America`s Image

First published 18 Jun 2006


Politicos try to bully and browbeat with the lament that `America`s Image` is at a new low.

  • The rest of the world criticizes and envies America, except when America is winning.
  • The image of a fair-weather soldier who abandons friends and allies will be an image not worth having.

Politicos are repeatedly trying to bully and browbeat with the lament that `America`s Image` is at a new low. But I can`t remember a time when `America`s Image` wasn`t at a new low with the international intelligentsia - except for a short period after the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed. It seems that the only time that the intelligentsia doesn`t rail against America is when America WINS.
As a Baby boomer, I wasn`t born until after World War II ended. So, I can`t say that I remember anything about WWII. But, from what I`ve read, Americans weren`t exactly seen, by our allies, as the saviors that they were. In England, Australia and the remainder of the UK, the prevalent attitude appeared to have been that Americans were `Overpaid, over-sexed and over-here` some also added over-loud. Nevertheless, they all took American money, American candy and American luxury - as much as they could get. They also accepted the sacrifice of American blood: to protect them; to liberate them; to make life better for them; to rebuild the world that had been destroyed by tyrants and dictators.

Today, even when most of the world would opt to move here, if they could, our allies seem to have forgotten the American sacrifice but remember the declamation, `Overpaid, over-sexed, over-here, over-loud` and some even add a derisive, `FAT`. To varying degrees, France, Italy and Germany scold, berate and revile America for bestowing similar good will upon other nations.

As a child of the fifties and sixties, I remember when, then Vice President, Nixon`s car was attacked in Latin America. Certainly no respect there, hard to argue that America`s Image is worse today.

In school, teachers held up the book, The Ugly American, as what was wrong with the American Image. I don`t claim to be a scholar on The Ugly American. I`m sure the intelligentsia will revile my thumbnail summary. Anyway, here goes: the thrust of The Ugly American was that the elected American government was wrong in it`s aloof and condescending diplomatic approach, that long term planning and attention to national structure were wrong and that American aid should be directed to the grassroots where it would have immediate impact. In short, that American aid didn`t have the `gravitas of cultural sensitivity`.

It can be argued that this approach was the crux of the Vietnam failure. President Johnson failing with exercise of force where he could have won by showing compassion and sensitivity to the North Vietnamese. That he should have fought the war from the bottom up. In reality, Vietnam was a homegrown failure, a collapse of support from within, not a defeat from the outside. President Regan showed that ideologies are defeated from the top down, not the bottom up. The collapse of the Soviet Union militated the thesis of The Ugly American. It also suggests that most of the grassroots are more concerned with day to day survival than governmental systems.

These approaches may be likened to giving a man a fish-fry versus teaching him to fish. Initially, you may need to do both. Eventually, he has to be taught to fish or he`ll forever be a beggar at your table. The overly indulgent parents never understand why their brilliant child became an adult failure. Maturation and independence require authoritative planning and goals. Parenting from the top down, not by satisfying every whim and craving.

The politicos bemoaning America`s Image draw semblance to The Ugly American. They champion the `gravitas of cultural sensitivity` and would abandon the long term strategic moves that must be undertaken to allow maturation and independence of those who we attempt to help. Sometimes, just as with parenting, it means that you will be criticized.

The best way to overcome the criticism is to win. In the 1992 Bush-Clinton debates, President GHW Bush made a comment about character. Mr. Clinton replied that it was, `not the character of the man but the character of the Presidency that mattered`. It spoke volumes about Mr. Clinton; what a Clinton Presidency would mean and foretold of an `ends justify the means` Presidency. But, Mr Clinton was right. Today his image is growing, not because he didn`t lie, cheat, steal, ravage and plunder; because he won. And, it`s the same with America`s Image and the intelligentsia. The only thing that will improve America`s Image with those who are so bemoaning and berating its current state is to WIN. And, winning means more than just saying, ``we won`` then deserting those that we promised to help. America must teach countries to fish so that they don`t become eternal beggars at our table or the table of our enemies. America must show the strength of a loving and disciplined parent raising an independent offspring to maturity. America must defeat ideology from the top down with long term planning and guidance. And, even if they still say that Americans are `Overpaid, over-sexed, over-loud, fat and over-here`, they`ll say it with respect.

If America surrenders to an image gained with the `gravitas of cultural sensitivity` or deserts those to whom America has made commitments, it will not deliver a shining image to the world; nor to the intelligentsia who besmirch America`s Image for sake of envy or self aggrandizement. It will have the image of a fair-weather soldier, one who abandons friends and allies when the season becomes cold and the weather harsh. It will be an image not worth having.

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