Jewish World Review Oct. 7, 2003 / 11 Tishrei, 5764
It's lonely at the top
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | It's become fashionable of late for news organizations and opinion researchers to fixate on the world's view of the United States. We seem to be confronted weekly with another report, study or survey purporting to demonstrate global distrust or dislike of America and Americans.
A recent opinion survey in the Middle East showed that Arab attitudes towards the United States are at an all time low, and of course we know what the French and Germans think of us.
So how concerned should we be? In my opinion, not very. Unjustified negative opinions of the United States are far from a new phenomenon.
"Such is the destiny of a great power," says Fouad Ajami, professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University. "We sit astride the world, we protect the world, and the world takes this protection and bemoans the protector."
Ajami says we should consider the possibility that some of the recent polls may have been conducted by people who find it politically advantageous that America is more unpopular now, in the post-Iraq-war era.
Whatever your opinion of weapons of mass destruction or regime change, ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein was a very good thing for Iraqis. And ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban and al-Qaida was a good thing for Afghans.
In addition to ridding those two countries of dictatorial rule, the U.S. government maintains, at some considerable expense to U.S. taxpayers, forces in South Korea, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom.
"The United States is the major supporter of international security and peace," says Nicholas Eberstadt, a foreign-aid expert from the American Enterprise Institute. "We do that not through foreign assistance, but through our military budget, which is as large as the military budget of the next dozen or more countries combined."
Not only do we bear the role of global protector, but the generosity of the United States also provides an incredible $11 billion in official government aid each year to developing nations - an amount that is going to increase steadily over the next several years. The United States is also a global leader in fighting the diseases AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. We contribute roughly $550 million a year in UN peacekeeping activities, and the United States is by far the largest contributor to the UN's general fund.
And U.S. foreign aid isn't limited to the official development aid that we provide each year. American foreign aid that includes non-government sources such as corporations, foundations, individuals and other sources totals an astonishing $60 billion a year.
However, United Nations voting records are proof positive that our generosity has never automatically translated into loyalty from other nations. A 1998 study of UN votes found that 74 percent of U.S. foreign aid recipients voted against the United States a majority of the time. India, for example, received more than $143 million in U.S. aid but voted against the United States 81 percent of the time. And Egypt, which received more than $2 billion in foreign aid (the second-highest amount of any nation), voted against the United States 66 percent of the time.
Providing the bulk of the United Nations' budget and giving away billions of dollars in aid each year doesn't require apology from Americans. We should feel pretty good about what this country has achieved and what it is accomplishing in the world.
"I don't think that gratitude has ever been a historical hallmark of international relations," Eberstadt says. "One need look no further than the country of France to understand that. They were rescued twice by the United States in the past century."
If you are still concerned over polls about the United States, consider the poll recently conducted by the Germany weekly Die Zeit, which revealed that one-third of Germans under the age of 30 believe that the United States may have sponsored the attacks of September 11.
So what should the United States do about world opinion? I believe that the best answer is: nothing.
Fouad Ajami says that most of us are asking the wrong question: "We are unloved in foreign lands; what's wrong with us?" When we should be asking: "We are unloved in foreign lands, what's wrong with them?"
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