Tuesday, October 16, 2012

America; the Beautiful?

Ever wonder what your country looks like from the outside?  
You could ask.  
Congress did.  
The answers they got are much like what we've been told by friends in Africa.


Reports by the Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.    
Based on a series of 10 hearings, the subcommittee identified eight main findings about the levels, trends, and causes of international opinion of American policies, values, and people. These are summarized here.

1. It’s the policies: Opposition to specific U.S. policies, rather than to American values or people, has driven this decline. The key policies are: The invasion and occupation of Iraq; support for repressive governments worldwide; a perceived lack of evenhandedness in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute; and torture and abuse of prisoners in violation of treaty obligations.

2. It’s the perception of hypocrisy: Disappointment and bitterness arise from the perception that the proclaimed American values of democracy, human rights, tolerance, and the rule of law have been selectively ignored by successive administrations when American security or economic considerations are in play.

3. It’s the historical memory: U.S. domination remains a potent image for long periods—and that image is used to discredit current U.S. policies.

4. It’s the lack of contact: Contact with America and Americans reduces anti-Americanism, but not opposition to specific policies. Visitors to America—particularly students—and even their families and friends, have more positive views about America than non-visitors by 10 percentage points.

5. It’s the visas: Interaction with the U.S. immigration and the visa process is a significant source of frustration with America. Particularly among Muslim applicants, the experience with customs and border officials creates a perception that they are not welcome. This perception spreads across their communities through their “horror stories” about travel to the United States.

6. It’s the perceived war on Islam: The combination of all of the previous findings has created a growing belief in the Muslim world that the United States is using the “war on terror” as a cover for its attempts to destroy Islam.  Incredibly, these countries include Turkey, a long-standing U.S. ally, and Kuwait, the country that the United States liberated from Saddam Hussein’s rule. It is hard to imagine more troubling examples of the decline in America’s reputation.

7. It’s true: U.S. approval ratings have indeed fallen to record lows in nearly every region of the world. Generally positive ratings from the 1950’s to 2000 have moved to generally negative ratings since 2002. Approval ratings are highest in non-Muslim Africa and lowest in Latin America and in Muslim countries.

8. It’s the unilateralism: A recent pattern of ignoring international consensus, particularly in the application of military power, has led to a great deal of anger and fear of attack. This in turn is transforming disagreement with U.S. policies into a broadening and deepening anti-Americanism, a trend noted by the Government Accountability Office.

In Muslim countries, polls found a widespread belief that there is an American war on Islam going on now. Citizens in Muslim countries are concerned that the United States has become a military threat.

Of our neighbor across the street, "he's a good fellow," we say.  

We've known him awhile, and he's proven himself. He doesn't lie, cheat, or steal. He's thoughtful and good friend. He helps us sometimes, and we return the favor. He helps us watch out for our kids when they're outside. We struggle together with difficult problems rather than struggle separately. He's a thoughtful husband, father, and grandfather. He's a good fellow, we say; the sort of person you'd like to have live nearby, perhaps.

Is it time to consider how we might be a 'good fellow' as a people? As a country among countries? Shall we acknowledge our common future with the rest of mankind and act accordingly? Or shall we continue choosing our best without regard to the impact on others?

This is volatile ground, of course. Just suggesting someone look at the issue invokes centuries of discussion and debate on how one nation might relate to another to their advantage. Do we have a good foundation on which to build?

Interesting cover from a U.N. publication suggests a foundation for ethical policy.

International relations theory

Liberalism and Neoliberalism
Liberal Peace Theory
Sociological liberalism
Interdependence liberalism
Institutional liberalism
Republican liberalism

Classical realism

Offensive realism and Defensive realism
Neoclassical realism
Liberal realism

Dependency theory

Functionalism and 
Critical theories

World-systems theory 

With such a wealth of scholarly work in the field, can you guess how many of these schools of thought begin with fundamental principles you'd recognize; with the values that represent who we are as a people?  

Americans face the most extraordinary opportunity to live the vision of greatness we were given by our founders, the good kind of great.  How shall we then live?