Leadership of the United States has been called into question by other countries perhaps at a level not experienced since the Vietnam war. The United States has opposed United Nations opinion regarding Iraq. The resulting action by the U.S. And Great Britain with small amounts of help from other countries has triggered anti-war and anti-U.S. demonstrations all over the world (Safty, 2003). Americans are shocked and dismayed at the level of anger other countries have shown toward the United States in recent months.
For many decades, the United States, has stood among the other nations as a country of great power, wealth and influence. For much of that time, we have acted militarily in multiple parts of the world: Europe during both world wars; Europe and Asia during World War II; Southeast Asia in the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War; and more recently, in the MIddle East. Throughout these events our government has always believed that it got involved in war for the right reasons. Of course, in war, there are always opposing sides, and the side opposed to us has of course always disagreed with our belief that we were right to take the actions we did.
Today, the United States is criticized for its foreign policies on many sides, including by those who have been staunch allies in the past. For instance, France has been vocally and vehemently opposed to our current war against Iraq (Sartarelli, 2004). Many Americans are in fact baffled by the levels of hostility expressed against us. They look back at actions we have taken such as the Marshall Plan and the development of the Peace Corp. However, a cynic might take the view that since we participated in the wholesale destruction of Europe during World War II, we were morally obligated to help put it back together when the war was over. Most people would agree, however, that we were forced into World War II and that we had no hand in its start.
When it comes to large humanitarian programs, no serious critic sees serious fault with the Marshall Plan, the program intended to end starvation in Europe after World War II and to help war-ravaged countries get back on their feet again. More baffling to many Americans are harsh charges made against the Peace Corp. Some people in some other countries have seen it as an attempt at back door imperialism, an attempt to dominate other countries economically and politically. When faced with such negative views of attempts to help other countries, the average American might think, "Do we really need to concern ourselves with those opinions?" Many Americans believe that the United States' efforts to help other countries should be appreciated, not criticized.
John Winthrop said as far back as 1630, " "For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of the people are upon us." The eyes of the people of other countries are upon us, and unfortunately they do not always see our actions as we might prefer them to see it. Each person views the world through his or own personal filters, which can include religious beliefs and cultural biases. They will interpret the motivations of country's actions through those filters. Meanwhile, their governments will look at the actions of other countries not only through their country's biases and beliefs but in relation to what they want for their country. Sometimes United States foreign policy and programs will mesh well with what other countries want to accomplish, and sometimes they will not. When our policies clash with the policies and desires of another country, they will criticize, and they will attempt to influence our foreign policy choices either directly or indirectly (or both, of course).
Because of these realities, we cannot assume that because our government tries to do something intended to relieve suffering in another country or even to promote world peace, those actions will be seen by other countries as "good" things. It is up to each country to look out for its own best interests. Those best interests can include the military security of the country, the security of its borders, honoring treaties made with other nations, international business interests and a host of other issues, most or all of which will involve other countries. As soon as another country is involved, it becomes more difficult for any country -- in this case the United States -- act in wholly magnanimous ways.
Because of these realities, we cannot assume that because our government tries to do something intended to relieve suffering in another country or even to promote world peace, those actions will be seen by other countries as "good" things. It is up to each country to look out for its own best interests. Those best interests can include the military security of the country, the security of its borders, honoring treaties made with other nations, international business interests and a host of other issues, most or all of which will involve other countries. As soon as another country is involved, it becomes more difficult for any country -- in this case the United States -- act in wholly magnanimous ways. Dobbs (2003) argues that we did a good thing in ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein whether or not weapons of mass destruction were present, and that Afghanistan has benefited from having al-Qaeda forced outside its borders and the Taliban removed from power. However, the Muslim religion sees government and religion as interrelated. We cannot act politically in those areas without raising religious concerns. Many Americans and perhaps some government officials do not realize this, as we are accustomed to the total opposite of that view: separation of Church and State. And, we have a tendency to believe our approach is inherently superior.
Kane (2003) argues that the United States successfully "fostered belief" in other major countries that we acted out of virtue as well as power -- in other words, that other countries viewed us as acting largely in compassionate and virtuous ways -- until the Vietnam War. He cites Henry Kissinger, whose view was that we undermined our stance as a country that could be counted on to do the right thing with the escalation of the Vietnam War. He also suggest that while President Nixon brought an end to that war, he did not completely succeed in restoring the United State's reputation as a peacemaker. Interestingly, according to Kane (2003), the Korean Conflict did not have such a negative impact, possibly because the Korean Conflict actually represented a United Nations action even though we played a major role in that war. Kane suggests that although President Jimmy Carter placed emphasis on universal rights at the center of American foreign policy, it was not possible to avoid international conflict. In fact Carter was vilified by the Iranians in the 1980s. Carter worked hard to try to bring peace to the Middle East but could not.
This brings up the important point that neither any individual country nor a group of countries really has any right to expect the United States to solve all the world's problems, but the world is more complex now than it was during World War II. Who is right and who is wrong is not always as clear as it was then. Japan should not have overrun China, should not have made plans to overrun Southeast Asia and plunder its natural resources, and should not have bombed Pearl Harbor because the United States was not willing to supply the raw materials for militaristic efforts. Hitler was clearly as wrong as a national leader could possibly be. It was easy to see who was right and who was wrong in World War II. Issues are not as clear now. Israel and Palestinians have both committed atrocities, and Palestinians had to give up their homeland to create a new homeland for Israel. Mistakes have been made by every faction involved in the MIddle East, and all side are both right and wrong depending on the issue being examined. This is the world the United States has to negotiate today, where right and wrong are far more subjective than they were in 1941. Internationally the media seems to emphasize negative views of the United States held by other countries, subjecting our country to a level of criticism not seen since the Vietnam War (Dobbs, 2003).
Current criticism tends to focus on the United State's current foreign policy, which, under the leadership of George W. Bush, has caused more controversy than any other U.S. President in recent history (Leffler, 2004). An opinion survey conducted recently in the Middle East showed that opinion of the United States there has sunk lower than it has ever been, but negative opinions are not restricted to Muslim countries. Germany and France have been particularly open in their dislike of current American policy (Dobbs, 2003).