‘The purest treasure mortal times afford is spotless reputation.” Thus says Shakespeare in ‘Richard II.” As this quote underscores, good reputation is obviously important on a personal level, but does it also have implications on the international level?
By most accounts, the United States has experienced declining popularity abroad during the last eight years. Whether deserved or not, the obvious scapegoat for this wane in international regard is the Bush Administration or, more specifically, its foreign policy and the Iraq War. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, a former presidential contender, has gone as far as to label the United States an ‘international pariah.”
Despite the importance of maintaining good relations abroad, however, winning the international popularity contest should be put into perspective. After all, the priority of a foreign policy is not necessarily to curry favor with other nations. Beyond popularity, Americans expect their leaders to pursue a foreign policy that is morally right and also in the best interest of their country.
This is the crux of the matter because what may be in the best interest of the Unites States may not be in the best interest of Germany or France or any number of other countries. It is no secret that China, Russia, the European Union and the United States have competing objectives and world views. Whenever the United States acts in its own interest or in the interest of its allies, it always runs the risk of drawing international ire from at least one quarter.
The United States’ strong relationship with Israel, for instance, has at times harmed its relationship with Israel’s often hostile neighbors. To cite another case, the United States has taken a position on the recent invasion of Georgia that puts it in tension with Russia. As these examples show, the United States must take into account other considerations besides international popularity or goodwill when making foreign policy decisions.
Protecting established democracies from larger neighbors is one of these considerations. Ensuring the safety of Americans is another. The challenge for the next administration is to improve relations with the international community in a way that does not compromise U.S. interests or values. If we become more popular in Europe and around the world, but in the process we lose autonomy, security or some other valuable commodity, wherein lies the gain?
Now we find ourselves in the midst of a presidential election where the candidate we choose will determine the United States’ foreign policy for the next four years. Not surprisingly, countries around the world are interested in the outcome. In a recent international survey taken by the polling firm GlobeScan, all 22 countries favored Senator Barack Obama over Senator John McCain. In part, this lopsided outcome seems fueled by the perception that Obama will improve the United States’ relationship with the rest of the world.
Perhaps the survey is right, and Obama will indeed make the United States more popular and well-liked around the world. Or perhaps McCain could achieve the same result. Or perhaps such international polls should not be a factor in choosing a candidate. Perhaps we should pick the next president of the United States for more substantial reasons than how hard he will work to please the citizens of other countries, since his primary responsibility is to work on behalf of the citizens of the United States.
President Ronald Reagan’s expansion of the United States’ military and weapons arsenal was not greeted with widespread popularity around the world and certainly did not win a round of applause from the Russian Politburo. Some considered his strident opposition to the Soviet Union reckless and warmongering. But, in hindsight, many analysts believe that his tactics hastened the demise of the Soviet Union, which was unable to keep pace economically and militarily. As President Reagan showed, a successful foreign policy may not be grounded in foreign opinion polls.
Of course the United States must interact wisely and respectfully with other nations, but the point remains that only the United States will seek its own welfare at home and abroad. Just as French citizens expect President Nicolas Sarkozy to promote French interests without concerning himself overly much with U.S. public opinion and German citizens expect Chancellor Angela Merkel to work on behalf of Germany without polling the rest of Europe, American citizens have the right to choose a president who will seek what is best for the United States.
Jaramillo is a member of the class of 2011.