Jun 20, 2007

Promoting American Values Abroad

At a recent Senate confirmation hearing, James Keith, the ambassador-designate to Malaysia stated that "Far too few Malaysians hold positive views of the United States" and proposed if confirmed, to build on an ongoing public outreach program throughout Malaysia "to provide an accurate basis from which the Malaysian people can form opinions about the American people, our values, and our goals in the world." Keith stated, "It will be critical, in this context, for my country team and for me to speak forthrightly about our commitment to fundamental values".

The assertion that far too few Malaysians hold a positive view of the United States struck me as odd and I think needs to be viewed in the proper perspective. First and foremost, with a good twenty years under my belt here in Southeast Asia I think I'm more than qualified to speak out on the issue.

Yes it is true, there are many Malaysians who don't have a positive view of America and they don't trust Americans, because they don't see us as genuine and sincere and therefore can't relate to us. Secondly, much of what Malaysians hear or read about America comes from a reckless and biased Western media or from the past sanctimonious sermonizing of arrogant liberal politicians such as the Reverend Al Gore. Despite what the media or some Washington think tank has to say, the views of the average Malaysian really has little to do with any specific policy positions of the United States or with the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It has more to do with the fact that we have in the last several years failed adhere to our own values.

Despite our vast cultural differences, you could say in essence that we can share a common ground with the fundamental values of fairness, freedom, equality, responsibility, integrity, and security. To the Asians, these fundamental values by definition possess an inherent objectivity, and to the Asians, America's constant viewing of these fundamental values through the lens of subjectivity creates an oxymoron. The problem then comes about when we try to foist a drastically divergent view of what these values actually mean on societies who don't share those newfound progressive views.

The values themselves never change, but our view of the values of what these values mean seems to be changing all the time. It is these impetuous and rapid revolutions in values and principles combined with an ever growing dependency today on breakneck technology and globalization for economic progress that is unsettling to most people overseas here in Southeast Asia. Further, we seem to promote values that we ourselves don't adhere to. Ask yourself;

Does affirmative action and racial quotas speak forthrightly about our commitment to the fundamental values of fairness and equality?

Does abandoning the rule of law to accommodate an influx of of illegal aliens speak forthrightly about our commitment to the fundamental values of responsibility and integrity?

Sadly, leadership in America has given way to consensus, and as a nation, we seem to have abandoned the ethical basis for society, believing somehow that all problems are solvable by a benevolent government doing all things for everybody. I think it goes without saying that we have a lot of cleaning up to do back home.

The issues we need to address in the days are important, but none the less they are secondary to our ability to demonstrate our integrity and trust. Our position on the issues ahead should follow from our nation's core values, and our policies should symbolize those values. Malaysia is a different country and they may never agree with all of our nation's actions or policies but they can come to believe in our integrity and the recognize and respect the connection between our worldview and our actions.

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