U.S. gambles with global reputation

Campus Times
May 14, 2004

From the ashes of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and in particular, from the ashes of the war fields in Afghanistan and Iraq, rises a new threat to the United States that cannot be fought with weapons.

Actually, every shot fired from a United States weapon will give this conflict nothing but new ammunition.

This threat does not come from any country or terrorist group, but from our partners in international trade and diplomacy.

A survey conducted last year with 42 countries showed that anti-American attitudes have increased since Sept. 11. The initial wave of sympathy has blown away with the United States’ attacks on Afghanistan and – even more – Iraq.

Recently, the first results of a U.S. presidential election poll of people in countries other than the United States shows President Bush’s approval rating at 4.5 percent.

But the increasing dislike of our country does not come from Bush’s politics.

The United States is still respected and admired as the leader in technology and economical achievement, but majorities in almost every country resent the spread of American influence and culture.

And even nations that supported the United States in its strike on Iraq in the beginning, like Spain, drew back their troops from Iraq.

The main reasons for this can be found in three fields: the U. S. politics of isolation, the worldwide media-delivered view of the United States and the fear of losing culture as a point of national identity.

The war in Iraq divided the world into pro- and anti-American – with the majority aligned with the latter - is the government’s decision to enter this war without the United Nations.

A major reason for that is the fact that Bush stressed from the very beginning of his first speech in front of the United Nations that his country would invade Iraq, no matter what the United Nations decided.

By this, Bush isolated his country from the decision process and started cutting the ties between the United States and the rest of world.

Taking the diplomatic route, giving the United Nations inspectors more time and working out a solution hand-in-hand with the international community would have made the war easier and would have brought the world together.

But instead the United States went virtually alone against Saddam and – even worse – asked the United Nations for help in building up the country after defeating the enemy.

The second reason why Anti-Americans take over worldwide is the media-created perception of the United States.

During the war, the picture delivered by the world-wide media was not of Americans engaged in healthy debate, but the picture of a country full of ditto-heads following their leader blindly.

European TV ignored those opposed to the invasion.

Americans were not portrayed as a thoughtful, divided public, but as people in the streets saying, “We don’t understand this war, but he is our president, so it must be right.”

In addition to that, the arguments in favor of invasion were buried under perception that Gulf War II was just unfinished business left by George H. to George W., act two of their fight for oil.

Currently, images of the torture of Iraqi prisoners also leave a nasty aftertaste that the U.S. troops might continue the very things they threw Saddam out for – torturing people without any regard for human rights and the law.

Besides all war-related reasons for the world to dislike the United States stands the worldwide fear of culture loss as youth on every continent trade their national identity for the new, hip and trendy American way of life.

For several centuries, American culture has run over the rest of the world like an ice-cold Coca-Cola runs down a thirsty throat. Worldwide, the image for youth comes from movies and music in English and from Hollywood and New York.

As part of the global anti-war protest – which was huge and little reported here – youth in more and more countries get returned to embrace their heritage and celebrate their own culture.

Of these three reasons, the back-to-culture movement is of little concern to the United States, but the increasing isolation and negative media portrayals are.

Unfairness in the international media may be hard to fight. But opening our minds and arms to other cultures and involving them in the world-issue decision making processes is absolutely necessary.

We must stay a part of the world community, which is more than just the United Nations.

Globalization is not a short term win-win situation. To be part of the world the United States will face short- and long-term sacrifices.

The benefits are solely long-term, but they might be the only way to fight terror – not with weapons that create more hate, but with open arms, minds and mouths that create diplomacy and peaceful solutions.