Michael Gerson

Having stepped out of the warm bath of global affection that followed the Sept. 11 attacks, Americans are feeling shivery and exposed.

Anti-Americanism, as measured by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, has risen since 2002 in much of the world, particularly in the predominantly Muslim societies of the Middle East and Asia -- though the American brand remains fairly strong in places such as India, Japan, Latin America and Africa. A nation whose founding document urges a "decent respect to the opinions of mankind" is naturally anxious when those opinions sour.

Some of this damage is self-inflicted, resulting from the obscenities of Abu Ghraib and the apparently permanent limbo of Guantanamo Bay. American support for Israel is a source of global anger, especially in societies that believe the Jewish state should be located at the bottom of the Mediterranean. World opinion is impatient, not only for America to abandon Iraq but for America and NATO to leave Afghanistan. And some of this resentment reflects a very different historical moment from 2002. It is easy for a nation to gain sympathy as a victim, harder when acting in its own interests.

Whatever the causes, anti-Americanism makes it more difficult to gather support for a range of policies, from opposing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to protecting civilians in Darfur. There is an urgent need for American initiatives that build trust and respect in the world.

Yet Congress has chosen this moment to gut one of the most innovative and effective American outreach efforts since the Peace Corps.

The Millennium Challenge Corp. is grown-up foreign aid. Under this three-year-old program, a board certifies countries that are likely to use assistance wisely -- nations committed to democratic and free-market reform and fighting corruption -- and works with them as partners on projects to combat poverty and encourage economic growth. Nations that backtrack on reform and good governance have their "compacts" cut off, causing humiliation and occasional repentance. After a slow start, the MCC has made agreements with 13 nations.

But at a recent breakfast, Ambassador John Danilovich, who heads the program, was in a state of dignified bewilderment. The Senate Appropriations Committee, demonstrating bipartisan shortsightedness, had just reduced funding for the MCC from the administration's $3 billion request to $1.2 billion, throwing future compacts into question. "Why," he asked, "do they want to undermine a foreign policy lever which is actually working?"

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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