We Aren't the World

There comes a time when we heed a certain call
When the world must come together as one
There are people dying
Oh, and it's time to lend a hand to life
The greatest gift of all.'

-- "We Are the World (USA for Africa)"

Do you want the bad news or the really bad news?

First the bad news.

The United States, same country that organized its most creative (remember Lionel Richie, Cyndi Lauper, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, and Bruce Springsteen) in response to a 1985 famine in Africa, is not the same by reputation in 2004.

After you read this, you may start looking for your old disco records: "Oh. I love the nightlife, I got to boogie in the disco `round, oh yeah." Just add, while the world comes tumbling down.

The Pew Global Attitudes Project's latest poll of eight countries shows that resentment toward the U.S. has strengthened since the start of the Iraq war one year ago. President Bush is less popular than Osama Bin Laden in Jordan, Pakistan, and Morocco. The survey showed high approval ratings in all three countries for suicide bombings against the Israelis and Americans in Iraq.

The survey of 8,000 people was conducted in late February in four European countries (France, Germany, Great Britain, and Russia) and four Muslim-majority countries (Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey). It showed an amazing amount of anti-religious bias over religious tolerance. Christians and Jews fair poorly in Pakistan, Morocco and Turkey, while nearly a third of Americans signaled an anti-Muslim bias. In Europe, the anti-Muslim sentiment was higher in places like Germany and Russia.

The European and Muslim-majority states had something in common-a growing dislike for the United States and its leadership in the world.

Madeleine Albright, the former Clinton administration secretary of state who chairs the project, said that "credibility of the United States is sinking." Even in Europe, public opinion toward the U.S. after Iraq is skeptical and a majority thinks Bush and Blair lied about the motivations for war with Iraq. In Germany and France, overwhelming majorities want the European Union to serve as a counterweight, perhaps even a wedge, between the U.S. and the world.

Albright gave a nod to Bin Ladenism for having the communications capacity "to do something that 40 years of communism was unable to do, which is to divide Europe from the United States."

She offered a quick "Diplomacy 101" lesson: "It's nice to be feared by your enemies, but it's not nice to be feared by your friends." She added, however, "it's nice to be popular, but it's not a popularity contest. It's a matter of making sure that many other countries come along with your policies."

Or is it? Therein lies the rub. The world doesn't want U.S. policies, if what they only see are policies of unilateralism over multilateralism, military intervention over international cooperation, the arrogance of American power over humble self-examination of our power projections.

In his book, "The Price of Empire," Senator J. William Fulbright wrote that "countries that achieve great power have long had a tendency to identify themselves with the deity or with high standards of virtue, and, on the basis of this identification, to develop a form of messianism, a conviction that it is their duty to take their message to other people." His namesake Fulbright exchange program was designed to downplay the American tendency toward messianic mission. Better to understand one's own ideological limitations and learn how to mutually understand others through their own perceptions and belief systems.

It was what he called the Fulbright difference in international relations-the opportunity to come together not always as affectionate friends but at least to build a sense of common humanity and shared purpose. International Fulbright scholars would treat Senator Fulbright like a rock star in his day. He represented the message that the U.S. is indeed part of the world, not its emperor.

Which brings me to the really bad news? The Pew Global Attitudes Survey, coupled with the State of the News Media 2004 survey, show that the United States' position in the world vis-a-vis our global politics and communications is truly despairing, but worse, offers no signs that we will see any significant change from the current direction. A State Department spokesman Gregg Sullivan responded to the Pew survey with a "slow and steady wins the race. That's the approach we are going to take." And White House spokesman Jim Morrell said that "the president doesn't base his decisions on polls. He bases his decisions on the best interests of the safety and security of the American people."

It isn't good enough to know we are in such a sorry state. Why aren't we, the American people, trying to right this ship by rethinking our country's directions and projections? There are times when government doesn't have all the answers. Can we, to use the words of President Lincoln, "think anew and act anew" in our public diplomacy programs so that we emphasize the best human relations programs we have to offer the world through the arts, culture and education over mass media broadcasts by "the free one"? Must we make sure that other countries come along with our policies or can we approach the world with a set of new eyes and ears? Are we still trying to make the world in our own image? Can the hard sell become the soft tell?

Lincoln warned this nation at one time that "we must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our own country." We aren't the world and the world is no longer as enthralled with us as we are of ourselves. Anybody have a tune to go along with that?

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