Does it matter whether or not the United States is “well-liked” in the world?
I heard another rehashing of this discussion on talk radio today. It’s been a common one in recent years and certainly one of the least productive.
Both sides use this question as a platform from which to lash out at what they consider to be the worst traits of their opposition. The Right, charges the Left, doesn’t care at all — reflecting its dogmatic, autocratic, my-way-or-the-highway approach to dealing with the world. And the Left, mocks the Right, cares too much — reflecting its weak-kneed, appeasing, Pollyanna views on diplomacy.
What I don’t hear much in these heels-dug-in exchanges is much reference to the basic, strategic importance of tending to one’s reputation, whether you’re a nation, a company or a lemonade stand. Like any entity, the United States has things it wants, and how others perceive the U.S. has some operational bearing on how well it can have or do those things. It’s smart to pay attention to it. That holds true equally for international aims formulated on either side of the aisle.
Should the U.S. act to preserve its international approval rating at any cost? Of course not. But neither should it act as though it doesn’t matter, or equate a concern with the care and feeding of a national reputation with weakness. What we say and how we say it does matter — just maybe not always for the reasons we tend to rely upon when we’re yelling at each other on the radio. In the polarization of politics, there’s a middle ground here that both sides could benefit from remembering.
How are you going to pay for it? That question has caused more domestic needs to go unmet than any other. Universal health care coverage, more and better teachers, more affordable pre-school and college, safe roads and bridges and many other things remain out-of-reach for the richest nation in the world because we’re continually told “we can’t afford it.”
But listen carefully to hear if that omnipresent question comes up in the Petraeus congressional hearings this week. Why do our leaders and the news media obsess over “how are you going to pay for it’ with every other congressional testifier, but not this one?
That’s particularly surprising because the cost of this war dwarfs other domestic initiatives that we cavalierly dismiss as too expensive. To get a sense of the profound magnitude of the war cost, explore the on-line calculators that show how it is impacting families and communities, both now and into the future.
But, my conservative friends say, the astronomical cost is necessary to keep us safe. They’re absolutely right, IF this war is actually making us more safe. However, since this war has started, we’ve learned that the promised weapons of mass destruction don’t exist. We’ve learned that there was no terrorism collaboration between Saddam and bin Laden. We’ve learned that al-Qadea has gotten stronger since the war, not weaker. And we’ve learned that post-war terrorism has increased compared to pre-war terrorism, rather than decreased.
How are you going to pay for it? It’s a legitimate question when asked of liberals about their proposed federal initiatives. But why isn’t it being asked more often by fiscal watchdogs in the news media and Congress about this federal initiative?