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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

America's Influence in the World

During the Cold War, America influenced 1/4 of the world and communism the other 1/4. The rest were, as they called themselves, non-aligned, pretending to be neutral.

 In reality, with Mexico heading the movement, their sympathy was with Moscow with few exceptions. Now that we have gotten rid of the Soviet Union, we have to deal with the remnants of communism in China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam. Beijing was the smartest of them all by combining private property within the communist regime. Cuba's ailing rulers, the Castro's, both of whom have passed the 80's, will soon disappear and relations with us will go back to normal. North Korea, of course, being ruled by a madman, has to find its own way to reemerge from the nightmare: A revolution would be nice, but a well placed Hellfire missile could also do the trick of getting rid of the pudgy dictator. Hey, I am a pacifist but sometimes the only language a gangster will understand is a well-placed bullet.. or drone. Think Hitler in 1938!

Few peoples really like us; by "peoples" I mean the ordinary citizens of 195 nations, though what really counts is what the human beings of the largest countries actually think of us. Thanks to Bush II, our image has been deteriorating steadily as a warmonger nation that tries to impose its culture on others. Never mind that we were attacked by some extremist Arabs on 9/11. They don't believe we had to actually send ground troops to 2 countries that did not represent any danger for us as such. Or do you think that a Taliban army could actually invade us? Or  Sadam Hussein troops attacking our borders? No, of course not. And now we abandon Iraq with a bitter sweet taste in our mouths after losing more than 4,000 American soldiers and killing who knows how many innocent civilians.

True, our music, our jeans, our food, our iPads and iPhones, our movies, our actors, and our language have "invaded" the world; Chinese youths happily sip Coca-Cola while munching on a hot dog. Same for the new Japanese  generation, the French, the Germans, the Russians, they all enjoy a taste of American lore. But that doesn't mean they like us as a people, and even less as a government. Why? Because we seldom learn another language, because we rarely make an effort to understand other cultures- think of the Griswolds in Paris, we appear to be arrogant, poorly dressed (by French standards), with no taste for good wine and good food and no appreciation for great music. We work too hard and too late (in European minds), we neglect our families, and we fawn over profit and the not-so-mighty dollar. And we have the most powerful military the world has ever seen, with fancy pilotless planes that can kill while invisible.

You can't expect a superpower to be loved, only feared. Oh, we were loved once, when we liberated France in 1945, and even in Germany, our enemy, because we treated them with respect. But after many years of neglecting our allies, of treating them as inferior nations (except for Great Britain of course), they decided to form a union that would be as powerful as America; it's called the European Union and it hasn't worked out that way. They are still divided, squabbling about the euro and about national sovereignty. And they still need us to put out the fire: example Libya.

Our influence on the world has waned, obviously, because of the emergence of new and extremely active nations: India and China, of course, but also smaller countries like Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Finland, Switzerland, Malaysia, and, yes, even Vietnam, our old enemy. President Obama has tried to offer an olive branch to some Arab countries, including Iran, but with no visible success; all he obtained was the ridicule of some Republican candidates to the White House. Arabs in general consider appeasement as a weakness. They respect power and strength, particularly military power. The killing of bin Laden restored some of our prestige in the Middle East as we showed that we can easily use the big stick after showing the carrot (silly metaphor). It is sad to admit that in this century violence can be a better tool to obtain our goals.

Did I mention Russia, the ex-communist superpower which has retained almost all of its weapons of mass destruction? Our influence there is limited; Russian teens love our music and our informal way of dressing, their parents not so much, as they still remember the hellish days of secret police and deportations to Siberia. Their financial situation, on the other hand, is much worse for 90% of them as prices have shot up while their meager salaries or pensions have stagnated. Many young Russian women try desperately to leave through marriage to a European or, preferably, an American. They see that as a way to escape the social and economic injustice prevalent in their country. Do they like us? Yes, very much. Their government however hates us with a passion, even more than when Gorbachev was in power. Why? Because we won the Cold War! Their cherished Mother Russia is no longer a dominant world power.

We all know that Mexico still considers us as their enemy for many good reasons: We have invaded them and taken half their territory. We have treated them as servants, as backward lazy Latinos. We buy their drugs and fuel the war between cartels. But they still try to come here because we offer jobs and better living conditions. Ordinary Mexicans don't care much for gringos, but they will admit that our shadow covers their land and our money keeps their businesses and industries humming. They can't live without us and we can't live without them; it's a Mexican stand-off!

Thanks to our vast diversity we have been learning, albeit slowly, to appreciate other cultures (taco anybody?), and other races. The day will come when the rest of the world will learn to appreciate us for what we really are: a strong, industrious, and fun-loving people who show their bottomless generosity by helping less fortunate human beings all over the planet.

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