Found this great article on the Observer Website. I think he hits the nail on the head regarding why the world is no pro-American. What do you think?
How to save Brand America
As Iraqis quake in justified terror, Americans fret about the threat to their ‘values’ and wonder why they are so widely disliked. Here one friend of America lists the reasons… and the remedy
Sunday March 23, 2003
On Friday evening a spokesman from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles explained that it was important to continue with a scaled-down Oscar ceremony ‘when American values were under attack’. As his statement was relayed by the BBC we learned that American B52s had dropped their payload over Iraq and that hundreds of cruise missiles were striking at Baghdad. The TV screen began to pulse with livid blooms from the explosions.
I can’t have been the only one to wonder how the man from the Academy had produced the classic response of victimhood when at that very moment American values were being unambiguously asserted at the heart of Saddam’s regime. That night’s bombing will be remembered in the Arab world for a generation or more.
No one in the Middle East can possibly fail to take the lesson about the reach and precision of US military might, let alone the determination to use it. But once the hostilities are over in Iraq, the greatest challenge to the American Imperium is to replace some of the fear that the bombing has inspired with a reputation for fairness and doing what it has promised in Iraq and Palestine.
Last year, before Bush had decided to act on Iraq, the White House commissioned a report from advertising and media executives on the way America was seen in the world. The report shook Bush. Even America’s allies characterised the US as arrogant, self-aborbed and hypocritical. Bush reacted by setting up an office of global communications in the White House, removing the responsibility for selling ‘Brand America’ from the State department. It duly began work last autumn.
If selling the US presented problems last year, the task is vastly more difficult today. A country which stands for individual freedom and whose people are so eager to do the right thing – even though, as Churchill observed, they may explore all other options beforehand – is now considered by millions to be halfway between behemoth and pariah.
Americans are amazed by the slide in their standing, particularly after the attacks of 9/11. Last year Congressman named Henry Hyde asked: ‘How is it that a country that invented Hollywood and Madison Avenue has allowed such a destructive and parodied image of itself to become the intellectual coin of the realm?’
The short answer to this is that Hollywood and Madison Avenue are used to sell the American dream to Americans and a once-receptive audience outside the US. They are not remotely equipped to address the deep rifts in policy and purpose which have opened up between the United States and the rest of the world. Like it or not, America is seen as greedy and domineering, and this is a dangerous development for all those who believe that liberal democracy depends on America’s success and acceptance in the world.
In the two-and-half years since Bush came to power after a disputed Florida count involving just 170,000 unreadable ballot papers, attitudes have greatly sharpened, partly because Bush’s mandate remained unconvincing but also because of the unapologetic nature of his regime. The exercise of power came to the new administration as second nature.
Many of its members – Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz – were veterans of up to four previous Republican administrations. In exile they had seized the idea – in a way Clinton never chose to – that the power of the US, financially, technologically and militarily, could and should be deployed to consolidate American dominance in the twenty-first century.
At the same time, Bush seemed a second-rate figure and his unshakeable self-satisfaction was hard to attribute to any achievement or intellectual distinction. Instead, he appeared to be the passive beneficiary of his father’s career. And George Junior seemed to be a man so untroubled by his actions that he was in bed and asleep 45 minutes after addressing the nation on TV this week. To many this was the action of a man too breezily unimaginative to envisage the bombardment that would take place over Baghdad. Unfair maybe, but that is how it looked.
Another characteristic of the administration which is responsible for the new levels of anti-Americanism is that it not only disdains meaningful consultation with lesser powers, it does not even bother to go through the motions. When Roosevelt returned from Yalta he stopped off in Egypt to consult and explain. When America was building the alliance for the 1991 Gulf war, Secretary of State James Baker toured the Middle East to reassure Turkey and its Arab neighbours. Bush, on the other hand, has no knowledge of the Middle East and his Secretary of State Colin Powell has mostly remained in Washington and New York these past months to make sure that Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz didn’t make a grab for US foreign policy.
But it would be wrong to blame Bush and co for America’s reputation today. Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the victory of the 1991 Gulf war there has been a gradual increase in what historian and author Margaret Macmillan, in her book, Peacemakers , calls ‘American exceptionalism’.
