Does the Popularity of the United States Matter and Should It Affect Policy Decisions?

Posted by Frederick Jones
January 9, 2008
Protesters of U.S. Foreign Policy

Lots of polls show that foreign publics have a poor opinion of the U.S. Some people argue that this means the U.S. should change its policies to make them more popular outside the U.S. Others contend that foreign policy decisions need to reflect U.S. national interests, irrespective of their popularity.

Does the popularity of United States matter and should it affect policy decisions?



January 10, 2008

Ralph in Greece writes:

I think that the U.S.A. should not weigh heavily (foreign public opinion) when making U.S. policy. Sure, listening to foreign opinion can be useful as is any marketing-research, but ultimately U.S. policy should set for citizens of the United States of America.

With this said, it would not hurt to enlist our most trusted allies toward a common goal in foreign policy around the world.

However, please do not let anti-American sentiment around the globe turn Americans into appeasers, or back us away from our objectives.

United Kingdom
January 10, 2008

Karl in U.K. writes:

National interests should always come first, that is the primary duty of government anywhere not just the United States. I write as a British citizen.

The issue hinges on whether the national interest is better served by implementing policies promoting mutual understanding and long-term benefits or, by short term or purely selfish policies that undermine other nations' peace and prosperity.

While I believe the United States is a force for good in the world, recent years have demonstrated world opinion is deeply unhappy and justifiably so. Is this the result of selfish short-term policies or as a result of long-term efforts that only happen to be unpopular at the moment?

Only time will tell.

United States
January 10, 2008

David in U.S. writes:

For nearly five decades, I worked on assistance projects in 42 developing nations. During my early years, most of the indigenous populations viewed the U.S. as the "beacon-on-the-hill." In recent years, most indigenous populations view the U.S. as the "outhouse-in-the-swamp." The opinions of those we seek to assist, for reasons of our own national security interests, must generally be positive in order for the U.S. to achieve its goals. Over the years, we have failed to properly identify why we are "cultivating" hatred. The U.S. does not need to focus on making policies that make us popular --- but we do need to design policies creating obvious benefits for host nations and peoples. Once we can do this, the U.S. will obtain cooperation (if not popularity) as we seek to accomplish our objectives.

January 11, 2008

Jessica in China writes:

@ Ralph in Greece -- Ralph, you wrote : "With this said, it would not hurt to enlist our most trusted allies toward a common goal in foreign policy around the world."

I think that is the problem with American foreign policy nowadays. We all agree on the fact that the United States is the most powerful and influencial country at the moment. But this position does not entail eternal wisdom. When you talk about "enlisting trusted allies" you make it sound as though their opinion did not count.

A policy -especially a foreign policy- should of course be based on a country's needs, but it should also be discussed with others.

To change one's opinion after hearing out someone else's point of view is not a sign of weekness but on the contrary a sign of intelligence and self-confidence.

California, USA
January 12, 2008

Shane in California writes:

The focus of our foreign policy needs to reflect U.S. national interest irrespective of their popularity, but it's obvious that our job is made harder by animus from our partners. Is the reason for this animus always the result of well thought out reactions to assumed injuries by America? Of course not, and it follows that this country, being as influential as it is around the world, will attract discontent with the policies and proscriptions we choose to employ. It's a big world, with many players, and the reactions to American influence are largely political and cultural, and often compartmentalize the aid and charity this country gives and the decisions it makes relative to our interests. If we are to take the opinion of those in the Middle East seriously, then they need to control the killers that stream out of that region. If we are to take the opinions of Europeans seriously, then they need to assume responsibility for their own security and send Americans defending them home. It's easy to bite the hand that feeds you to soothe the feelings of inadequacy that arise from being dependent on hand outs. I think America deserves some credit for taking such ingratitude with grace...

United States
January 12, 2008

Jon in U.S. writes:

In an increasingly globalized world, the opinions of foreign nations in regards to the U.S.'s policies should take a bigger role. We can't do it on our own. Right after 9/11, world support for America was at an all-time high. There were even pro-U.S. demonstrations in Iran? What happened since then? Where did our administration go wrong? I believe that our administration took 9/11 as a blank check to do whatever it wanted, which history will show was a poor decision and decreased our moral standing in the world.

January 14, 2008

Lorenzo in Italy writes:

I think every national government, but in particular U.S. government, has got the option of conducting their foreign policy disregarding foreign audiences opinions. The point I want to make here, though, is that the United States(and only the United States) has demonstrated to have the capacity to work together other nations in the name of common ideals and not ONLY interests!
Which is this ideal nowadays? ”Worldwide democracy?” Well I don't think it could be the winning one! Economic growth? Well yes, this still works, but it became clear that growth cannot be unlimited.

Ideal is about giving people a positive picture of the future, and why not, by using a bit of imagination, because if it is the leader of the biggest 'kid in the block' using it, then people will be more likely to dream!

