America in Crisis, as Katrina Undercuts Image

Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr talks about the implications of the Gulf Coast hurricane disaster for the U.S. image abroad.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Polls show Americans have a dim view of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. President Bush's approval rating is the weakest of his presidency; a Newsweek survey over the weekend put the number at 38 percent. New analyst Daniel Schorr has been thinking about how the crisis might weaken Washington's image elsewhere.

DANIEL SCHORR:

In a way that didn't happen after 9/11, after Katrina, America presents a weaker face to the world. Russia's President Vladimir Putin, a frequent target of President Bush on issues like Chechnya and human rights, has found a way to chide President Bush over Katrina. He told a group of visiting scholars, `I look at this and cannot believe my eyes. It tells us however strong and powerful we think we are, we are nothing in the eyes of nature and of God Almighty.' Putin has offered to provide a Russian airlift to Louisiana. Putin can be expected to enlarge on that theme when he addresses the UN General Assembly this week and meets privately with Mr. Bush.

Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is apparently also planning to sock it to Mr. Bush on the issue of Iran's nuclear operations, which the United States wants referred to the Security Council. His speech to the assembly was previewed at a news conference by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who said Iran had no intention of suspending its nuclear operations. `We do not see a serious sign that the issue will go to the Security Council,' he said.

What is likely to undermine America's position in developing countries is the raising of issues of race and poverty in the response to the New Orleans flood. Last week as television showed poor blacks abandoned while middle-class whites evacuated in their cars, the administration found it necessary to dispatch Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Alabama to refute charges of discriminatory behavior in the rescue effort, so far without much affect.

Another element of American weakness lies in the fast-mounting cost of dealing with the disaster. David Broder of The Washington Post foresees $3 trillion in additional debt in four years; that is a 50 percent increase in the cumulative debt from all America's previous history, including a couple of wars. How that will affect America's major creditors--Japan, China and Britain--that remains to be seen.

For America to face countries critical of its strength, that's no novelty. What is new are the impending signs of American weakness. This is Daniel Schorr.

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