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America is still loved abroad

Guy W. Farmer

During the presidential election campaign we’ll hear many dire claims about how unpopular America is throughout the world, and how much we are hated by foreigners. Well, just back from a two-week trip to England and Ireland, I can report that much of the world’s alleged anti-Americanism is the product of hype and exaggeration.

While overseas, I met many people who love the United States and would move here tomorrow if they could. That reminds me of an old saying I learned while working abroad: “Yankee go home! … and take me with you.” Sad but true.

I’ve written many times about how our international image is shaped by our foreign policies and that our PR is only as good (or bad) as our policies and actions around the world. For that reason, I believe that our ill-considered and badly planned invasion of Iraq ” and subsequent five-year occupation of that unfortunate country ” have done incalculable damage to our reputation as a beacon of freedom and liberty. You may disagree, but American public opinion is on my side of this argument.

Overall, anti-Americanism is exaggerated by our enemies and politicians who hate our country and/or the Bush administration. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Fouad Ajami, a Lebanese-American intellectual who is a distinguished professor of international studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, accurately described our PR problem. “So America is unloved in Istanbul and Cairo and Karachi,” he wrote. “It is an annual ritual, the June release of the Pew global attitudes survey and the laments over the erosion of America’s standing in foreign lands.”

“American liberalism is heavily invested in this narrative of U.S. isolation,” Ajami continued. “The world once loved us, and all Parisians were Americans after 9/11, but thanks to President Bush we have squandered that sympathy.” Unfortunately for the Bush-haters, however, it isn’t quite that simple.

Writing about his boyhood in Beirut, Lebanon, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Ajami recalled that “anti-Americanism was the standard political language, even for those pining for American visas and green cards.” And that’s the way it was in the seven countries where I worked during my diplomatic career. Student protesters who threw rocks at the American Embassy in the afternoon lined-up for visas the next morning.

“If there is enthusiasm for Barack Obama on foreign shores” (and there is … lots), Ajami wrote, “his rise to fame and power must be a tribute to the land that has made this possible. Where else would a boy of marginality and relative poverty find his way to the peak of political life?” Nowhere else, that’s where.

Ajami closed his essay on anti-Americanism with a very important point: “Yes, it isn’t perfect, this republic of ours. But the possibilities for emancipation and self- improvement it affords are unmatched in other lands.” And that’s why so many foreigners want to emigrate to the U.S. and why we have such a serious illegal immigration problem.

James Glassman, the new Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, seems to understand the need for a new approach to foreign audiences. “The aim must be to ensure that negative sentiments and day-to-day grievances toward the U.S. and its allies don’t manifest themselves in violence,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “We want to create an environment hostile to violent extremism, especially by severing links between al-Qaeda and like-minded groups, and their target audiences.” That’s a promising mission statement by a veteran of the international broadcasting business.

Glassman wants to confront violent anti-Americanism directly by publicizing credible Muslims who have disavowed al-Qaeda methods and ideology, such as Sayyid Imam al-Sharif (Dr. Fadl), “who laid the groundwork for the movement’s bloody ideology and has now repudiated it … Our public diplomacy efforts should encourage Muslims … to spread the denunciations of violence by these men and others far and wide.” I agree wholeheartedly because our goal isn’t to turn Muslim extremists into American wannabes, but to convince them that violence is a dead end.

“Military success is necessary, but it isn’t sufficient,” Glassman concluded. “Without a vigorous war of ideas, as we kill such adversaries, others will take their place.” As a 30-year veteran of the public diplomacy wars, I think he’s on the right track and wish him well in what’s left of the Bush administration.

TIM RUSSERT, R.I.P.

I’m going to miss longtime “Meet the Press” moderator Tim Russert a lot because he was one of my journalistic heroes. I always admired Russert’s even-handed approach to the politicians who appeared on his influential Sunday morning talk show. He asked tough but fair questions of everyone, Democrats and Republicans alike, and gave them time to elaborate upon their answers. And even though he had worked for former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, a very liberal Democrat, early in his career, Russert always played it politically straight, right down the middle, which is what I learned in journalism school many years ago. My, how times have changed. Fortunately, respected former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw will moderate “Meet the Press” through the election season. I wish him well, too.

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.