During the war on Iraq I heard a caller on a Christian radio station suggest, "Why don't we just raze the United Nations buildings in New York and rebuild the World Trade Center on that site!" The host enthusiastically agreed. For the next hour, callers piled on scorn for France, Germany, and other nations that had "wimpy" objections to the war, while dismissing all Arab concerns out of hand. The United States, they seemed to imply, has the right, even the obligation, to go it alone in bringing order to the world.
Because I frequently travel overseas, I am struck by the difference in how Americans perceive themselves and how those of other nations see us. We think of ourselves as generous, compassionate, good-natured, slow to anger, and committed to justice. Some overseas see us as arrogant, selfish, decadent, and uncaring. They judge American values by our rap music and television shows, most of which glorify sex, wealth, and violence. They know that the U.S. military possesses more weapons of mass destruction than all other armies combined. And they note that the world's wealthiest nation contributes only half as much foreign aid as Europe.
The outpouring of sympathy after September 11 demonstrated that the U.S., for all its faults, could still draw on a large reservoir of goodwill. WE ARE ALL AMERICANS NOW, proclaimed one headline. The fact that the newspaper was the largest in France shows how much of that goodwill has since dissipated.
I heard the former Ambassador to the U.S. from Pakistan, a devoted friend of America, put it this way: "In the days of the Cold War, there were two giants on the world stage—a brutal giant and a gentle giant. Now there is only one giant, and we fear it is becoming brutal." Even our closest ...1