I strongly think that U.S. should lead and not undergo the environmental pollution issue which is constraining economic growth and producing dramatically pessimistic views of the future. It's exactly at this point that US leadership should break in. The ideas will provide political support worldwide in as much as new markets.

P.S. I apologize for my English!!

Texas, USA
January 14, 2008

Matt in Texas writes:

I think essentially foreign policy is a popularity contest, so yes the popularity of the United States matters. I also think that in a time of globalization, foreign and domestic affairs are becoming blurred. Meaning that what goes on over there affects us over here, and vice versa. As such, I feel that a foreign policy that is beneficial to other countries is beneficial to the United States.

Certainly the United States should look after its own interests first, but to a point. If we pursue a policy that is always "the United States first" and everyone else second, then we will find ourselves isolated and countries unwilling to deal with us. At some point, we have to be willing to level the playing field.

I think history has shown that policies that focus on only that countries policies without regard to the other country, have unforeseen consequences. A good example is Afghanistan.

Tennessee, USA
January 14, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

The ideology of strengthening Democracy worldwide is paramount to maintaining a secure democratic base in the U.S.

I'm afraid that more often than not, there are peripherals which are not direct policy of any presiding administration, but reflections of what is perceived by our Social and Corporate actions here in the U.S. and overseas which are the underlying cause of problems.

The consideration of culture, which is something that is not transferable, is confused with Policy as well.

The feeling that policy will mandate an alteration of culture is the major problem in the Middle East. Though this is not the case, it is the platform base for propaganda used by the terrorist.

Perhaps better insight to merging and understanding of goal orientation of policy is needed at both ends of policy and extended more directly to the citizens involved.

Missouri, USA
January 14, 2008

Michael in Missouri writes:

Yes, it matters, especially when we encourage allies to go along with policies unpopular in their home countries. They throw out the canard that they cannot support us because of anti-U.S. sentiment, when the reasons may be different (or that might very well be the reason). That being said, we need to do what's in our interest.

California, USA
January 14, 2008

S in San Francisco writes:

Do foreign publics have a poor opinion of the U.S., or of the current U.S. foreign policy? I suspect the later. As do the majority of Americans. The U.S. should change it's foreign policy toward embracing international security and stop letting thirst for control of fossil fuels drive policy. If all the resources that went into Iraq went instead to hunting down Osama Bin Laden, and ensuring that his potential recruits had realistic, better economic alternatives, would Al-Qaeda be as big a threat as it is today, now more than 6 years since 9/11? Public opinion abroad is not a road-map to steer-by, but rather a warning light that we might not be adhering to the Golden Rule. God Bless the U.S.A. Let us learn and move-on.

New Jersey, USA
January 14, 2008

Mario in New Jersey writes:

We are reaping the rational judgment of decades of foreign policies that have focused either on providing aid in order to obligate or curry favor toward us, or on pursuing our own goals without regard for the interest of others. America has been at her best -- and rightly perceived so -- when we have acted in our own interests but also in pursuit of our higher, global values (e.g. the Marshall Plan). No nation with pride wants to be manipulated, whether by bribery or coercion. But nations can sometimes see beyond pride in order to join with others in pursuit of a noble, mutually beneficial goal. I long for the return of the spirit in which WE can see beyond OUR pride.

January 14, 2008

Zharkov writes:

Of course popularity matters. Saddam Hussein was highly unpopular with Arab nations, so there was little protest when the U.S. decided to invade. In some cases, a nation's popularity, or lack thereof, creates foreign policy.

Regarding Guantanamo, the chief of the U.S. military said Sunday he favors closing the prison there as soon as possible because he believes negative publicity worldwide about treatment of terrorist suspects has been "pretty damaging" to the image of the United States.

"I'd like to see it shut down," Adm. Mike Mullen said in an interview with three reporters who toured the detention center with him on his first visit since becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last October.

The perception that the U.S. government is controlled by war criminals has resulted in arrest warrants issued for Donald Rumsfeld, C.I.A. employees, Henry Kissinger, and others, over the years. This perception appears to be supported by sufficient evidence to convince various judges to issue arrest warrants. A lack of popularity can have serious consequences for our leader's holiday plans.

New Mexico, USA
January 14, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Inherently, change is viewed with suspicion as a threat to culture and ways of tradition and ethical belief systems. As it applies to developing countries in this nuclear age, the post-cold war aftermath presents a vast paradox that present no easy solutions, and has culminated in the reality of the war on terrorism as it exists today.

Being the world's "only superpower" has made the U.S. prime cannon fodder for hegemonic conspiracy theorists, and often we are accused by hostile nations of what they themselves are most guilty of.

Bin laden's strategy was to use 9/11 as a trigger to get us to react in a way that would discredit the U.S. by the indiscriminate use of overwhelming force in response. This he believed would be the source of legitimacy for his global call for holy war. Didn't exactly turn out as he wished, did it?

1.3 billion Muslims aren’t the end of the day, what has jihad built? Capital investment? A better standard of living? Better schools, housing and infrastructure? Security? Peaceful coexistence? A prosperous society?

