Al-Masri Al-Yom, Egypt
Does the World Really Admire American Values and Culture?
By Said Amin Shelbi
Translated By Mitch Bacci
12 January 2013
Edited by Rachel Smith
Egypt - Al-Masri Al-Yom - Original Article (Arabic)
Out of the Bush administrations focus on military power and its excessive use of this power came American political scientist Joseph Nye's concept of “soft power.” Soft power, according to Nye, helps the U.S. obtain the outcomes it wants in the world through the shared values and culture reflected on television, in cinema, in music and through the attractiveness of its internal policies. As Nye says, it makes other people around the world admire the United States and desire to follow it and take up its model in striving for its level of prosperity and openness.
However, Nye’s concept of soft power is not free from criticism and refutation. In his book “The World America Made,” American political scientist Robert Kagan argued that the historical truth was more complicated, and that during the three decades following World War II, a large part of the world did not admire the United States. They did not want to imitate the United States, nor were they particularly pleased with the State Department.
Battles were fought over racial segregation in the 1950s and '60s. In the end of the '60s and '70s came the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Kennedy, then the Watergate scandal that shocked the world. Most of the world did not find United States foreign policy attractive during these years. From the '60s until the end of the Cold War, the United Nations General Assembly became a permanent platform for expressing hostility toward the United States.
In the '90s, the popularity of the United States further declined. This led the American political scientist Samuel Huntington to describe America as “the lonely superpower,” hated throughout the world because many see it “as intrusive, interventionist, exploitative, unilateralist, hegemonic, hypocritical.” The French foreign minister attacked America by calling it “the hyper power” and aspired to create a multi-polar world not dominated by the United States. This analysis of the effect of “soft power” is what led Kagan to deduce that soft power exists, but that it is difficult to measure its influence and easy to exaggerate it.
In his 2012 book “Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power,” strategic thinker and American political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski intervenes in this discussion by raising fundamental questions regarding the present and future of America and how it is viewed in the world: Is the American system still worthy of imitation on a global level? Do the awakened political masses look to America for their future hopes, and do they see American as playing a positive role in global affairs? Considering that America’s ability to influence world events in a constructive manner depends on how the world views its social system and its global role, it follows that America’s historical role in the world will inevitably decrease if it ignores negative internal events and takes international initiatives with objectionable legitimacy. Therefore, the United States, using all of its unique strengths, must overcome its stunning torrent of internal challenges and reorient its foreign policy in order to win over the admiration of the world and maintain its supremacy.
In this context Brzezinski mentions what he calls “the shared American dream.” He believes that many people are still attracted to the lure of America, not only those who have acquired higher education or those who seek such an education, but also those determined to break the cycle of poverty in their societies. Brzezinski reiterates that although America understands its power abroad will increasingly depend on its ability to face internal problems, nationalist decisions based on what are called systematic improvements are now the first condition necessary for any responsible assessment of the future of America’s global role. This specifically requires knowledge of America's weaknesses. If conducted diligently, this assessment will be the starting point of reforms necessary for America to retain its central role in global leadership while preserving the core values of its internal system.
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