Wednesday, August 16, 2006
CFR's Julia Sweig Knows "Why They Hate Us"
In the near echo chamber of academics and think tanks, there is a hazard which stalks those people whose job it is to study subjects, issues, peoples, and regions for a living. The hazard is a slow numbing process kind of like what happens to people as they experience hypothermia and frostbite when exposed to severe winter storms.
The hazard of focusing your intellectual energies, however vast they may be, on one thing is that eventually you begin to believe that which you claim to only be a student of.
Today I came across an Op-Ed piece in the Los Angeles Times written by Julia E. Sweig with the blaring headline Why They Hate Us. Intrigued by the possibility that someone has finally figured out this important issue, I commenced to read Ms. Sweig’s explanation.
First a bit of background on Ms. Sweig so as to better understand the point of view from which she writes. She is the Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. In other words, she studies Latin America for a living. I have a bit of experience in this corner of the world both professionally and academically – a point on which I’ll expand later.
Returning to the subject at hand, Ms. Sweig has figured out why the rest of the world hates America with such a passion. Here’s my summary of her lengthy and quite disjointed analysis:
Most glaringly, the World hates America because of George W. Bush. His
go-it-alone tough talk after 9/11, contempt for the Kyoto accord, war and then chaos in Iraq, secret prisons in Europe and alleged use of torture at Guantanamo Bay, Cubahas caused America’s “moral standing in the world” to decline “precipitously.”
These sins, added to the unforgivable crime of winning the Cold War, Globalization, and the capital crime of spreading capitalism in failed socialist and communist countries and you have the underpinnings of a Global Hatred for All Things American.
Ms. Sweig throws in, for added effect I assume, this added list of American shortcomings:
U.S. credibility abroad used to be reinforced by the perception that our laws and government programs gave most Americans a fair chance to participate in a middle-class meritocracy. But the appeal of the U.S. model overseas is eroding as the gap between rich and poor widens, public education deteriorates, healthcare costs soar and pensions disappear.So let me get this straight. The World hates us because there is a perceived gap between the rich and poor, costly health care and a failing public education system? She continues:
Most recently, the U.S. government's seeming indifference to its most vulnerable citizens in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina further undercut belief in the American social contract. The immigration debates also have fostered the perception that the U.S. is vulnerable, hostile and fearful.Help me out here. I’m still not getting why the aftermath of Katrina fuels Global Hatred for All Things American. Katrina proved, if nothing else, the need for self reliance, effective community response and recovery plans rather than a misplaced belief that the federal government can come in and magically make Mother Nature behave.
To Ms. Sweig’s credit, she does offer solutions, though like most academics, her solutions are amorphous, vague, and non-quantifiable. She suggest US foreign policy be conducted with the soft lexicon watchwords of
pragmatism, generosity, modesty, discretion, cooperation, empathy, fairness, manners and lawfulness…[deploying] U.S. power with some consideration for how the U.S. is perceived will gradually make legitimate U.S. military action more acceptable abroad.In other words, something akin to John “Lurch” Kerry’s Global Test. Ms. Sweig, we’ve been there and done that. It was a complete and total failure which has given us the world scene upon which we now stand facing down dictators like Kim Jong "Mentally" Il and Iran’s Mahmoud how ever you spell his last name. It was called the Clinton (Sorry Excuse For) Administration, and we’d prefer not to regress to a foreign policy which consists of "Appease and Punt".
Other solutions she offers to increase our “moral standing and security” involve changes in domestic policy to reduce social and economic inequalities (read increase taxes and raise domestic entitlement spending) and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
As I stated before, Ms. Swieg and I share a common interest in Latin America. I’ve live in the region, speak the requisite languages, and have worked on a professional level there for a good chunk of my career.
There is a certain level of disdain for the United States that courses through the people of Latin America. Some of it has to do with perceive US meddling in their affairs, but most of it has to do with a deep seated envy. They see the affluence of the US and are envious because their country, culture, or mind set does not offer what they see in their northern neighbor.
The US is blamed for many of the ills of Latin America. People complain – some days at near fever pitch levels – about issues which have nothing to do with US foreign policy. If you listen to it too long, as Ms. Sweig evidently has, you run the risk of actually believe what the demonstrators with the bull horns are screaming.
If the world, specifically Latin America, indeed had a Hatred for All Things American, they would not attempt, at great risk to life and limb, keep coming here to fulfill the dream their native land evidentially cannot. Ms. Sweig, in her meandering diatribe fails to demonstrate understanding of this key issue.
In fact, her Op-Ed is extremely difficult to follow because she runs the gauntlet of the leftist talking points in her essay. Some of her points are valid. Most are not.
If I may be so bold, and since it’s my blog I will be, as to offer Ms. Sweig some unsolicited advice. In doing so, I will paraphrase the immortal words of Steve Martin to John Candy in the classic piece of American cinematography Planes, Trains & Automobiles
When you’re [writing these Op-Eds], here’s a good idea, have a point! It makes it so much more interesting for the [reader]!Here endeth the lesson.