Even those of us who take strong exception to this misguided view (which is nearly as common at Harvard as in Hamas) must be deeply concerned about its worldwide prevalence. We must expand our foreign policy objectives to include efforts to cultivate both real and perceived consistency and moral legitimacy.
Last weekend was punctuated by forceful statements from protesters and political leaders alike. Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Boston, Berlin and Bangladesh, some burning effigies of Tony Blair and George Bush. Over 150,000 marched in Calcutta and 200,000 in Jakarta, where protesters chanted “Hang Bush now,” and “America Imperialist, number one terrorist.”
Amien Rais, the speaker of Indonesia’s top legislative body, proclaimed, “Bush is the real evil and the real terrorist.” Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad publicly stated his fear that the Iraq invasion was only the beginning in “a war to dominate the world.”
Regardless of whether war in Iraq is morally right, much of the world remains unconvinced. But even the most airtight evidence would fail to quell global anger—because the protests are about more than just Iraq. They are also a venting of frustrations over inequality and globalization, consumerism and materialism, insecurity and social change and decades of inconsistent and hypocritical American foreign policy.
America is certainly culpable for a number of these woes, but it is also the scapegoat for many more. Whatever the tally of blame, our nation is in desperate need of higher global approval ratings—we need to make a credible and sincere statement of our goals and intentions to promote global peace, protect human rights and create widespread prosperity.
To the irrepressible realists of Condi Rice’s ilk, we refer to the national interest: swelling global hatred toward America will only further increase our foreign military commitments and domestic security threats. These threats have already boosted our national terrorism barometer to Code Red.
Beyond strict security considerations, domestic and international trade will contract as people brace for the worst and face higher investment risks. Further economic contractions based on these fears will worsen an already ailing American economy. Foreign policy wonks often neglect to mention qualitative factors like the psychological benefits of peace and a feeling of security both domestically and abroad. The surge in domestic sales of gas masks and duct tape reflect a real change in our quality of life, not to mention the new dangers of traveling abroad when the world sees Americans as warmongers.
So, global popularity is way down and our national interest demands that we get it back up—what now?
First, stop thinking in outdated terms of national interest and security. This cynical realism is a self-fulfilling nightmare. Ironically, realist thinking endangers our security and eliminates significant economic opportunities. Policies need to be discussed in terms of global interests and values. Narrow patriotism is utterly unconvincing to a global audience.
Second, be humble. True patriotism is not blind to the sins of one’s motherland, but demands a high standard of justice. Therefore, America should issue a sincere mea culpa when it has hurt others either by intention or accident. Admitting one’s own faults lessens hypocrisy, disarms critics and allows others to similarly repent. Moreover, America’s legitimacy in correcting others is stronger if it is first willing to acknowledge and forsake its own sins.
Third, listen to the concerns and interests of other nations. America’s current trend of foreign policy ad hockery needs stability and consistency, and our role cannot be decided by domestic debate alone. Foreign leaders have insight as to how America can better assure peace and promote prosperity; we have much to learn and much to gain from cooperative, mutually beneficial relationships.
Building international trust will greatly improve America’s global political capital. Tragically, Bush’s coarse manner of declaring his intentions for war before presenting a compelling case or seeking international sanction utterly failed to persuade the world. Only bullies talk loudly and carry a big stick.
Yet if the elephant in the china shop can learn to step lightly, many opportunities for peace, prosperity and collaboration will remain intact. Three decades ago, only a hopeless dreamer would suggest that war would go out of style. Yet as we begin the 21st century, war has been shelved as a means of policy among developed nations and in the entire Western hemisphere. America’s leaders need to recognize and carefully protect this unique opportunity to peacefully expand the new world order of freedom and prosperity.
I believe that President Bush is a man of conscience who does not intend malice, but only to do what is right and best. Unfortunately, like many American presidents, he fails to incorporate broad international concerns into his foreign policy and sell a hopeful vision to the global community.
Richard T. Halvorson ’03 is a philosophy and government concentrator in Pforzheimer House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.