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    The losing battle against anti-Americanism

    The invasion of Iraq was a huge blow to U.S. prestige, not only among Arabs and Muslims but among the populations of longtime allies in Europe and in Japan. Despite serious money and effort poured into public-diplomacy marketing campaigns, the anti-American trend has not been reversed. The solution lies not with the State Department - but with the American public itself:

    The losing battle against anti-Americanism

    4-page article

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    MOGADISHU, Somalia: The rally was supposed to be against Ethiopia, Somalia's neighbor and historic archenemy, which in the past few weeks had sent troops streaming across the border in an attempt to check the power of the increasingly powerful Islamists who rule Mogadishu.

    But the cheers that shook the stadium (which had no roof, by the way, and was riddled with bullet holes) were about another country, far, far away.

    "Down, down U.S.A.!" thousands of Somalis yelled, many of them waving cocked Kalashnikovs. "Slit the throats of the Americans!"

    Not exactly soothing words, especially when the passport in your pocket has one of those golden eagles on it.

    Somalia may be the place that best illustrates a trend sweeping across the African continent: After Sept. 11, 2001, the United States concluded that anarchy and misery aid terrorism, and so it tried to re-engage Africa. But anti-American sentiment on the continent has only grown, and become increasingly nasty. And the United States seems unable to do much about it.

    A number of experts on Africa trace those developments to a sense not of American power, but of its decline — a perception that the United States is no longer the only power that counts, that it is too bogged down in the Middle East to be a real threat here, and so it can be ignored or defied with impunity.

    American officials, for example, acknowledge that they are at a loss about what to do about the on-again, off-again Somali crisis, which cracked open last week when the two forces dueling for power blasted away at each other in their first major confrontation. In this case, there are a lot of reasons why many of the people don't like Americans, starting with the United States' botched efforts to play peacemaker in the early 1990s to its current support for Ethiopia, which is taking sides in Somalia's internal politics.

    But the broader issue playing out here — the sense that the United States is not the kingmaker it once was — goes beyond Mogadishu. It is Africa-wide. And it is based on a changed reality: the emergence of other customers for Africa's resources and the tying down of American military forces in Iraq have combined to reduce American clout in sub-Saharan Africa, even as the United States pumps in more financial aid than ever — about $4 billion per year — and can still claim to be the one superpower left standing.

    "The actual ability of the U.S. to influence circumstances on the ground in Africa has declined dramatically," said Michael Clough, a former director of the Africa program at the Council on Foreign Relations. "But the symbolic significance of the United States is still there. So we become the perfect target."

    For proof, please see Sudan, Congo, Eritrea, northern Nigeria to a lesser extent, and even South Africa.

    Chester A. Crocker, who was an assistant secretary of state for Africa under President Ronald Reagan, says the drop in American influence began when the cold war ended. He argues that despite all the complaints about fickle cold war Africa policy, which critics say propped up one corrupt dictator after another under the rationale of containing Communism, the United States was at least paying attention to Africa, and its efforts may have saved millions of lives.

    It was the decade immediately after the cold war, Mr. Crocker said, when the United States disengaged from much of the continent, that Africa fell apart. Cataclysmic wars swept through Somalia, Rwanda, Algeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Congo. More Africans were slaughtered in the 1990s than in any other recent decade.

    Now, as the United States resumes its interest in Africa, it faces a new, more pixilated landscape. "Africa is in play again," Mr. Crocker said. "It is a more competitive playing field which gives greater influence to African leaders as well as to potential competitors or 'balancers' of U.S. diplomatic leverage. It is not just China: it is Brazil, the Europeans, Malaysia, Korea, Russia, India."

    "Inevitably," he concluded, "this dilutes somewhat U.S. ability to call the shots, define the agenda and mobilize coherent international action."

    For example, there is Sudan, a country that the West, and the United States in particular, has desperately tried to isolate. First, it was because of Sudan's links to terrorists. Then came reports that the government was tied to genocide in Darfur. Sanctions have been imposed, almost embarrassing amounts of diplomatic pressure have been exerted and now military threats are being made. The result: even more anti-American hatred, which plays straight into the hand of the hard-line Khartoum regime.

    Why are the results of American policy in Sudan so meager? Two reasons stand out above others: oil and Asia.

    Sudan is flush with a booming supply of crude, and it has turned from West to East for trade partners: to China, India, Malaysia and the Arab world. That means American economic leverage doesn't work as it once did. Consider how little effect the sanctions have had on Sudan's economy — it's one of the fastest growing in the world, even as Darfur burns.

    "We learned that we don't need the Americans anymore," said Lam Akol, Sudan's foreign minister. "We found other avenues."

    Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Mr. Crocker said, there were few other avenues. In those cold war days, he said, sustained, patient, high-level American involvement helped end wars from Angola to Mozambique and helped to bring South Africa's brutal apartheid system to its knees.

    In the 1990s, with the Soviet Union gone, aid to Africa dipped; Americans were turning inward, and foreign policy focused far more on building trade relations with dynamic new partners, especially in Asia and Eastern Europe.

    But then came 9-11.

    "And suddenly poor, nasty, weak places mattered," said Steve Morrison, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

    In an effort to reduce the conditions in which terrorism is thought to thrive, American foreign aid to Africa surged, with much of the money going to health programs (especially AIDS prevention), and peacekeeping. Private Western efforts to alleviate suffering also increased. Just ask Bill Gates. Or Bill Clinton.

    TODAY, in Congo, the United States spends more than $200 million supporting a United Nations peacekeeping mission that has barely kept that unruly, violent, continent-sized country intact.

    But Ted Dagne, a specialist in African affairs for the Congressional Research Service, said that such concern about security in Africa "has not led to expansion of relations in other areas and did not increase American influence in Africa."

    One reason, he argued, was that American policy these days does not necessarily mean sustained, patient, high-level attention. Instead, it emphasizes the role that Africans themselves can play (supported by American money and advice, of course). More and more, Africans are mediating their own conflicts, from the border disputes between Ethiopia and Eritrea to the civil wars in Burundi and Sudan.

    Another reason is Iraq. The ceaselessness of Baghdad's bloodshed has greatly undermined the United States' credibility, fanned anti-American feelings in Muslim regions like the Horn of Africa, and drained resources that might otherwise have been available to address other problems.

    "There is significant blowback coming from our catastrophic decisions in Iraq that is affecting our ability to do anything about Sudan or Somalia," Mr. Morrison said.

    Even so, many Africa experts say there are countries — Kenya is one — where the American message still matters. There, the United States is generally credited, along with other Western countries, with exerting crucial diplomatic leverage that helped Kenya make the peaceful transition in 2002 from a one-party state to a genuine multiparty democracy.

    "America still has a lot of influence," said S. O. Mageto, a former Kenyan ambassador to Washington. "But not like it used to."

    Anti-American sentiment is sweeping across Africa

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