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Hostility grows over US stance

DAVOS, Switzerland

THE CORPORATE captains and the kings, prime ministers, and Nobel prize-winners have departed. The armed helicopters assigned to provide security during the World Economic Forum no longer kick up clouds of snow in this alpine town. The forum, with its unrivaled convening powers, is always a good place to find what ails the world, and the conventional wisdom is that the hostility that divided many Europeans from Americans in the run-up to the Iraq war a year ago was less in evidence this year.


Yes, the tension was less palpable at this year's forum. Europeans realize that what was done in Iraq is done and that it is now in everybody's best interest to put that bitter divide behind them. But the wounds have not completely healed. There is still dismay over the American tendency toward unilateral action. There is dismay, too, over the inability of the United States to deliver security in Iraq, and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction has given credence to the strong doubts about American wisdom and even veracity.

If Europeans realize that American primacy is something they have to live with, the reality of Iraq is forcing the Bush administration to climb down from its disdain of the United Nations and international cooperation. Thus sending the administration's archduke of anti-United Nations sentiment, Vice President Cheney, into the lions' den of Davos was a bold move. He put his best foot forward, but little in his speech to the forum convinced doubters that the Bush administration's doctrine of preemptive force would end anytime soon, even as the Bush administration begged for UN help with Iraqi elections.

Nor did Cheney leave much hope that the United States was going to step up its efforts to secure a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Censure was reserved for the Palestinians in the vice president's rhetoric. When a questioner mentioned the ideas of Nobel laureate Shimon Peres, Cheney rapped the questioner's knuckles by saying: "Mr. Sharon is the one we pay attention to at present."

In much of the world beyond Europe, anti-Americanism is growing at an alarming and corrosive rate. President Bush seemed genuinely shocked when he heard this from moderate Muslim leaders in Bali last October. In visits to four Muslim countries last year I came away equally shocked at how the high regard in which the United States was once held is slipping away, even among those who are still our friends. Whether it be Cairo's council on foreign relations or Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, the distrust of the United States is noticeably high.

Among those not predisposed to admire the United States, even America's good motives are misunderstood in the general climate of mistrust. Last month in Lahore, Pakistan, a two-day meeting of Muslim clerics to celebrate the centenary of Maulana Maududi, founder of Jamaat-I-Islami, speaker after speaker spoke of a Muslim world under attack and siege, saying that Bush's call for democracy was a cover for imperialistic designs to undermine Islam and spread Western culture.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, who is in a life-and-death struggle with Islamic extremists in his own country, told the forum last week that "there is a deep feeling of injustice, abandonment, hopelessness, powerlessness and a sense of deprivation" in the Muslim world. "The fallout of this has been resignation and desperation." In the opinion of many experts at Davos this year, the United States had not successfully addressed the root causes of terrorism: It has concentrated its efforts on military solutions, which run the risk of recruiting ever more terrorists.

Even among America's friends there is something about the trumpeting of American exceptionalism, especially when wedded to what seems to many to be a desire to make the world over in America's image, that is profoundly offputting. It was during a panel on narcissism at the World Economic Forum last week that a Yale University assistant clinical professor of psychiatry, Bandy Xenobia Lee, quoted the standard medical description of Narcissistic Personality Disorder from the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual. A sufferer of this disorder is defined as someone who:

* Has a "grandiose sense of self importance, e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements."

* "Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance."

* "Requires excessive admiration."

* "Has a sense of entitlement, i.e. unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.

* Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes."

In light of current events, Lee thought the diagnosis might at times be applicable to nations as well as individuals.

H.D.S. Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.

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