Tuesday, August 17, 2004

A Friend In Italy

Columnist Beppe Severgnini from the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, in his most recent article, puts himself in the shoes of an American and indulges in some hypothetical introspection:

If I were American, I’d be wondering why my country has gone down in the world’s estimation. I’d seek an explanation from the Bush administration, which appears to be less than entirely extraneous to this development. But I’m not American; I’m just a friend of America, so I’ll restrict myself to being sorry.
Truth be told, many Americans, including this one, do wonder at the precipitous decline in America's standing in the world, although most of us have learned long ago the futility of seeking an adequate explanation from the Bush administration. Instead, we are left to try to put together the pieces of humpty dumpty that lay scattered on the world stage in an attempt to discern the path to rehabilitation, to determine how it is possible that a proud nation that has only recently suffered mightily at the hands of "terrorism, fought for a century against dictatorships, welcomed migrants from all over the world, given the world a dozen Nobel Laureates and Julia Roberts, [can] still be so unpopular?"

Severgnini does pick up on one of the major impediments to this type of self-criticism: the reluctance of many Americans to even countenance the possibility that some portion of the blame belongs with themselves, or at least with their government's policies. It is much easier, and more comforting, to place the blame for our recently eroded standing in the world at the doorstep of jealousy and envy (the burden of being #1), or the usurping of our standing by a Franco-German old Europe conspiracy, or perhaps by the faint hearted liberals both here and abroad who cannot stomach the tough policies that are needed to combat radical Islamist terrorism (nevermind the fact that throughout the duration of the Cold War as the U.S. employed many extreme examples of "tough policies," America was at the apex of popularity in the Western World).

One thing is certain though, attempt to critique America's policies and the role they play in the shaping of the world's opinion, and face a backlash of accusations, insults and aspersions cast on your patriotism, character and intentions. Apparently, there are risks abroad as well:
Many people do not want even to listen to this kind of talk. Among them are Americans, and to an even greater extent America’s adulators. I see this myself, from my own small observatory. Every time someone criticizes the policies of George W. in my column, "Italians," that person receives a barrage of insults. From Italy, the offender is called a "communist" (wonder who they got that from?), and from America, if the individual is resident over there, they write, "If you don’t like it here, go home."
But what does burying your head in the sand, or worse still, shouting down the introspective accomplish? Is there really an explanation that can be divorced from our own role in this evolving debacle? Severgnini considers this alternative:

Of course, the world may have gone crazy. It may simply not see that the current administration is right all along the line, on preventive wars, [the Patriot Act], Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, international courts, the Red Cross, distrust of the United Nations, attempts to split Europe, general diffidence, and specific reticences.
Sure that is a possibility, but what would explain the sudden wrongheadedness of the rest of the world? Why now, after decades of U.S. foreign policy dominating the world stage, some of which marked by militaristic endeavors, would the world suddenly and collectively jump in unison to the wrong conclusions? Although there are many governments that still stand with us, even those ties are more tenuous than in the past, and in almost all of those countries, the populations are overwhelmingly and vehemently opposed to our recent policies at home and in Iraq. It is likely that at least some of these leaders will feel the weight of the political albatross that associating with the Bush administration will have on their political futures in upcoming elections. Aznar in Spain already has. Then again, there might be a drag from world opinion on the current administration's performance in November as well.

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