Your Most Trusted Source of Foreign News and Views About the United States
By Fawaz Turki
October 5, 2005
Original Article (English)
If all the world’s a stage, then what’s
playing on it is
To their credit, Americans care what people
around the world think of them, and are always anxious to limit or reverse
the erosion of trust in their country by the international community. To
that extent, they are unique. Big powers in history, from imperial Rome to colonial
The problem here is not American popular culture - which is beloved and emulated everywhere - or even American political culture, imbued with the richest ideals of freedom, democracy, and individual rights, ideas embraced by a people who, since 1776, have valued diversity and openness in their lives, and continue to expect candor and accountability from their elected officials.
Rather, the problem is American foreign policy, which remains, where it is not bellicose, overtly and unabashedly moralistic in tone. Unless you live like us, they seem to be saying, yours is an inferior species of social formation.
Thus, Americans refuse to believe, say, Saudi Arabians, Egyptians and Indonesians when these folks explain that they are not advancing the notion that the American system is bad, just that it is bad for, or incompatible with, their own culture and traditions.
This missionary point of view, to Americanize the world, as it were, has its roots in American history and comes straight out of the Puritan ethic. The paradigm of these folks was derived from world view that not only should Americans spurn a corrupt Europe, but that they had a “manifest destiny” in the New World, the right to "overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions."
This worldview, theological in the extreme, has remained a key part of the American archetype, and has been taken up by generations of political leaders, from Woodrow Wilson to George W. Bush.
After World War I, for example, Wilson claimed that the U.S. had “seen visions that other nations have not seen,” and Bush, on the eve of war in Iraq, proclaimed that “we go forward with confidence, because this call of history has come to the right country ... the liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world; it is God’s gift to humanity.”
America is gigantic, and the mistakes it has made in recent years have been the same size, from its involvement in the civil war in Vietnam in the 1960s to its manic support of Israel all these years, from its backing of two-bit dictators around the world during the Cold War (otherwise known with regret these days as “stability at the cost of democracy”) to its invasion of Iraq three years ago. Enter Karen Hughes in her visit to the Middle East during the last week of September.
So what did President Bush’s public diplomacy
guru end up doing there? What did
Hughes, a former reporter for a local Texas television station and close confidante to Bush when he was governor of the state, is an improbable ambassador. She has little foreign policy experience and her pedestrian, at times vapid, responses to questions raised by people in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey showed she knew precious little about the region’s social concerns and political preoccupations.
Charged with burnishing the
In Cairo, when she asked a group of college students how
many of them had voted in the recent presidential election, only one hand
shot up. The next day, she worked into her standard speech a heartwarming
story about meeting someone who had participated in the first multiparty
She also repeatedly claimed, in an interview on Al-Jazeera, that President Bush was the first American leader to call for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, ignorant as she was of the fact that President Bill Clinton worked tirelessly to achieve that goal in the last few months of his tenure in the White House. (Come to think of it, President Carter had called for a “Palestinian homeland” while in office.)
Let the record show that no one has identified the gushy Hughes as an “ugly American,” just an inane one.
The source of anti-American attitudes in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world and in Western Europe, is clearly not American culture or American values, but, as Edward P. Djereijan, a retired diplomat who had served as ambassador in Damascus, said in an interview last week, “It’s the policies, stupid.”
I for one see no contradiction between people around the world listening to John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix, watching Martin Scorcese’s “Taxi Driver” and Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” on the big screen, attending a production of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” reading Philip Roth and Norman Mailer, and heck, yes, wearing Levis and eating Big Macs, and slamming President Bush for his foreign policies. Let’s face it, a lot of Americans do just that every day of the week.
Karen Hughes’ visit to the Middle East would not have merited a column here were it not for the egregious remarks she kept making, especially in Saudi Arabia, about how Hamas militants are essentially a bunch of terrorists and how when Israel hits at them, it is hitting back in retaliation. She said that right there, as a guest, in the heartland of our world.
Thanks, Karen, message master, communications guru and undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. You came to our part of the world to aim at the public’s heart, and you ended up hitting it in the stomach.