We forget algebra, the first line of the Gettysburg Address, and how to properly construct a sentence, but there’s one lesson everyone remembers from high school: the popularity game is an equal-opportunity promise of disaster. It’s worse than a high-stakes gamble, because even the few who win end up paying too high a price. All players emerge permanently crippled, usually separated from their principles and their identity.
So why do Americans care so desperately about the world’s opinion of our presidential candidates?
The BBC just released a poll showing more people in each of the 22 countries polled (from every populated continent) want Obama to win in November. Another poll conducted by TNS Sofres at the beginning of September (before the Republican National Convention) and published yesterday in le Figaro shows 80% of the French want to see Obama in the White House versus 8% for McCain. A third poll conducted in Russia by the state-run VTsIOM (how impartial must that be?) shows Russians also would vote for Obama over McCain. McCain is neither inhumane nor disrespectful toward these countries. They simply prefer Obama because he matches their agendas or they believe – based on his “globalist” approach – he can be convinced to play along. And why wouldn’t a foreign country prefer a U.S. president enamored with life across the pond to someone who has seen more of the horrors of when nations collide?
Our supposed stereotype abroad is that Americans aren’t respectful of other countries’ feelings: we dash around saying merci beaucoup and expect flowers, sunshine, and a red carpet in return. Yet who exemplifies this more than Obama, the foreign policy novice who decided a two-week flyby of a handful of countries gave him sufficient foreign policy experience? Thanks to him, a speech at the Berlin Wall is now the political equivalent of a merci beaucoup. Does Obama think these nations are so simple that he can meet with a handful of them in only fourteen days and be equipped to deal with them for the next four years?
Maureen Dowd, take note: even Mr. Darcy didn’t display such arrogance.
Being bothered by a poor image overseas is thoroughly American. Not being liked is tough for any of us to accept. Allies have been crucial in our history, and American soldiers have died alongside theirs fighting for justice and humanity. American heritage has roots in every part of the world, and we should appreciate our inheritance.
But at this point, the attitude should be reciprocal. The huge amounts we have contributed financially and in humanitarian aid to the world are nothing more than pocket change compared to the courage and lifeblood our troops have given these countries. In the sacrifice of her soldiers, America has given her all. She has nothing greater to give. Yet the world community has been stingy with their credit and generous with their criticism.
Americans worried about our image abroad should stop pretending these countries’ opinions are disinterested and unbiased. Each of these countries in the BBC poll has an agenda, and the best interest of the United States isn’t on it. And rightly so. It’s not their job to look after the United States — it’s ours. They will always put their country first, and we need to do the same. That means asking ourselves which presidential ticket makes America its top priority, not which ticket is going to make France and Germany happy. We want someone in the White House who commands other countries’ respect, not someone who caters to them so that he can make up for whatever approval craving wasn’t satisfied in high school
An American popularity contest around the globe is a losing game. When you’re the biggest jock on the block, people will always resent your gun power, even when it’s those guns that kept sauerkraut and bratwurst from replacing foie gras on Parisian menus. We need to stop running for Miss Congeniality on the world stage — because that’s one victory that definitely won’t bring about world peace.
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