Khomeini’s "Utopia"?????

Today one sees the reaction of the Iranian government to the President's speech on Sunday in which he stated a blunt and undeniable fact. That the world's leading sponsor of terror is a threat to all nations.

There are so many reasons already existing as to why someone should step on the Grand Ayatollah's neck and the collective neck of the Iranian government, that the latest NIE is worthless to those who would seize upon its conclusions to achieve "peace at any price".

Historically, the facts are clear. You don't make love or war half-way. Ain't nobody gonna be satisfied, no way, no how. So why on this blue Earth would anyone contemplate the folly of thinking a few cruse missiles or diplomacy alone would equal "behavior change" from a theocratical mindset that takes its cue from a twisted interpretation of "God's will" , not the political will of the international community.

My idea of a "diplomatic effort" would therefore be to offer the Mullahs the chance to go back to the mosque and abhor politics forevermore, to preach peace so they could live in peace, or suffer serious consequences.

If the final tally of pro's and con's are summed up in decision making by the intent to save lives; as to whether the international community can afford to allow this abysmal excuse for a government to continue to exist as a continued threat to global peace and security.

Let us then hope we have the common sense and purpose to ensure the quickest, most effective regime change ever executed via force of arms and diplomacy.

I mean everybody. Russia, China, NATO, being the first time in 60+ years we've stood on the same side against terror and tyranny. Funny how things come full circle sometimes, naturally, and of necessity.

To bomb or not to bomb is not the question. Rather when does it become necessary to level the playing field for the Iranian people to have half a chance to realize a future free from ethical infants who are driving their people over oblivion's cliff? Dragging the entire region into chaos along with is not acceptable. Naturally enough, those who sponsor terror should live in fear.

I would remind those who consider anything "limited" as an option of the human cost of leaving Saddam Hussein in power after Gulf War I. The Taliban and Osama...9/11...and the results of "limited" is quite obviously that we'll be back to clean up a mess and get the job done right in a few years hence, leaving increasing risk ever present until then.

I'm for doing things effectively the first time. You save lives that way, even in war. We are at war whether we want to be or not, whether we admit we are or not, we are in a state of hostilities with the government of Iran, not just Al-Qaida....28 years on now since Khomeini publicly endorsed our demise as a nation and invested time, manpower, and state resources to achieve it.

Some say that the best way to prolong the regime is to bomb it. Based on an erroneous premise that there will be a regime left to contemplate tapping into some mythical "people's support" after the bombs fall.

One would think 70 million Iranians wouldn't let their government put them at risk if Uncle Sam and Co. decides to change the ethical infant's diapers, but 28 years of organized oppression has had an effect on the Iranian people's ability to act of their own accord in an organized manner to change their system of government.

The one great strength America has going beyond all others from a credibility standpoint is that we as a nation actually give folks a choice and a chance. Not just with a vote, but we have the common decency to give nations and peoples the choice between war and peace.

January 15, 2008

Zharkov writes:

The term, "foreign policy", is too general, while the policies which the U.S. government implements that anger foreign citizens are usually specific things that can easily be listed by them. So which policies might be a problem? Has the State Department ever taken a survey of foreign citizens in europe or elsewhere to determine which American foreign policy bothers them, or does State rely entirely on editorials in the New York Times?

Could it be that foreign citizens resent CIA and State Department meddling in their domestic politics and elections?

Certainly the Russians object to being lectured about democracy by the State Department while the CIA is fomenting "color revolutions" in Eastern Europe. The Serbs objected to being bombed by NATO and to American support for an independent Kosovo which historically is part of Serbia; and it is not surprising that the average Russian agrees with Serbia. Iraqis object to American proposals to occupy Iraq for the next 100 years.

American influence on foreign elections reveals a pattern of officious intermeddling through CIA-created NGOs, threats, bribes, support for coups, dirty tricks, disinformation, financing opposition parties, while the American national interest in all of this is far from clear. Yassir Arafat died a multimillionaire on U.S. foreign aid, as did African dictators, yet their people are still dying in miserable civil wars. The American interest in spending American tax money to create an elite club of wealthy foreign heads of state is unclear, and unrelated to any legitimate American interest.

However, when OPEC was created to monopolize oil pricing - a form of economic warfare which was directly against the American national interest - almost nothing was done by the U.S. government other than a rather faint grumbling from Congress mostly for domestic consumption.

Oil has since risen from 25 cents a barrel to $100.00 a barrel while OPEC threatens to raise it far higher, indicating that $100.00 seems rather cheap in the opinion of the wealthy Saudi families.

What sanctions have the State Department proposed against OPEC members and their oil trust, along with Sherman Act co-conspirators, the oil companies?

Which is the bigger threat to America's national interest, Iran or ten thousand dollar-a-barrel oil?

