Growing Disillusionment with the US – Do Americans Know or Care?
Eisenhower warned: Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry…we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist….We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961
Open Secrets reports 2012 US Defense lobbyists spent $130 million and made campaign contributions of almost $30 million. What do they want? They want more orders.
I grew up in the Kennedy/Rockefeller era. The Rockefellers helped establish the United Nations to promote the well-being of mankind throughout the world. It was intended to be a place where nations could come together to express and discuss their views. Kennedy created the Peace Corps and said the US would put a man on the moon. The Peace Corp was the best foreign assistance program the US ever had. It gave regular Americans a chance to see poverty worldwide and try to help out as volunteers. And putting a man on the moon – people everywhere were caught up in watching.
Because of the Rockefellers and Kennedy, the US projected hope worldwide: most nations believed the US would be a good steward for the world. And in those days, wherever I went overseas (I worked professionally in 45 countries), people asked me my opinion on almost everything because I was an American.
Times have changed. I remember travelling in Africa in the early ’70s after the US got bogged down in Vietnam. Africans did not understand the Vietnamese campaign but they still liked and respected Americans. But then, other things happened. US support for Israel raised questions in Muslim countries worldwide led to the 9/11 attacks followed by destabilizing land wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Back to Vietnam: Mao Tse Tung asked for diplomatic recognition so as to avoid being controlled by Russia; John Foster Dulles said no because Mao was a communist. Ho Chi Minh asked for diplomatic recognition in hopes of avoiding yet another invasion from China. Dulles again said no because he was a communist.
Iraq: By invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein, the US destabilized the Middle East by destroying a balance of power between Saddam (Sunni) and Iran (Shiite).
Afghanistan: After 9/11, the US wanted to “get” Bin Laden. The US learned nothing from the experiences of France and Russia there. So a ground war in Afghanistan lasting more than a decade was launched.
After the trillions spent on the Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq land wars, what can we say has been accomplished? Better not to ask. More than 60,000 Americans dead and over 3 million Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnamese deaths.
And then in late-2008, US banks collapsed, pitching the world into a global depression. And all of this occurred while the primary US foreign aid program (USAID) was telling banks in developing countries to increase leverage.
The world watches what the US does and draws its own conclusions. So what do the countries of the world think? I address this question below with the assistance of surveys done by the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project.
Opinions of the US
Table 1 provides survey results on how countries viewed the US in two periods: 2002-04 and 2010-12. The question was: “Do you have a favorable or unfavorable view of the U.S.?” The figures in the table are the net of responses. E.G., if that number is 0, the same percent of respondents answered positively and negatively, if the number is negative, more respondents answered negatively, etc. The table provides data on all countries surveyed in both periods.
Source: Pew Research
So what do we find? The overall approval ratings, weighted by population size, have fallen from 19% to 10%.
Another survey question asked if citizens think the US respondents cares about their country’s interests? As in Table 1, the net of the percentages answering yes or no are presented in Table 2 for all countries surveyed in the 2010-12 period.
Source: Pew Research
With all the US actions outlined above in the last decade, it is not surprising that the image of the US has suffered. Tables 1 and 2 have something else in common: Many of the countries giving the US the lowest ratings were Muslim. People living in the “Palestinian Territories” were not included in the tables because they were not surveyed in the 2010-12 period. But they were surveyed in 2003: 92% said the US did not care about their interests.
Unqualified US Support for Aggressive Israeli Acts
Few Americans are clear on this matter, so it is worth reviewing in some detail. During the Six-Day War of 1967 Israel seized lands from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria that it still holds. Keep in mind that when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the US spearheaded a UN military force that got him out. Back to Israel: Syria, Egypt and Jordan brought a resolution before the UN saying that Israel would give back the lands it seized during the six-day war and that the resulting borders would be the basis for the Palestinian state. The US vetoed this 1976 resolution.
Since the Six Day War, Israel has been condemned by the UN Security Council for aggressive acts 29 times, far more than any other country in the history of the UN. And there would have been more condemnations if the US had not vetoed them. Recently, the U.S. vetoed a U.N. Security Council Resolution, condemning Israel’s settlement activities in the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem. The vote: 14 – 1 with the U.S. exercising its first veto since President Obama came to office.
Can the anti-US terrorism that started in the Middle East more than 3 decades back, including the 9/11 attacks, be attributed to the pro-Israel position of the US? That would clearly be an overstatement. But it is worth noting that Michael Scheuer, CIA’s analyst who led the hunt for Osama bin Laden, said he was motivated by a belief that US foreign policy had oppressed, killed, or otherwise harmed Muslims in the Middle East.
Do Americans Know or Care What Others Think?
Gabriel Almond and others have documented that most Americans have no idea of what is happening in the rest of the world and US foreign policy. Recently, a study was undertaken to determine how the knowledge of US citizens compares with other nations. The conclusion: Germans are most knowledgeable followed by Britain, Canada, and France. Americans had the least knowledge. To work effectively, democracies require an informed public. When it comes to US foreign policy, Americans know very little so they will go along with what its political leaders (and lobbies) want.
What Could Be Done
Should the US care about what others think? Yes. It is in its national interest to care. So what could be done to change foreigners’ perspectives?
a. Stop engaging in foolish wars
How can this be done? The defense lobbies remain at work. The only effective thing we can do is bring back the draft. This would force wealthy and influential parents to start thinking about where their children will be sent and why.
b. Stop coddling Israel
The fact that Israel continues to build settlements in “Palestinian territories” is an outrage. And as long as this continues, Obama’s assertion that he favors a “two-state” solution is laughable. What can be done? In 1967, U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 passed unanimously. That means the US supported it. UN 242 said Israel would give back the lands it seized during the six-day war and that the resulting borders would be the basis for the Palestinian state. Following discussions with the Israelis and Palestinians over land adjustments, the US should bring a similar resolution before the UN Security Council. It would pass unanimously.
c. US high school students should be required to take a course on global history and US foreign policy since World War II. A democracy cannot operate effectively if its citizens are not educated. And the outside world is now too important to leave to political leaders and lobbyists.
Robert L. Borosage:
The country finds itself constantly at war. New presidents inherit the wars of their predecessors. They are faced not with deciding to go to war, but whether to accept defeat in one already in progress….And slowly, the great power declines from the inside out. The wars are costly, running up national debts. Vital investments are put off. Schools decline. Sewers leak. For a long time, circuses distract from the spreading ruin….Other societies become productive centers, capturing the new industries. Some begin providing better education for their citizens, better support for their citizens. Their taxes, not drained by the cost of wars past and present, can be devoted to what we used to call “domestic improvements.” This is a very rich country, despite the years of conservative misrule. But even wealthy countries must choose. We can afford to police the world – to sustain 800 bases across the globe, to station troops in Korea, in Japan, in Bosnia, in Europe, fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, sustain fleets to police the seas… A rich country, Adam Smith wrote, has a lot of ruin in it. We seem intent on testing the limits of that proposition. Borosage, 2009
 Gabriel Almond, The American People and Foreign Policy, NY: Harcourt Brace, 1950.