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.