Where is the national interest in saving Iran's voters from their own government, which they elected, while OPEC renders it extremely expensive to send US troops anywhere? The fuel burned by the U.S. military in the Vietnam War helped to exhaust the domestic U.S. oil supply and the oil imported for military use in Iraq is gone forever, along with the dollars that bought it. Our 50% devaluated dollar is sinking fast while Saudi-dominated OPEC has decided to dump it permanently, the equivalent of an economic attack worse than Pearl Harbor and 9/11 combined. Oddly, there is still time to neutralize OPEC but no official interest in doing so. Why?

It's obvious that the present popularity of American government is as low in the rest of the world as it is in America. Perhaps the way to start improving America's image is by looking out for America's own national interest for a change? This is the "change" people want from the next election.

District Of Columbia, USA
January 17, 2008

Dan in Washington, DC writes:

Regarding the inter-relationship between U.S. popularity, our nation's foreign policy and our principles, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late Senator / Ambassador and great thinker, offered these provocative perspectives, found in his 1984 book Loyalties "…but that is what principles are for: to inform conduct when affairs seem out of control or beyond comprehension."

That the U.S. was one of the oldest standing governments on earth -- one of only eight that has not had its form of government changed by force since 1914, and that as one of these oldest government, we "had learned the importance of elemental truth-telling and the appalling cost of lies."

That "arrogance is yet a great danger. And there is a certain arrogance in the view that the behavior of other nations is primarily responsive to the behavior of (the U.S.)"

And more recently, Moynihan offered these remarks, relative to the purpose and popularity of U.S. engagement in the world, during a 2002 commencement address to Harvard University (this entire Moynihan’s speech can be found at

(It was once written) that America was "the land of the second chance" and so indeed it seemed. Because we (now continue to) have that second chance; A chance to define our principles and stay true to them. The more then, to keep our system open as much as possible, with our purposes plain and accessible, so long as we continue to understand what the 20th century has surely taught, which is that open societies have enemies, too. Indeed, they are the greatest threat to closed societies, and, accordingly, the first object of their enmity.

We are committed, as the Constitution states, to "the Law of Nations," but that law as properly understood. Many have come to think that international law prohibits the use of force. To the contrary, like domestic law, it legitimates the use of force to uphold law in a manner that is itself proportional and lawful.

Democracy may not prove to be a universal norm. But decency would do. Our present conflict, as the President says over and again, is not with Islam, but with a malignant growth within Islam defying the teaching of the Q'uran that the struggle to the path of God forbids the deliberate killing of noncombatants. Just how and when Islam will rid itself of current heresies is something no one can say. But not soon. Christianity has been through such heresy -- and more than once. Other clashes will follow.

Certainly we must not let ourselves be seen as rushing about the world looking for arguments. There are now American armed forces in some 40 countries overseas. Some would say too many. Nor should we let ourselves be seen as ignoring allies, disillusioning friends, thinking only of ourselves in the most narrow terms. That is not how we survived the 20th century.

Nor will it serve in the 21st.

Last February, some 60 academics of the widest range of political persuasion and religious belief, a number from here at Harvard, including Huntington, published a manifesto: "What We're Fighting For: A Letter from America."

It has attracted some attention here; perhaps more abroad, which was our purpose. Our references are wide, Socrates, St. Augustine, Franciscus de Victoria, John Paul II, Martin Luther King, Jr., Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We affirmed "five fundamental truths that pertain to all people without distinction," beginning "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."
We allow for our own shortcomings as a nation, sins, arrogance, failings. But we assert we are no less bound by moral obligation. And finally, ...reason and careful moral reflection ... teach us that there are times when the first and most important reply to evil is to stop it.

But there is more. Forty-seven years ago (following the end of WWII), on this occasion (Harvard's commencement ceremony), General George C. Marshall summoned our nation to restore the countries whose mad regimes had brought the world such horror. It was an act of statesmanship and vision without equal in history. History summons us once more in different ways, but with even greater urgency. Civilization need not die. At this moment, only the United States can save it. As we fight the war against evil, we must also wage peace, guided by the lesson of the Marshall Plan -- vision and generosity can help make the world a safer place.

New Mexico, USA
January 16, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Zarkov -- Zarkov wrote;

"Which is the bigger threat to America's national interest, Iran or ten thousand dollar-a-barrel oil?

Where is the national interest in saving Iran's voters from their own government, which they elected, while OPEC renders it extremely expensive to send US troops anywhere."

Well Zarkov, I'd say if the Mullahs of Iran try and make good on their repeated threats to close the Persian Gulf to international shipping, you won't have to worry about the price of oil because all the other affected OPEC nations in the region will gladly donate it to us to rid them of Iran's ethical infants. Besides, we're already there. Cost in dollars isn't the issue, it's the human toll that folks like the President are trying to mitigate....thus diplomatic solutions are being explored by all concerned.

