I don’t often comment on political events in this forum, but there’s something I’ve noticed in my recent travels that has disturbed me deeply. Admittedly my experiences overseas are limited, but I have noticed a significant shift in how America is perceived overseas, and this from believers among our closest allies. Where I used to hear warm appreciation for what America stood for and passionate support for our struggle against terrorism, I now hear the suspicion that we care only for ourselves and will walk over anyone to get what we want.
It’s almost embarrassing to travel as an American in the world these days. Our foreign policy in the last few years has conveyed an arrogance that alienates even our friends.
President Bush ran for office promising a new humility in American foreign policy. “Let us not dominate others with our power,” he said in 1999. “Let us have an American foreign policy that reflects American character — the modesty of true strength, the humility of real greatness. This will be the spirit of my administration.” During the October 200 debate he said the US was attemptiong too much abroad. “If we are an arrogant nation, they will resent us. If we’re a humble nation but strong, they’ll welcome us.”
The campaign rhetoric said he got that but his actions since have demonstrated that he does not. His policies only foster American self-interest without taking into consideration the needs and desires of other nations. Watch the language he uses to communicate with other countries. He talks down to them as a parent would scold a wayward child and in doing so only fosters resentment instead of cooperation.
When you can drop a cruise missile on a specific desk, through a specific window on a specific floor of a high-rise, you do not have to bluster your way around the world. There is no longer an evil empire to play good cop against and if we don’t walk wisely and humbly before the rest of the world we could easily become the common enemy as the last bully on the block.
Even though I receive countless emails from the latest Christian author or singer to come out the Oval Office professing how humble a man our president is, I no longer believe it. I used to chalk it up to his Texas bravado but am now convinced that our President cannot speak humbly before the world, because he really thinks our society superior, he believes our interests are the only ones that matter, and he despises those who don’t see things his way.
It appears now that President Bush’s commitment to war in Iraq was based on faulty intelligence. When we were being told to trust this administration because they knew more than they could tell us, it turns out they knew even less than they let on. Here’s where a bit of owning up would go a long way to dispel the notion of arrogance. But instead of admitting our mistake, he continues to defend it and even speaks about freeing Iraq with an evangelistic zeal, citing America’s divine mission to spread freedom throughout the world. It is scary if not also a bit oxymoronic to think of spreading freedom by military conquest. You cannot force people to embrace freedom and cannot give it to people who will not take it for themselves. The quest for freedom must rise from within a culture. When our founding fathers drafted the Declaration of Independence they put their very lives and fortunes on the line to gain what no one else could give them.
If countries in the Islamic world find freedom it’s because the progressive elements within in them will rise up and reject the tyranny of violence, brutality and control that keep them captive. They will speak out clearly and loudly even at great personal risk and only then will they know freedom from the terrorists and clerics that hold them captive. That said, we now have a great responsibility to support our troops in the most difficult of circumstances and do all we can to rebuild Iraq into a functioning society, if that is possible. We have to recognize that military power alone will never win this war if our rhetoric and policies only encourage others to take the place of those terrorists we kill or capture. For that we need the help of other nations around the world and to do that we’ll have to treat them as partners not as children.
If more Americans traveled abroad we might recognize our own arrogance better. Even as I write this I know many of my American friends will not appreciate what I’m writing (though I meet an increasing number who are uncomfortable with Bush’s language) and those overseas will. Americans are too often the loudest voices in the airports and talk to people of other nations as if we are experts on everything. We still measure temperature by Fahrenheit when everyone else uses Celsius and we are the only nation that hosts ‘World Championships’ without inviting the rest of the world to compete. We consume way too much of the world’s resources and only demonstrate greater greed for more. Even the entertainment we export glorifies our decadence in the name of profit. And sadly our culture treats the loss of American life as more tragic than the loss of any other.
In the minds of others these things are starting to outweigh our generosity that has helped suffering people the world over, our courage that has put our young men and women in harm’s way to rescue others from invasion and our creativity that has provided technology and resources for the world. If we don’t learn how to bend over backwards to play fairly alongside the other nations of the earth we cannot blame them if they join together against us as the mighty Goliath that needs to be knocked down a peg.
Humility is not weaknesses. The term is derived from the concept of controlled strength and pictures a warhorse at rest. Only the insecure and fearful have to boast and bluster. Those who are truly strong and confident can sit at ease until that strength is needed. They can act with resolve, but also compassion, earning people’s respect instead of their disdain. The war on terror will never be won by military might alone if we don’t also disarm the desperation and anger that feeds their army.
It is time for us to do some deep soul-searching in America sort out how we are being perceived in the world. If we cannot fund a more humble and gracious voice to the rest of the world we’ll find ourselves increasingly isolated. No matter what our military power can accomplish it will only succeed in further alienating our friends and inspiring further hatred in our enemies.