Nov 14, 2007

America's Image Overseas

"Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are." ~ John Wooden - American Basketball Coach - 1910

In all my years spent overseas, I've never once apologized for being American, nor have I ever felt the need to apologize for America's actions around the world. Like many Americans I have instinctively known that America's benevolence however misguided or naive it might be at times has always stemmed from a noble intent. I've also accepted that simple truism that no matter what you do, you can never please everyone and to add insult to injury, regardless of what good we do or what our intent is, there are always going to be instigators both at home and abroad who simply find themselves compelled to pee in the pool.

Often times it is Americans themselves who either purposely or inadvertently, give rise to the animosity we experience around the world. Americans who are hopelessly consumed with what Pope Benedict has described as a "pathological self-hatred" and who fail to recognize the veracity in the adage that 'you can't expect someone else to love you until you learn to love yourself.'

Needless to say, I found myself taken aback with the recent publication of a report where a "think-tank" commissioned by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) concluded, based on a dozen or so opinion polls from around the world that "America's reputation, standing and influence are at all-time lows, and possibly sinking further".

Reading the report I couldn't help but think how completely off the mark the authors of this report are. It is shameful that a group of Americans can disgrace themselves by publishing a report like only days before the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy gives a speech before Congress professing his nation's deep admiration of the United States and what America stands for. Have the authors of this report forgotten what America stands for in the world or are they just so bitterly blinded by their own partisanship and self-hatred that they can no longer see all the good that America does around the globe.

Predictably the report blames the American led War on Terror for America's low image around the world and then goes on to suggest that "America should be a smarter power by investing once again in the global good and providing things that people and governments in all quarters of the world want but cannot attain in the absence of American leadership".

I'm not quite sure I understand what the hell that means, but I do know one thing, and that is that "providing things" is not what America is about, nor is it the way to foster and spread goodwill around the globe. The authors of this report, and the rest of the Center for Strategic and International Studies might want to spend a little more time in the "think-tank" and emerge only after a little self-reflection until they can finally rediscover what America stands for.

In the words of Nicolas Sarkozy, "From the very beginning, the American dream meant proving to all mankind that freedom, justice, human rights and democracy were no utopia but were rather the most realistic policy there is and the most likely to improve the fate of each and every person."

Rather than "providing things", we should concern ourselves with inspiring others overseas and we do that through promoting good will about America and about what we stand for, not by promoting ill will. What good will are we promoting overseas with an endless stream of crap emanating from Hollywood like the recent "Lions for Lambs" or any one of Michael Moore's films? What good will are we promoting when we demonstrate to the world that we have no respect for our own democracy or our nation's duly elected leaders? While there was much I disagreed with in the report cited above, there was one thing that I agreed with, and that is that "every United States citizen serves as a diplomat". Having said that, it should go without saying that perhaps a little introspection should be called for before we start getting our panties in a ruffle about our reputation overseas. Personally I don't care if we are liked. I care more that we are respected.

Leadership is not simply doing what is popular or what will get you liked, it is doing what is right, and often times doing what is right is not the popular thing to do. To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, "What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us."

1 comment:

  1. Alright, you've chided me into speaking. Southern guilt is a curse.

    You are so bedrock American normal - I couldn't be any prouder to call you my kin.

    This whole post rocks me on so many levels from the opening quote to your end note.

    This "report" was obviously written by elites who don't actually identify with being American or understand our Constitution or national ethos. The people of this country and, we hope, expect and charge our government to act so, have bountiful goodwill towards the world at large. We want every person on the planet to experience our level of freedom and prosperity in their corner of the world. To see the American dream expanded to encompass the most disadvantaged and oppressed people in the darkest corners would give us reason to rejoice in their newfound opportunity. We want people to succeed; to have safety, hope and happiness in their lives. We, I, believe if this American reality can be offered to everyone where they live, the world will be a better place overall.

    The old bitch that we take the lead on everything global is just a cold hard fact that WE are the preeminent country on the face of the earth. We get the same backhanded slaps when WE don't act on this or that elite or European agenda.

    Ironic, how we get it coming and going. This Texan is feeling pretty good despite their sneering scorn.

    *I quoted (and attributed) your opening paragragh in an argumnet tonight - thanks for the brilliant words. I don't have your verbal facility so I'm duly grateful.


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