Colin Powell's State Department is holding a two–day conference for US diplomats next week at which various experts on international affairs, the author Salman Rushdie among them, will try to explain the reasons for the recent worldwide increase in anti–American sentiment. The question, “Why do they hate us?”, was first asked in the immediate aftermath of September 11 a year ago. It was understandable then that the general public was shocked to realise that anyone could hate the United States so much but it is surprising that a year later diplomats, of all people, should still need to look for an answer. Any competent ambassador serving in the Middle and Far East or in Europe should know perfectly well why America has become so disliked in recent years. The intensity of feeling has grown since George W Bush became President but it began during President Clinton's time when Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced that America had become the “indispensable nation” of the world.

Arrogance of power, insensitivity and lack of respect towards others who do not think as Americans think, indifference to international institutions and commitments entered into, double standards promiscuously applied, an increasing propensity to unilateral action and above all a selfishness which places a never–ending escalation of America's good life before the welfare of the rest of the globe – these are the kind of things that have contributed to the deterioration in respect for the United States in recent years.

A two–day conference of diplomats in Washington DC will do nothing to change matters. The problem starts at the top. Policies are the problem.