If the United States is the world's only superpower, as some are fond of calling it, many people around the world are going to hate, fear and despise it -- not only for what it does, but also for what it fails to do and for what it may have had nothing to do with.
In Somalia, the clan military leader Mohamed Farah Aidid objects to U.S. success in feeding people and supporting reconciliation, which undercuts his act. He has maneuvered U.S. forces into conflict with the subclan clinging to his protection. It is not hard to get his people to demonstrate hatred and contempt for the United States, though they may be the only Somalis doing it.
In Haiti, U.S. diplomatic power drove Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras to agree in July to cede power back to the legitimate president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. General Cedras was coerced by the oil sanctions imposed by the U.S.-led U.N. Security Council.
But he approved when "attaches" -- thugs under the control of the police chief -- prevented U.S. troops from coming ashore at Port-au-Prince Monday to build roads and hospitals. His supporters, who talk an anti-imperialist game, are the elite few who benefit from things as they are.
It was easy to be anti-American when Americans were the richest people in the world. Now that Arab and Japanese, French and German, and sometimes even Italian and Spanish tourists ** and business travelers can be bigger-spending and louder, actual anti-American sentiment is probably down.
The days when every Canadian abroad wore a Maple Leaf patch or stick-pin to advertise non-U.S. nationality went out with the Vietnam War. But resentment of U.S. government policy will continue.
The mistake would be to assume that it would end whenever we brought the troops home from somewhere. In many parts of the world, the United States is blamed for not having sent any. What Serbs would have thought, had we dispatched bombers to stop slaughter of Muslims in Bosnia, Muslims think because we didn't.
If the United States is the world's only superpower, then everything is its fault. Since a lot is wrong in the world, the assumption will always resurface that, whatever happened, the United States allowed to happen.
On this premise, a sophisticated Pakistani employed by a Western firm once suggested to me that the CIA must have planted the airplane bomb that killed President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq in 1988. Never mind that U.S. Ambassador Arnold Raphael and Brig. Gen. Herbert M. Wassom died in the crash.
A Liberian official has assured me that Liberians are very anti-American, because U.S. Navy ships evacuated Americans during the 1990 civil war, "and left Liberians to die." American corporate-owned rubberplantations continue to produce while the rebel Charles Taylor controls the countryside, and therefore are blamed for his survival.
A second mistake would be to think that the United States is always asked to be the world's police officer, that U.S. troops are always putting their lives on the line for other nations' interests. // (One example is the European request for U.S. bodies to staff the partition of Bosnia. Other NATO powers dread a confrontation with Serbia in which they were disunited and the United States was not involved.) It can work the other way.
When Liberia broke down in chaos, the five-nation West African Economic Community sent troops in, with Nigeria dominant. This force controls Monrovia, contests the country with Mr. Taylor, and installed the interim government.
The United States has old links to Liberia. Liberian agony causes many Americans great pain. The United States is not carrying West Africa's can in this crisis, West Africa is carrying ours.
In Haiti, the July 3 agreement does not call on U.S. troops to police the country. It seeks Francophone and black troops from West Africa and the Caribbean to do that. But if the restoration of Father Aristide fails, Ivory Coast and Martinique will not suffer
the United States will as new waves of boat people wash ashore.
The biggest recent help to U.S. policy has been the 22,000-person U.N. peacekeeping contingent that ran a fair election in Cambodia and installed the current government of King Norodom Sihanouk and his son, President Norodom Ranariddh, and then went home.
Cambodia was one of the world's most traumatized countries, thanks partly to U.S. policy in the early 1970s. Yet there would not have been American public support for losing American lives bring about a democratically chosen regime able to withstand the Khmer Rouge. Incredibly complex Asian diplomacy and major U.N. contributions by France, India and other nations did that.
It cannot be called a success yet, because the coalition of monarchist and Communist former rulers has not proved its durability, and the Khmer Rouge still hold turf. But it is one of the most formidable nation-repair jobs ever undertaken, partly to rescue U.S. interests, and appears headed for success. The United States is virtually invisible. Other countries' troops were murdered by thugs trying to wreck it.
Angola is a mess because the former U.S. client, Jonas Savimbi of UNITA, repudiated the election that legitimized the formerly Communist regime of Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Since everyone thought Mr. Savimbi was a U.S. puppet and would win, the United States is widely held responsible for his present mayhem.
In fact, the United States never owned him -- at best rented him. Mr. Savimbi always had the integrity of his purpose: to rule. The United States helped cause this mess, but other nations are trying to sort it out.
The United States cannot solve every problem, but no one ever suggested that it should, and it never tried.
Many Americans are uncomfortable with the U.S. role in the post-Cold War world, when our deficit is out of control, the homeless roam our streets, crime is rampant, unemployment is high and public health plummets.
But the United States cannot abandon its prominence even if it tries to duck leadership. U.S. national interests happen to be everywhere.
So the only thing that frustrated Americans can do is be patient, try to make this a better world and shoot the next person who brags that the United States is the world's only superpower.
Daniel Berger is an editorial writer for The Baltimore Sun.