Monday, July 02, 2007

Love Americans Loathe America - full text

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John Bolton's attack on the US state department, the same week as the Pew poll on global attitudes, raises questions about American diplomacy: is it an oxymoron?
Ian Williams

July 1, 2007 5:00 PM

This week former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton lamented to the Jerusalem Post
that the Bush administration's foreign policy today was "not the same" because of what he complained was the state department's overwhelming dominance.

"The state department has adopted the European view and other voices have been sidelined," he moaned, complaining that the US is not currently pushing the military option against Iran. Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice "is overwhelmingly predominant on foreign policy," presumably discounting his chances of another recess appointment in American diplomacy.

Former UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali once noted that neither the Roman Empire nor the US had any patience for diplomacy, which is "perceived by an imperial power as a waste of time and prestige and a sign of weakness." However, as the Parthians, Goths, Huns and Vandals, were to show, not paying attention to the lesser breeds without the law can have penalties.

"American diplomacy" has often seemed liked an oxymoron, and no more so than when conducted by Bolton. Despite the professionalism of the state department (apart from occasional understandable lapses like when political appointees there rewarded Slovenia instead of Slovakia for joining the "coalition of the willing," in Iraq, American foreign policy is too often contrived by lobbyists and interest groups. Who would guess from watching Fox News or listening to GOP legislators that even after several years of swift-boating Kofi Annan, more Americans (48%) have a positive view of the UN (39%) than oppose it. Incidentally, that makes the UN more popular with Americans than George W. Bush - and, by extension, than John Bolton.

There are signs that the global public can be quite sophisticated. The Pew Poll this week showed that people across the world in 47 countries can distinguish between Americans and their country's foreign policy. It reported that "favorable ratings of America are lower in 26 of 33 countries for which trends are available."

But the pollsters report that while only 30% of Germans have a positive view of the US, 63% have a favorable opinion of its citizens. And while only slim majorities in Canada and Great Britain express a favorable opinion of the US, views of Americans as individuals are overwhelmingly positive. In the Middle East for obvious reasons, the US is widely distrusted and even while the locals support US calls for democracy, most people surveyed across the world assume that the US only supports democracy when it is expedient for its national interests.

Part of an effective diplomacy is "see ourselves as others see us," and that is something missing from how American foreign policy is formulated. In fact, looking at how badly and parochially US broadcast media covers foreign affairs, it's remarkable that the public is as sophisticated as it is. (One of the bemusing results is that while 42% of Israelis say that America is too supportive of their country, only 27% of Americans see their country's foreign policy biased toward Israel.)

For politicians in congress, foreign policy is like academic politics, the stakes are so low that anyone can play, with no significant penalty. As long as they do not cross any of the significant lobbies, whether Israel or Cuba, they can sign on for silly resolutions, sign up for boycotts and sanctions, confident that most of the public do not know what they are up to.

Almost as bad is the White House, and the Pentagon which it has stacked with conservative clones who share the same faith-based view of the world. The world's public, including Americans but presumably excluding the cheering Albanians, have a perceptively negative view of Bush's foreign policy.

That leaves the state department, whose professionals, when left to their own devices, often try to temper the excesses of Capitol Hill and the White House. If Bolton is right, it is a heartening change for the US and the world - and not just about Iran. Shame it is too late for Iraq.

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