publisher Josef Joffe; U.S. is too seductive

Kim Young-hie, senior columnist of the Joong-Ang Ilbo, talked Sunday with two of the prominent journalists attending the Asia-Europe Press Forum: Josef Joffe, editor and publisher of the German newspaper Die Zeit; and Yoichi Funabashi, chief diplomatic correspondent of Japan's Asahi Shimbun.

The following are excerpts from their discussion. -- Ed.

Kim Young-hie: I would like to start with Iraq. In Washington, it seems, the question is not whether, but when and how to attack Iraq. Do you expect a war in Iraq anytime soon as a second war on terrorism?

Josef Joffe: I don't know what "anytime soon" is. I'm not so sure that the question has become "when" rather than "whether" because the elements for war are not in place yet. The only nation that the United States can count on at this point is Britain. Most Europeans are extremely hesitant. Germany has said "no" and in France, one senior official has said anonymously that, "We are keeping all options open." So the politics are not clear to me, though George Bush is now making strenuous efforts to win the acceptance of the United Nations. The diplomacy is not yet in place, so that's why I don't know "when" and I don't even know "whether."

Yoichi Funabashi: I do not want to predict "when," but I think George W. Bush has already made up his mind. He is now trying very hard to get support from the international community, particularly the Europeans, as well as the United Nations. But I think it's basically about tactical aspects rather than strategic. I think strategically, the top leadership of the United States has reached a consensus for a regime change. Perhaps early next year might be the most likely scenario. March is Ramadan, June is the Hajj, so perhaps the second most likely would be April or perhaps May.

Kim: I think he's concentrating on crafting a UN Security Council resolution with China abstaining and France and Russia acquiescing. Do you think he'll succeed?

Joffe: There is plenty of time to get both the diplomacy and the military in place. So far the Russians have not clearly said "no," but the latest I've heard from Foreign Minister Ivanov is, "I hope the issue won't even come to the Security Council," which doesn't suggest to me that the Russians will hold fast. It's not at all clear to me whether he'll get a mandate.

Funabashi: I think that George W. Bush will not have so many problems in persuading the Chinese and the Russians. After all, I think they share more, particularly in building a common front to fight against terrorism. He'll continue to have serious problems with the Europeans, but Blair has already joined the common front with George W. Bush. At the end of the day, I think that the Americans will go without a United Nations mandate.

Kim: Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is an opponent. Is this just for the elections or is he going to stick to that line beyond Sept. 22?

Joffe: No German government has ever said "no" to the American government so loudly and so clearly. I can explain that only in terms of electoral maneuvering, because for the last several months he has been trailing the Christian Democrats, the conservatives, while the economy's been sinking, the stock markets have been plummeting and the unemployment rate has been rising very rapidly. He's discovered that this stance has gotten him some electoral points for the last two or so weeks. Whether he or Edmund Stoiber, his opponent, can maintain that harsh "no" strikes me as very dubious. It would be the most serious clash with one of Germany's most important allies.

Kim: How is Prime Minister Koizumi going to respond to George W. Bush's request for support?

Funabashi: I think this will put him in a very difficult position, even though he actually was very quick to take action on bills to allow Japan's Self Defense Forces to engage in logistical support for the U.S. anti-terror campaign last year. I do not think that the Japanese would support the Japanese government's involvement in America's war in Iraq.

Kim: Would a war in Iraq succeed?

Joffe: I think if President Bush does go to war, he has no other choice but to go all the way and to topple, get rid, kill, whatever, Saddam Hussein.

Funabashi: You should not underestimate the difficulties of such a military campaign, although we have become accustomed to the American military prowess that was demonstrated throughout the 1990s. This may be different.

Kim: If he succeeds, will there be a pro-Western government in Iraq?

Funabashi: That is exactly what Washington wants to believe, but it's very difficult to come up with a very cohesive and coherent regime. You should not underestimate the difficulties of the regime change either.

Joffe: Well, we don't know. Nobody would have thought that the allies could have imposed democracy on Japan and Germany after 1945 but they did. It might have been a bit easier in Germany because Germany had had a democratic tradition but Japan did not. What it took was complete victory, complete occupation and enduring a military presence that has lasted until this day.

Kim: What fundamental changes, if any, do you see in the United States or globally since Sept. 11, 2001?

Funabashi: I think the United States was shaken to the core. This is a very bizarre juxtaposition of military prowess and strategic vulnerability. This was a problem that the United States confronted a year ago, but I think it's now much more acute and more pronounced and, I think, much more pitiful.

Kim: Any global changes? Any changes in international relations, politics?

Joffe: Since 9/11, the most important change is almost a reversal of alliances on the part of Russia. The fact is that Russia after 9/11 became an American ally. Without that alliance, the Americans could not have put bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, the soft underbelly of the Russian interior. And suddenly, out of the blue, the Russians accepted U.S. missile defense, which they had fought against for the last 30 or 40 years. That, to me, is the most interesting change on the global level. Domestically, we are all living with the threat of international terrorism. You can see it in the airports, you can see in the way all Western countries have tightened up their security procedures and tightened up their laws.

Kim: Taking advantage of the events of Sept. 11, President Bush has pursued a unilateralist diplomacy, most apparent in withdrawing from the ABM treaty and the Kyoto Protocol and opposing the International Criminal Court. Given its power, is America's unilateralism inevitable?

