Letters

Readers respond to "How the World Sees Americans," an interview with journalist Mark Hertsgaard.


Salon Staff
November 8, 2002 11:00PM (UTC)

[Read "How The World Sees Americans."]

"And, by the way, I want to make this clear: I take America and Americans to task for being provincial and self-centered in my book. But I also say that that's true of all 30 countries I've been to. The difference is that none of them have the power that we do."

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This is the exact unreasonable double standard that the foreign press and the left-leaning U.S. press holds America to. Somehow, we in the U.S. are supposed to know as much about all 160-plus countries in the world as the rest of the world knows about us. We are supposed to simultaneously grasp the importance of monetary policy to all these countries, the culture of all these countries, the language of all these countries, and still make dinner at night.

If the rest of the world is just as insular as we are, exactly why are we being held to an unreasonable double standard? Just because we have more military power doesn't make us omniscient. While the American people could do better in their knowledge of foreign affairs, they will never be as obsessive about the entire rest of the world as the rest of the world is about us.

-- Jason Bennett

Mark Hertsgaard says the world cries out for America -- the American media as well as the Bush administration -- to "listen to them." But what does America hear when it lends them its ears? Real solutions to terrorism? Effective methods of dealing with Saddam? Realistic ways of dealing with global warming? Nothing of the kind! No one in the world has better or even remotely viable ideas on these matters, yet they readily sneer at Bush for making up his own mind in the void of their irresolution.

Hertsgaard himself illustrates this when he agrees that Saddam is a monster but his answer to Hansen's question is a standard "it'll only make it worse" song and dance to distract from the fact that Bush and Blair have the only workable way to remove the Saddam cancer.

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-- T.J. Cassidy

What an insightful article. As a Canadian, I cannot claim the resentments harbored by those residents of countries like China or India, but I identified with many of Hertsgaard's statements.

Here, the stereotype of the "American" is a running joke. How can you live right next door to us and yet know so little? I have been in Montana and Idaho and met people who were surprised that I had come South from "all the way up there." When the twin towers fell, I felt for New York and the U.S. After all, you are our cocky, bullish older brother. We benefit from being in your shadow. But I could not help but feel that the U.S. was getting a taste of the devastation that has occurred regularly everywhere else on earth. I have friends who are from Somalia and South Africa, and I can't say that their troubles were any less relevant to me.

Bush's comments about the attacks and the subsequent war on terror sent me right over the edge. Comments like "Axis of Evil," "You're with us or against us" and his eagerness to start wars on two fronts seems utterly ridiculous to me. Whatever happened to diplomacy, discretion and most importantly, thinking before one speaks? As for his stand on environmentalism, I live in Alberta (you know, the OTHER Texas) and we are just now struggling with the reality that Kyoto will bring for our oil companies. I am not in agreement with our present government, but at least part of our legislative system is making a commitment to the planet. Western nations think that our countries are the only ones affected by our pollution, but of course that is not so. And sadder still, it is the poorer countries that cannot afford the means to clean up what we rich countries have spoiled. The pollution party has to end sometime, and North America should demonstrate to the rest of the world that we are committed to cleaning up. Bush's nonchalant brush off of Kyoto was unforgivable to many European nations -- and this is clear to me, here in Canada. I ask you, what news are you guys receiving?

Last of all, I would like to mention an interesting point. Canadians are the most wired citizens on earth, due to our penchant for American cable TV channels. Along with our somewhat tame Canadian fare, we receive the full gamut of your media glut if we are willing to pay for it. After years without cable, watching American news is always a funny experience for me -- it seems so biased and unfinished. It is a pity that the U.S. cannot step outside of itself and see the parody of freedom and democracy it has become.

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-- Jaimie Levesque

An excellent interview, but I wanted to raise one point where I thought the interviewer permitted a big gap in the subject's logic on Iraq.

Hertsgaard agrees with the conventional wisdom on Iraq that Saddam is a big threat to his people and to the world. And he agrees that the U.S. is in the unique position to possess the will and capacity to do something about it.

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Then Hertsgaard is permitted to take a giant leap without any clarification and state that these two premises add up to something different from the administration's posture that we have a responsibility to act, alone if necessary.

Why does Hertsgaard believe that it is necessary for us to get approval from the rest of the world?

I don't hear anyone making a case against the conventional wisdom on Iraq. So what exactly is it about other country's opposition that we should be taking into account? Are they simply voicing concerns out of a fear that if they don't, they will be irrelevant? Or maybe their opposition is grounded in self-interest rather than a belief that Saddam is a man who can be reasoned with.

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France's motive for opposition may be that Iraq is a huge oil supplier. Russia's objection may be centered on the fact that Iraq is a huge debtor, and they just inked new a new, long-term economic cooperation pact. China is opposed to any precedent for interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation.

Does Hertsgaard believe that countries that oppose the war movement are acting on principle? Or does he acknowledge that their opposition may be based on self-interest and that the U.S. must somehow find a way to reconcile their economic and political interests with our security?

The pill that says we must go to war now is very difficult to swallow. But I find it even more difficult to swallow the pill that says we are safe in waiting until the rest of the world wakes up and realizes that Saddam is a serious threat who will not give up his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction without a fight.

-- Jason Freund

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While Mark Hertsgaard makes some very pertinent points in his interview, I must object to his claim that "The only reason that the Mubarak government and its predecessors are in power is because Egypt is the second largest American aid recipient." Given the history of the Egyptian regime since 1952, and the history of the Arab world over the past 30 years, there is little to suggest such a conclusion. The regime Nasser installed remained in power for 21 years while bearing great enmity from the U.S., and has remained in power for the 22 years since it has been a major Arab ally of the U.S.

Meanwhile, the Assad family has ruled Syria, the Hussein family has ruled Jordan, Saddam Hussein has ruled Iraq, and the Saudi monarchy has ruled Saudi Arabia without interruption for the past 30 years. The Jordanians and the Saudis are American allies, Saddam Hussein was an American ally and is now an American enemy, and the Assads have always been American enemies.

Needless to say, this suggests that American aid is in not much of a factor in the success or failure of Arab regimes. They have shown that they can survive with or without it. Men like Mubarak, Assad, and Saddam Hussein know how to wield power effectively and to shut down domestic opposition -- $2 billion/year in foreign aid, while nice, is not going to make the difference between their success and failure. After all, Saddam Hussein has remained in power despite 11 years of economic sanctions that have destroyed his nation's economy -- the economic losses of sanctions amounting to far more than $2 billion/year.

-- Joshua Galun

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