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sabato 29 febbraio 2020

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The American Worldview

18.10.2007 - Maxwell Robinson

American foreign policy under the Bush administration has infuriated many people across the world. Those who say that America has been “selfish,” “short-sighted,” and “dangerous” have evidence to support their argument. First, while many countries have cooperated to fight global warming by signing the Kyoto Protocol, America has withdrawn its support. Second, America has continued to provide huge financial, military, and moral support to Israel while it has been criticized for failing to make a genuine effort to solve the problem of the lack of a Palestinian state. Third, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have destabilized both countries and resulted in chaos and violence. Thousands of human beings – Iraqis, Afghanis, Americans, British, Italians, and others – have died as a result.  

Some people feel outraged at America to the extent that it has caused human pain and suffering. Many feel that America has chosen short term, national economic and security interests over the long term, global issues. Indeed, America has largely ignored the opinion of the majority of the world’s population. Many are disappointed that at the precise moment when America had the strength and support to cooperate with other countries and create positive change, it chose to act unilaterally.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to understand is why America chose a foreign policy that many in the world find offensive. The country has a democratic political system in which decisions are made by a population of intelligent people. Does this mean that the American people are mean spirited and intentionally trying to cause pain in the world?

A lack of interest in the world may help to explain why some Americans support policies that people in other countries oppose. Here are some surprising facts from the 2006 National Geographic-Roper Survey of Geographic Literacy, which questioned Americans aged 18-24 about the world. Only 22% have a passport and even fewer have traveled to another country. 74% believe that English is the language that is spoken by the most people in the world, while far more people speak Mandarin Chinese. 63% cannot locate Iraq on a map, and 88% cannot locate Afghanistan on a map. This shows that some Americans spend little time thinking about the rest of the world. This is understandable in such a large country. However, when it comes to making decisions on complex foreign policy issues like war or climate change, the geographically illiterate American probably finds it difficult to know or care about the implications it will have for other people in the world. They are not necessarily mean war mongers – more likely, they are simply out of touch with the world because they are focused on the immediate concerns of their daily lives. I suspect that this is the case with many people in many countries.

During my visit to Rome in June 2005, the mention of my American nationality often prompted a healthy discussion about international politics. Instead of criticizing the US, my Italian friends wanted to know why the US has chosen the policies that it has. Fortunately, most of those who disagreed with American foreign policy did not direct their anger at me. I appreciate that kind of open, objective political discussion, because it encourages cooperation and good will among people of different countries. This kind of international understanding is a foreign policy that everyone can agree upon.

The complete National Geographic Roper Survey of Geographic Literacy can be found at Grazie!


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