But two years and two foreign wars after 9/11 triggered Bush’s War on Terror, Americans do not feel safer, according to a US survey. While US troops are busy fighting “terror” abroad, their compatriots are often terrified back home.
Worse still, Bush’s so-called War on Terror is creating more hostility, thus raising the risk of attacks against the US – a catastrophic policy failure.
Many Americans remain fearful because they are sceptical the battle against global terrorism will end soon, says Professor Robert Shapiro, a specialist in public opinion and mass media at the University of Columbia, Massachusetts.
“The $86 billion that (President George) Bush just asked for – that’s not for a quick fix,” he says. “And there are reminders. At the airport, train stations, you see things you didn’t see before: heavily-armed police at public events, like concerts.”
Such disturbing novelties help explain why 75% of US citizens think the world is more dangerous than it was a decade ago. That is sharply up from 53% surveyed by the Washington-based Pew Research Centre a few days before the attacks on 11 September, 2001.
Similarly, the proportion who believe the US is more likely to face a biological, nuclear or chemical attack jumped from 51% to 64%.
“The threat of terrorism is now part of the fabric of American life”
From Pew survey,
Today, around 40% of Americans say they often worry terrorists may attack their country with nuclear weapons – a relatively novel concern.
“The threat of terrorism is now part of the fabric of American life,” notes the Pew survey, titled Two Years Later, the Fear Lingers. Released the week before the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it reveals three quarters of Americans fear occasional acts of terrorism are now “unavoidable”.
After the World Trade Centre collapsed in a swirling mountain of ash, sympathy for the United States swelled around the planet. As an editorial in France’s Le Monde newspaper famously declared: “We are all Americans now”.
But Bush’s challenging call of “You’re either with us or against us” has received mixed reviews. According to another Pew study – Views of a Changing World – the US has become markedly less popular in most countries surveyed.
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Polling 16,000 people in 20 countries this summer and more than 38,000 people in 44 counties the year before, the study finds the war against Iraq has further widened divisions between the US and its European allies.
A majority in five of seven NATO countries surveyed now wants greater independence diplomatic and security matters: from 57% of Germans to 76% of French citizens. Only in Britain and Italy did the US enjoy anything like the popularity it had before.
Some observers dismiss what they see as superficial sentiments or crude cultural defensiveness.
“There’s a lot of anti-Americanism in Europe, a lot of jealousy,” says Dr Vernon Bogdanor, an international relations specialist at the University of Oxford in Britain.
The cause, Bogdanor suggests, may be a sense that Europeans lack influence over US actions.
But Bush’s domestic critics have taken notice. Howard Dean, a Democratic presidential candidate and former Vermont governor, has blamed the president for transforming the “tidal wave of support and goodwill that engulfed us after the tragedy of 9/11” into “distrust, scepticism, and hostility”.
For many in the Muslim world, public support for the US has been replaced by fear and loathing. Anti-US sentiment used to be more restricted to the Middle East, but US popularity over the past year has plummeted among Muslims worldwide, from Nigeria (71% to 38%) to Indonesia (61% to 15%), the survey finds.
Even in Kuwait, whose people were grateful to US forces for expelling Iraqi troops in 1991, more than half now fear the US could turn against them one day.
US policy since 9/11 may have
Dr Emad Shaheen, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo, lists three key factors that have encouraged disliking of the US in much of the Muslim world.
These are the direct US attacks against Afghanistan and Iraq, support for Israel as it suppresses the Palestinian uprising, and the perception that the Bush administration is pursuing an ideological struggle against Islam.
“The War on Terror is seen as really a War on Islam,” says Shaheen.
“People see US actions against Muslim organisations, other actors, even educational bodies, and there is a feeling of an onslaught against Islam,” he says.
“They see the demeaning and dehumanising treatment of Muslim prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, they see US-made F-16s hitting the Palestinians … and how the war in Iraq was prosecuted.”
The result is a damaging blow to stated US policy goals.
“More attacks against the US can be expected,” says Shaheen, referring both to resistance activity in Iraq and operations from international groups such al-Qaida.
It does not sound like a safer world.