‘Faith in their own exceptionalism,’ she writes, ‘has sometimes led to a certain obtuseness on the part of Americans, a tendency to preach at other nations rather than listen to them, a tendency to assume that American motives are pure where those of others are not.’
The habit of exceptionalism came to the fore during the Clinton era when despite a seemingly amenable diplomatic stance there were many occasions when America opted out. It was of course Clinton’s government that failed to sign a treaty banning landmines because US personnel might be compromised in the Korean demilitarised zone. Clinton also refused to ratify the treaty to set up the International Criminal Court in Rome. Why? Because America believes its international responsibilities as chief peacekeeper and enforcer placed its citizens at unusual risk of prosecution.
In his first months of the Bush presidency the US opted out the Kyoto agreement to limit carbon emissions and the Anti-Ballistic Missiles treaty on the grounds that it wanted to develop a missile defence system. Last summer plans to provide the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention with inspection powers were blocked by the Bush administration – which, given the pretext for going to war on Iraq, certainly seems a bit rich.
Across a broad range of activities America either asserted its right to special privileges or simply declared itself to be above the law. The most starkly hypocritical example was when in March last year the free trade enthusiasts of the Republican administration capitulated to demands by US steel makers to impose tough new tariffs on steel imports. At the same time America, as a country which strongly advocated a plan to reduce subsidies and tariffs in farming around the world, insisted on its right to give $100 billion in subsidies to its own farmers.
It has become clear that America has been shrewdly manipulating many agendas in its own interests. Some of these initiatives are so obscure or technical that they never reach the public consciousness, but they are important nonetheless.
For instance, in January last year Professor Robert Hunter Wade of the London School of Economics pointed out that the US had manipulated ‘the World Trade Organisation to commit to a General Agreement on Trade in Services that will facilitate a global market in private health care, welfare, pensions, education and water, supplied – naturally – by US companies, and which will undermine political support for universal access to social services in developing countries’.
Later in the same article he says: ‘Globalisation and global supervisory organisations enable the United States to harness the rest of the world to its own rhythms and structures.’
In other words, we are dancing to the American tune, probably much more than any of us in the cushioned West appreciate. In the developing world, however, there is a strong yet ill-defined sense that living standards are kept low in order to allow Americans to consume far more than they actually produce.
It would be unfair to reach these harsh conclusions without pointing out that America does provide much aid and expertise to the developing world and pours billions of dollars into peacekeeping operations. Still there is a gathering conviction that America is, to use the word of the moment, in state of persistent non-compliance on too many protocols, agreements, treaties and conventions to number. And that cannot be a good thing for the reputation of the US, nor an impression easily reversed by a few eager young men selling Brand America.
To a fond outsider like myself, America has become perplexingly inconsistent. Though this administration talks up democratic values it actively supports dictatorships in Pakistan and central Asia, and wobbled when a democratically elected government was threatened with a coup in Venezuela. Too often the Bush government’s principles are forgotten in the cause of political expedience. And this has been true during the fight against terrorism at home where suspects have been arrested and isolated from the normal judicial process without a qualm.
I’ve been amazed how quickly Americans have gone along with the loss of treasured and symbolic rights and saddened that the American media has not done more to oppose the authorities.
It is difficult to overestimate the shock that 9/11 delivered to the American psyche. Security has become a national obsession. It seems odd to the outside world that while US troops were being deployed in the Gulf, Americans were stocking up on bottled water and tape to seal their homes from chemical weapons attacks. There is something rather panicky and self-obsessed about the US today and it is in this atmosphere that any challenge to the government or security agencies is immediately classed as unpatriotic.
Americans will bridle at these observations, but as Philip Roth pointed out in October, since 9/11 they have indulged in ‘an orgy of national narcissism and a gratuitous victim mentality which is repugnant’.
Now the bombs have rained on Baghdad it is time for America to stop worrying about its values being under attack and to re-engage with the world, showing the openness and generosity that was once so admired. That is the only way to reinvigorate Brand America.
· Empire State, a novel by Henry Porter about a US/UK counter-terrorist operation, is published by Orion in September.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003