As far as your understanding of Iranian politics goes, I have a little story that might amuse you. See, a friend of mine has family there, and one of them was arrested for making a comment about the election in 2005. Released the day of the election on the condition that he get all 30 of his family members to vote 3 times apiece...or face prison.
I found it interesting that there were campaign posters hung in the streets, written in eye candy for the Western press. Guess they did a good job of convincing you that Iranian elections are legitimate, and reflect the will of the people.
That the candidates were chosen for the people from get go, not by them, must have escaped your notice.

But then, considering that the rest of your post is rather exaggerated and a parody of the truth in general, I'm not at all surprised you think the Dept. of State formulates foreign policy recommendations to the President after reading a New York Times editorial (chuckle).

I've often wondered why folks that have complaint don't seem to offer solutions along with. Seems only fair, so I do.

Well my friend, my dad and I were having a talk on politics long ago and he had some sage advice for me that seems appropriate to pass on here (may it serve you well):

"Son", he said, "Never believe anything you hear, and only half of what you read. But believe what you see and get your eyes checked often."

Last time I got my eyes checked, there were a whole lot more people with a chance to live the way they want, free to build nations in their own cultural idioms than ever before, thanks in part to the US standing with them in their struggles for freedom. But mostly because they themselves demanded it of their own accord.

As a nation, we can offer up and voice a concept called democracy, even provide a number of blueprints from a few successful democracies to provide inspiration to those building their own. But it is after all their nations, not ours, and they are the ones that must live with their creation.

It is in our national interests to see that they can. Why? Because we Americans have this seemingly unique ability to turn enemies into friends via democracy.

Virginia, USA
January 17, 2008

Joseph in Virginia writes:

I think that those that dislike U.S. foreign policy, at least in the Middle East, do not see it as driven but U.S. interests so much as interest groups in the U.S. In fact, many have argued, in the U.S. and abroad, that U.S. Middle East policy does not truly act in the best interests of the nation.

This perception erodes the belief that the U.S. is a wise democracy and serves as justification for distrust of America and violence against her. The perception may or may not be right, but it does not need to be right to be powerful.

New York, USA
January 17, 2008

Ronald in New York writes:

Is America's popularity important? Does it matter? If you are still asking, you might never get it. Are you looking for a 51% response that says: "We don't care how others see us, and we won't change even if they don't like us?" How infantile can you get?

January 18, 2008

NB in Pakistan writes:

YES, the popularity of the United States of America matters a lot because the U.S. is the superpower and it should make it its job to see that peaceful co-existence is realized among the nations of the world. No other country can do this job as well as the U.S.A.

January 18, 2008

Siddhartha in India writes:

U.S.A. as a country is the most reported nation in the media.

I am in my early 20's currently pursuing my MBA . I have grown up witnessing the U.S. bulldogging its way everywhere. The popularity of late has been negative popularity and it should not affect policy decisions. Which I am afraid, has affected the policy decisions more often than not.

The United States should understand that just because it's the most powerful country (military & economy) nobody has given you guys the right to bully people. You know people don't like bullies. And by becoming a bully you are not only making new enemies but also making friends turn foes.

I don't why you guys can't mind your own business?

The UN is there for world issues, but it seems the us has made the un look like a puppet, which is very true.

So please stop influencing people the wrong way. Right influence is always welcomed. Corporate U.S.A. has got the right influence across the globe. But the same cannot be said for the government of the United States.

United States
January 18, 2008

Trakker in U.S. writes:

No, you don't design your foreign policies to please the rest of the world, BUT when you find that a majority of the people around the world oppose our foreign policies, you must ask why and be very honest in determining the answer(s). I don't feel our current Administration has done this. Our President merely assumes "they hate is for our freedoms" and makes it a point of national pride (then he takes those freedoms from us - go figure).

It's not hard to understand why we are currently so unpopular around the world - they don't hate us, they fear us. We've changed from being the guys in white hats to the world's bully in 60 short years. That scares me too.

January 18, 2008

Zharkov writes:

@ Eric in New Mexico -- " won't have to worry about the price of oil because all the other affected OPEC nations in the region will gladly donate it to us to rid them of Iran's ethical infants. Besides, we're already there. Cost in dollars isn't the issue..."

You are joking, of course. Frankly Eric, the U.S. government shouldn't give a damn whether Iran's voters vote once, twice, or three times, and that wasn't cited by Bush as the reason to bomb Iran. Neither do the governments of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, or any others care about the voting irregularity in Iran. They also don't care whether Ron Paul votes were ignored by vote counters in New Hampshire or are tainted by fraud, and apparently neither does our federal government. No Middle Eastern leaders publicly complained about voting irregularities in Saddam's regime either.

The Saudis now contribute nothing to the petroleum cost to America of the Iraq War and would likely contribute nothing to liberate Iran from its elected representatives. If you are hoping for an OPEC contribution to your favorite charity, America's military-industrial complex, it isn't happening. If you've noticed, the price of oil has gone up, not down. How's that for gratitude?

