Talk of America ‘s deteriorating image abroad has increased in recent months and weeks. In a speech given to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, for example, presidential hopeful Sen. Barrack Obama D-Ill. said Monday that President Bush’s leadership of the United States “disappointed” the world and, as such, has ceded its position as the leader of the free world. Hillary Clinton, another frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has even talked of making her husband, former president Bill Clinton, a mobile ambassador who would serve as a “cheerleader” for the United States to clean up the country’s reputation abroad. In an interview for Newsweek, George Clooney said he’d always examined his country “from the outside in,” and thus associated criticism of the United States from Europeans as evidence of America’s bad behavior. He explained: “It is probably the worst time ever for us internationally. When you go to Europe, for the most part, they just hate us. Not individually, but they think we are just like these big bullies – and quite honestly, we have acted like that.”
Clearly, some public figures have come to the conclusion that America isn’t well liked. But it’s more important to identify what these figures haven’t done, which is to dig deeper into the issue of the nation’s unpopularity in international circles. Instead, they have automatically associated widespread dislike of America with justification for said dislike.
In assuming such a position, pundits and politicians seem to have been snared by the bait that comprises an appeal to belief. In other words, the likes of Obama, the Clintons, and Clooney erroneously think that the not-so-infrequently stars-and-stripes-burning consortium known politely as the “world community” is right in its assessment of the United States, and that U.S. policy should change just because so many nations and people hold anti-U.S. positions.
But a widely held belief isn’t truth. The moon is not made of cheese, regardless of whether one – or a thousand – people think it is.
It would take a bit more evidence to establish that the United States is comprised of bullies, or that it has done something veritably disappointing.
Moreover, the idea that worldwide disapproval has anything to do with how correct the United States is in its actions assumes that popularity conveys truth or moral judgment. It is only reasonable that dislike doesn’t serve as proof of the decrepitude of an object or individual.
As corny as it may seem, I’ll illustrate this with a personal example. The fact that I was a bit opinionated and didn’t spend my high school years giggling didn’t exactly win points with the “in-crowd,” let alone nominate me for prom queen. But such unpopularity in no way reflected upon my moral character, or mean that my choice to participate in Science Olympiad was a poor one, either.
Thus, the whole world can go ahead and hate America – but more data than hatred is needed to make a valid moral judgment about the country.
So I guess the need for Bill Clinton as a cheerleader is less acute.
Of course, some may argue that I’m highlighting the absolute meaninglessness of American unpopularity to rah-rah a country laden with problems with blind devotion. Understandably, I would disagree. Sure, America has its fair share of problems: Taxes are a bit high for my taste, and I’m not sure some of the rhetoric coming out of Congress is constructive in a time of war – but these problems are neither recognized nor tackled by using the scorn of others as a political tool.
Frankly, America shouldn’t care that much about its reputation, if at all. America should judge the merits of its policies on whether they uphold its values of liberty and individual rights, not based upon “world opinion,” which – judging from the state of much of the rest of the world – overwhelmingly favors neither.
Victoria Bekiempis is a sophomore majoring in history and French.