Funabashi: The unilateralism is not new. I think what is changing now is that America's allies actually have not been able to catch up with America, and maintaining an alliance is more difficult. There is less and less incentive on the part of the United States to keep the alliance system fit as it did in the Cold War. Even Great Britain finds it more difficult to keep up with the Americans in maintaining some mutual systems given America's predominance. Even though America is also willing to go multilateral or bilateral in its relations, perhaps it has no other choice but to resort to unilateralism when the moment of truth arrives.

Joffe: I'm not so sure that the withdrawal from the ABM treaty is such a good example of American unilateralism. After all, it was done together with the Russians, who consented, unlike all previous Russian governments, and they consented because they got something -- good old multilateralist fashion -- in return from the United States: very drastic cuts in strategic arms. As for Kyoto, Bill Clinton signed it knowing quite well that he could never get it through the Senate. So the game wasn't quite honest on Clinton's part. As for the ICC, look who else hasn't signed. The Russians haven't signed, the Chinese haven't signed and the Israelis haven't signed, and for good reasons. These are the nations that are most likely to get involved in military action. They are not like Belgium or Holland, who live in a very peaceful world. So if you are a great power, you don't like all these Lilliputians to tie you up. The Bush administration has acted multilaterally with all the other great powers and regional powers, like Israel.

Kim: So Bush is not that unilateral?

Joffe: I'm not saying that. I'm saying that some examples of unilateralism don't work -- like the ABM treaty. That was done together with the Russians. In other examples like the ICC, he is acting like the other global or regional powers. In general, it looks like this administration doesn't care as much about building coalitions as did George Bush the elder, but look at just the last several days. W., his son, has understood that even the greatest power on earth cannot do certain things on its own. It needs legitimacy and the physical support that only the consent of other nations can provide.

Kim: Is there a global coalition of anti-American sentiment as an outcome of the war on terrorism? Is it based on a reaction to U.S. unilateralism, and Bush's personally arrogant style of diplomacy?

Joffe: You loaded the question by calling Bush arrogant. I wouldn't call him arrogant. I would call him perhaps less smart and patient than his father was in regard to the first Gulf War coalition and less smart and patient than the Bush of 9/11 who did go around the world very carefully before starting to shoot. He had crafted a global anti-terror war. So, so much for Bush's arrogance. I just think he's not very smart; even with all the power in the world, you need others to help you along in the great tasks such as the anti-terror war or the war against Iraq. Very lately, he's beginning to learn the lesson as his UN speech has begun to become an example of this.

Kim: And anti-American sentiment?

Joffe: Anti-American sentiment has always been around. If you are a smaller nation, you hate great powers. And you hate great powers all the more because America isn't just a very big, powerful nation, but it's also a very seductive nation. The whole world has become Americanized. You've never seen anyone driving Frenchmen, Japanese, Koreans into a McDonald's or into an American movie at gunpoint. But people don't like being seduced and that's why there always will be anti-Americanism as long as America is economically, strategically and culturally predominant.

Funabashi: Anti-American sentiment is a reality, and the United States is trying to pursue a more vigorous public diplomacy to tackle this challenge. But this is not Bush's fault alone, even though he has been rather clumsy in foreign policy. But throughout the Clinton years, the apparent self-infatuation, absorption, narcissistic view of America's place in the world, you know, triumphant, actually had turned off a lot of people, including America's friends around the world. I think that it's very ironic to see George W. Bush being criticized so much even though it was he who said that America needs humility in his presidential campaign.

Joffe: Let me add something here. The world dislikes America because it depends on America so much. So America gets it both coming and going, if it intrudes in the economic affairs of East Asia, like Thailand or Indonesia, or if it doesn't do enough for the economies of these countries. There probably is anti-Americanism among the young here in South Korea, but I'll bet anything that there would be a large outcry if George W. says tomorrow, "I'll withdraw from Korea. You guys don't like me, so I'll just withdraw my troops." Just like the Japanese, who yell and scream about Okinawa but would raise a fuss if the Americans actually did withdraw from Japan and left the Japanese facing China on their own.

Kim: Prime Minister Koizumi is going to Pyeongyang for a summit meeting with Kim Jong-il. The Bush government is still tough on North Korea, so Japan may have to operate on a short leash. Do you expect a major breakthrough in Tokyo-Pyeongyang relations, perhaps leading to the establishment of diplomatic relations?

Funabashi: I'd give it a 50/50 chance, and any agreement on initiation of normalization talks would be a major breakthrough given the very tortuous and painful history. Particularly after Bush's "axis of evil" speech, the North Koreans have been put on the spot, and I think Kim Jong-il has been very desperate to find some maneuvering room. Japan to him is the first target to open some leeway and I think that the Japanese have seized that opportunity. But I'm afraid that expectations have been raised unrealistically high in Japan about the abduction case.

So Koizumi may disappoint many Japanese when he comes back to Tokyo with little on missiles and other weapons. That's exactly where the Americans are concerned, but the Japanese are, too. Japanese want Pyeongyang's threats to be reduced before they start giving aid.

Kim: I'm inclined to think that the summit meeting will be an all-or-nothing game. It cannot be a half-success or a half-failure.

Funabashi: I don't think that this'll be either total success or total failure. The possible best scenario would be if this summit has a moderating effect on Washington, but a failed summit could also encourage American hawks. So it's a very interesting issue.

by Kim Young-hie

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