Cost is always the issue. U.S. taxpayers did not voluntarily donate tax dollars to liberate the Middle East. The U.S. Constitution lists all of the functions of the federal government and nation-building in foreign countries isn't on the list. Remaking the world in our image by military force is a dumb idea even if it was constitutional, which it isn't. The ideal policy is to lead by example rather than at gunpoint. Other nations should want to emulate America's government, not because they are ordered to do so, but because it's better than what they have. This "leading by example" can't happen when people are busy dodging bombs and searching for food, or are insulted for a less than perfect effort.

America's image isn't enhanced by bombing countries without any official declaration of war. There have been, in the past, a number of arrest warrants issued for CIA employees, Donald Rumsfeld, and others, from courts in Germany, Italy, and France, and a few assorted pending applications for war crimes prosecutions against our present and past government leaders, so one could presume that the rest of the world does not agree with you that it is America's burden to free the oppressed at any cost.

The Ayatollah's threat to close the Strait of Hormuz was issued as a threat of retaliation in the event American forces bombed them, so your belief that they would do so without provocation is erroneous. The time to bomb Iran was the moment they took hostages, in 1979. The time to remove the Ayatollahs was when Khomeini returned to Iran, a return supported by the Carter Administration.

America's democracy isn't the only form of democracy and it certainly isn't America's obligation to spread it across the planet. If the British felt the same way, we would still be fighting the American Revolutionary War with them. When Iran is ready for liberation, its people will do so - it's not as if they've forgotten how - remember Mossadegh? The Shah? They've done it before and they can do it again - when they want to. As far as the "will of the people" is concerned, they've got plenty of that, no matter how many times they vote.

Tennessee, USA
January 18, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

It's obvious that there is a great deal of misunderstandinginvolved in the actual policies of America and Democracy in general.

In Afghanistan, the nomadic tribal culture visualizes Democracy as the freedom to wonder, not work as a collective and maintain distance from the leadership there as the core of its beliefs. This is rather like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand, as in Iraq. Therealization that they have mutual dictatorial enemies who would gladly seize the opportunity to take control of their rightful resources as labor and oil toinstill an infrastructure which does not give back to the citizen as acollective.

With Fanaticism, though accepted in a Democracy in voice, there are both Natural Law and Mandated law limitations. This provides the privilege of view to extremes, but limits any violence associated to it.

The only facts I see correct in any presumptuous or naivete understanding of Policy is related to the past: If the Congress would have let GW Bush go in when he wanted, we would have circumvented the Middle East crisis. Carter is an example of handing out the olive branch to evil. No more, no less. It doesn't work and the present Administration is using history of our dealings in the past to correct this as much as possible.

I would like to add this: In parts of Africa, a German company buys up all the water rights andplaces meters on huts, yes huts, charging the poor for water. They could not pay as there is no work. In return for water a period of years they get the deed of trust to their land. The forcible law mandating the meters is govt. instilled, the company comes from a democratic Republic...Who's at fault and why has this situation gone on forover a decade with little or no reporting?

It's more like the Greater Good is getting the tar andfeathers, not those who actually deserve it.

New Mexico, USA
January 22, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

To Frederick Jones,

Everyone seems so concerned about how the public perceives world leaders that a great disconnect has occurred in the public mindset as to how world leaders perceive them.

To wit, as a world leader respects the individual, they also are worthy of it. Same goes for policy, foreign and domestic.

I speak globally, not nationalistically in this.

As it is soon to be a day in honor of a global thinker, thought I'd pass on a quote for human consumption, assuming there are hearts and minds with ears to hear, and something functioning between them...(chuckle).

"Today there is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. I feel that we've got to look at this total thing anew and recognize that we must live together. That the whole world now it is one--not only geographically but it has to become one in terms of brotherly concern. Whether we live in America or Asia or Africa we are all tied in a single garment of destiny and whatever effects one directly, effects one in-directly.

"I'm concerned about living with my conscience and searching for that which is right and that which is true, and I cannot live with the idea of being just a conformist following a path that everybody else follows. And this has happened to us. As I've said in one of my books, so often we live by the philosophy 'Everybody's doing it, it must be alright.' We tend to determine what is right and wrong by taking a sort of Gallup poll of the majority opinion, and I don't think this is the way to get at what is right.

"Arnold Toynbee talks about the creative minority and I think more and more we must have in our world that creative minority that will take a stand for that which conscience tells them is right, even though it brings about criticism and misunderstanding and even abuse."

Excerpted from a 1967 interview of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Arnold Michaelis.

-end quote-

Seems Zarkov and I agree on a couple fundamental things:

A. I think we both feel that folks should be free to choose their system of government ( and by inference, overthrow or fundamentally change its behavior).

B. That America bears a burden of responsibility for the kind of world we are witness to today, as well as the world the unborn generations will know in the future.

Anyone who has witnessed the birth of one's child can tell you that yes indeed you create your own reality, the question is what do we wish to create for ourselves as reality on this planet, now and for our children's, and their children's future? Not just in this country, but the world as a whole, as an international vision.

