A Hurricane Of Criticism

For the world, the debacle shocks, surprises, and reveals

"Third World America." --Daily Mail,Sept. 3, Britain

>>The headline from the right-leaning tabloid on Sept. 3 was typical of the reaction from the British, who in many ways have been the most outraged. The Brits have lambasted their American cousins for failing on every front, and followed events on the Gulf Coast more closely than other foreign media. "Has the myth of the 'can-do' U.S. ever been more shockingly exposed?" a Daily Mail editorial asked. "From the world's only superpower that can send shuttles into space and militarily pulverize nations within days, we are witnessing the impotence of a Third World country to a catastrophe on its doorstep." The virulence of the reaction may be due to the closeness of the British-U.S. relationship: No one likes to see a close friend fail so miserably. The reaction also ties into the rising tide of disgust at the war in Iraq -- a war that many think Prime Minister Tony Blair was duped into supporting, a war that now even the usually pro-American Tories have started to criticize.

"They sank." --Vremya Novostei, Sept. 5, Russia

>>The rest of the headline explains: "Bush's image has dived to the bottom along with New Orleans." The paper echoes Vladimir V. Putin's comment after the sinking of the submarine Kursk in 2000. The reference to Putin's low point is part of the feeling that America has slid closer to Russia's level. That perception may make it easier for Russia to be friendly with the U.S., says Victor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the Institute for U.S.A. & Canada Studies: "Now the Russians may say, 'of course the Americans are great -- but not that great."'

"The Superpower is forced to call for help." --Le Figaro, Sept. 3, France

>>The French have contrasted America's eagerness to project power abroad -- as in the Iraq war that France opposed -- with its failure to fix problems at home. "Is powerful America more sure of itself outside its borders?" asked an editorial in the right-leaning Le Figaro.

The French have also focused on race. "It confirms many of the worst stereotypes we have about the U.S. -- that it is a racist country, and that the U.S. has perverted priorities," says Denis Lacorne, senior associate at the Center for International Studies & Research in Paris. "Instead of sending teams of doctors and nongovernmental organizations -- they sent [the] National Guard." The French, who are proud of their welfare state model, also attribute the disaster in part to Bush Administration's free-market credo: Washington just doesn't have much faith in government's ability to solve problems.

"The Day the U.S. Couldn't." --Reforma, Sept. 5, Mexico

>>In his syndicated column, Jorge Ramos wrote: "The U.S. is realizing, for the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall...that it cannot always win." Twenty years ago, 10,000 died in a Mexico City earthquake that exposed the government's incompetence. To see the same scenario unfold in El Norte is a shock. "We look at what's happening and say, 'My God, they're just like us,"' says political scientist Federico Estévez.

"Disaster Zone." --Times of India,Sept. 4, India

>>"What is more surprising is that New Orleans...should have been allowed to turn into Baghdad," says the Times editorial. To Indians, who have had their share of violence and who see the U.S. as an ally in the war on terror, Katrina proves that the U.S. is not ready for a new terrorist attack. Another issue: This summer, floods killed more than 1,000 in Bombay. "But Bombay had no riots, no stealing, despite having the same infrastructure shock," says Surjit Bhalla, managing director of Oxus Research in New Delhi.

By Laura Cohn, with bureau reports

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