I have to respect the guts to seek change that the President has displayed. If he goes where no President has gone before, I trust we'll lend him a hand in finding that "Undiscovered Country" (global peace). I believe that the parties to the conflicts that are long standing in the Mideast, and Asia should take example from the agreements reached in Bonn and the 2002 Loya Jirga. The parties had a limited time to come to terms and decide Afghanistan's future course. They chose to serve the people's interests first, and work together. The choice to do so given them as a direct result of our being attacked on 9/11 and the help of 410 spec ops and CIA sent by the US to coordinate w/ the Northern Alliance and tribal leaders resulting in the defeat of Taliban and jihadist rule over the Afghan people.

My point to being that we as a nation have a "responsibility to protect" which in some cases makes sovereignty of nations a secondary consideration when populations are at put at risk.

Siddhartha in India may not be aware of the role America played in "stopping the car in time" diplomatically to prevent nuclear war between his country and Pakistan in 2002. A crisis born of a terrorist act.

We've been accused of playing world cop, as a nation. If you ask any officer on any street in the U.S. what his/her least favorite call to get is and they'll more than likely say, "Domestic disputes". This is the only politically correct way I can think to describe the current world situation. If we must play that role, folks need to understand that there's a new sheriff in town, determined to prevent domestic violence among the family of nations.

To "protect and serve" humanity, and ensure the preservation of civilization; of all cultures, and ways of tradition that an individual or nation has the inalienable right to choose for themselves as they see fit. So long as it harms no other individual's, or nation's ability to do so.

With this as our philosophy, as policy, the "undiscovered country" may become reality. This is not a role that should (or can ) be played unilaterally, as it is essentially all nation's task.

January 22, 2008

Courtney in Georgia writes:

Perhaps the real question is how does America view the rest of the world. A very real case could be made that perhaps America acts as she does because of what she sees around the world. And that perception is very un-cool.

Example? Why does Egypt lead the world in only 2 things - American aid and horrific gender apartheid.

Why can't Greenday do a concert in Gaza? Why can't Fergie do a show in Saudi Arabia? Why does Yemen block transmissions of Playboys the Girls Next Door?

Why can't 22 members of the Arab League (with hundreds of millions ) accept a tolerant, egalitarian society with a penchant for high tech, a free, uncensored press, periodic, transparent elections with a tiny tiny population?

Why tolerate unfree, unhappy (and in Gaza's case) nigh unhinged regimes, militias and 'resistance movements' that constantly act out, fear and mistreat women, either fiddle about with WMD or as rocket rich rejects tend to militarize civilian heavy environments?

They offer only torment to their own people and their neighbors and cannot help but act out to export it.

These regimes should be very concerned what America thinks of them in the New Millennium.

As America gets tired of the creepy masked jihadist, magical Palestinians and their risible rights of return (unlike any refugees ever in history) and intolerant regimes with no free media and a weak literacy rate, it's tough to convince America to compromise on anything just for the off chance she'll get good reviews.

Dr Rice says it best: "The rule of law, limits on state power, free speech, religious liberty, equal justice, property rights, tolerance of difference and respect for women. These values are a source of success for nations across the world and they are the only ideas that can give people a future of modernity with dignity. This will ultimately defeat the ideology of violent extremism."


New York, USA
January 22, 2008

Ronald in New York writes:

Popularity Contests: How's this for US Foreign Policy popularity:

The U.S. Trade Representative speaks to the member states assembled at the United Nations: "If you don't adopt a free-trade, open-market, democratic system, you will be extinct like the Dinosaurs". A wonderful message... makes you feel proud to be an American...makes you wonder why we are having such a hard time in the world. ...popularity; important? wouldn't think so with that kind of communication of foreign policy.

Guess who made the comment...

Jacqueline B.
January 22, 2008

Jacqueline in Jordan writes:

I believe that if the US does not make its foreign policy in a way to consider the consequences on other nations, it will only lead to the demise of our influence in global politics. At present I am shocked at the new agreement to provide additional military aid to Israel which uses it against the Palestinians in a way that violates the very principles that the US stands for - under the guise that we are supporting a nation that shares our values. I am a registered voter in New York City, now teaching in Amman, Jordan; my family is Jewish, I have always supported Israel. However, since I have been here working I have been listening to horror stories from Palestinian refugees, and people who have to travel into Israeli occupied territory to see their families, or to do their jobs. There are long lines waiting 24hours daily at the Israeli embassy to get permission to travel, who endure humiliating and abusive treatment. I myself was subjected to such treatment by Israeli airport security when I was returning to Jordan after visiting relatives in Israel - I even had my underwear scanned, and I was interrogated in a frightening manner because I was wearing a Jordanian scarf for the cold weather. Cosmetic items I had purchased at a Kibbutz at the Dead Sea were confiscated and had to be sent in a separate package! I am shocked at the inhumanity of the Israelis to blockade Gaza and prevent fuel, food and medicines in during this extremely cold weather we are enduring in this region. It just makes the people here hate the Israelis even more. Instead of giving more military aid to brutalize the Palestinians to get them to stop shooting missiles into Israel, why doesn't the US give funds to Israel for them to arrive not with tanks and guns and bombers, but additional fuel, food, medicine and help to these impoverished, displaced and desperate people? The current Israeli policy is only creating more enemies daily, and if we support it, more enemies for us as well. I oppose the proposed ten-year agreement between the United States and Israel for $30 billion in U.S. military aid to Israel. This military aid package, amounting to $3 billion per year, represents a 25% increase over the current U.S. annual military aid appropriation to Israel of $2.4billion. Israel is already the largest recipient of U.S. military aid before the proposed increase. Rather than increasing military aid, the United States should sanction Israel by cutting off military aid to it for its continued violations of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act and U.S. Foreign Assistance Acts. The U.S. Arms Export Control Act prohibits foreign countries from using U.S. weapons against civilians or civilian infrastructure and limits their use to’ legitimate self-defense' or for 'internal security.' The U.S. Foreign Assistance Act states that 'No assistance may be provided under this part[of the law] to the government of any country which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights'. Rather than use U.S. military aid for 'legitimate self-defense' or 'internal security', Israel relies upon it to prosecute its illegal 40-year old foreign military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip. 'Gross violations of internationally recognized human rights' against Palestinians living under Israel’s illegal military occupation have been well-documented by numerous Palestinian, Israeli, U.S., and international human rights organizations, as well as by the U.S. government. I urge you to take action to uphold the laws of the United States and hold Israel accountable for its violations of U.S. law rather than provide it with additional military aid.

Texas, USA
January 22, 2008

Rachel in Texas writes:

The question is definitely a very provocative one, but I'm glad it's been asked. It seems that most of the comments are ignoring all but recent history, and I believe that's a mistake.

With the close of WWII, America faced a decision that every great nation has had to deal with in the history of the world. America proved herself superior to every other nation in the world economically, technologically, and in fighting force. The regimes of Cyrus II, Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, or Victorian Great Britain saw the opportunity and had the capability to conquer.

Like those mentioned, the world was ours for the taking. Especially with the power of the atom bomb to enforce our demands.

Yet we said no and chose to assist Europe and Asia and Africa with their rebuilding processes.

We respected the national sovereignty of each nation and refused to control their internal affairs. In fact, we tried to prevent Russia and China from taking advantage of weaker nations and established NATO.

[Ironically, the nations of Europe who received the most of our help nearly sixty years ago (a very brief span of history for Europe) would rather criticize our efforts than help out.]

The reason we said no is because America was never built to become an empire. In fact, it's against our very nature to do so. There was a HUGE debate over the acquisition of Louisiana because the people of that territory did not have a say in the matter. The same debate reappeared during the Spanish-American war, and whether America should retain the spoils of the victor. Our philosophy of government is based upon the principle of "the consent of the governed." As long as this remains the basis of our system of government, we will never attempt to conquer and control.

Now to the present day. There are three very important things that must be understood.

1) We've fought this type of battle before.

2) this isn't the first time we've been unpopular

3) unpopularity does not mean that we're wrong.

For the first point, I refer back to the war we engaged in with the Barbary powers. For decades, these pirates roamed their corner of the globe and preyed upon cargo ships passing through the water they claimed as theirs. The crew were captured and either enslaved or sold for ransom to the country of their origin. With the exception of Britain, all other nations were in favor of simply paying the ransom. President Jefferson, however, chose to change that policy, and Britain was the only other nation to stand with us. We fought that battle with three countries [Algiers, Tripoli, & Tunis.]

The second & third points are quite self-explanatory. The reason we feel it so much in the present, however, is because communications have become infinitely more global. With the globalization of our communications, the individual citizens of world nations submit their opinions on someone else's philosophy of government without realizing that each nation is individually different. European nations tend to lump together because their boundaries, citizens, and governments have been so very fluid over the last three hundred years. Europe's never really understood the "American Experiment" and likely never will.

So as a direct answer to the question, US popularity shouldn't matter and while it's important to know foreign policy implications, the popularity issue alone shouldn't be a deciding factor to changes in our foreign policy.

January 22, 2008

Zharkov writes:

For those who read the news -
OPEC is not interested in our "War On Terror" or State Department angst over U.S. policies.
OPEC is busy bankrupting America.
We sacrifice our future while OPEC cheers us on into economic oblivion. Very nice.

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - OPEC dismissed further calls to boost oil output from top consumer the United States, saying the global market is well supplied and the producer group has little control over oil prices near $90 a barrel.

U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman on Saturday urged top exporter Saudi Arabia and OPEC to raise supply on a visit to the kingdom. His appeal came just days after President George W. Bush asked the group for more oil on a separate visit to Riyadh, and less than two weeks before OPEC's next meeting on February 1.

"I don't think there is a need to increase because the market is well supplied," Oil Minister Abdullah al-Attiyah told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.



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