Canada and the United States have long had what, from the outside, can be seen as a symbiotic relationship. We used to have (until recently) the world’s longest undefended border. We signed on to NAFTA even though it benefitted us far less than it did our neighbours to the south. On the world stage, America is the cartoon Bulldog and Canada is the Jack Russell terrier jumping around asking, “what are we doing today, Spike?”
The USA is the one on the left.
America has long gotten their power through military might, which is why military spending is the sacred cow when it comes to America’s budget. Neither Republicans, nor Democrats will significantly slash funding for America’s military no matter the fiscal consequence. America’s military budget is larger than that of China, Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Italy, South Korea, Brazil, Canada, and Australia combined. A strong military has been too large a part of the American identity for far too long but it’s the only thing keeping them in a position of any real international power, so they are doomed to keep the funding bloated. Americans are so wrapped up in this identity that they actually think that the rest of the world wants them in the position of protector. In this link, from Aljazeera, the Americans on the panel are all of the opinion that America HAS to defend the entire world, that they have been placed in that position by their allies. (The foreign policy conversation begins at the 24:15 mark.) It seems this opinion is a pervasive one in the U.S. However, if you ask the leaders, or even the people of countries around the world, you get a very different opinion. Most other countries see America as a corrupt and greedy bully that has taken the role of warmonger (not protector) upon itself, without ever being asked to do so, because they have been able to convince themselves that they own the moral high ground. That being said, there is no denying that America’s military might has served them well since the country’s inception. Unfortunately for America, their military (among other things) is bankrupting them, so they seem to be between a rock and a hard place. President Obama ran (the first time) on diplomacy over war. He seemed genuinely concerned about how America was perceived on the world stage. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, he has not lived up to his promise. Just ask any country who has been on the receiving end of one of his drone attacks.
MORAL HIGH GROUND
A big part of what angers other countries about America is the fact that Americans smugly go around the world claiming the moral high ground. America is, “the greatest nation in the world”. Meanwhile, America has tortured, murdered and raped its way through wars just as much, if not more than the rest of us. America should be called out on human rights violations as much as countries like China, Iran and Pakistan are, if only because of their for profit healthcare, prisons, and their drug war that only serves to keep the minorities and the poor from achieving any level of success. The hypocrisy of the moral high ground in this case would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous. If you look at the countries causing the most conflict in the world right now they all have one thing in common… they all think that they have God on their side and that they are the good guys doing God’s work by fighting the forces of evil. In fact, this has been a huge part of America’s brand since the American Revolution. This religious ideology is dangerous because it excuses all sorts of atrocities without actually having to have any kind of well thought out reason for killing, torturing or raping innocent (and not so innocent) people in countries around the world. They are so wrapped up in thinking they are the best, that they constantly act against their own best interests. In this last election there was quite a bit of China bashing going on. Do they not know that China holds the vast majority of their debt and makes most of their products? Yes, Americans are so smug that they think it’s okay to bite the hand that (literally) feeds them. It’s not easy being America’s enemy.
It’s no picnic being America’s friend either. In 2011, when the United States Congress was busy bickering about whether or not to raise the debt ceiling, quite a few Americans seemed shocked that their country was not paying its bills. This is nothing new. America hasn’t been paying their bills for years. Even when court ordered to do so, America continues to be a deadbeat nation. Take a look at the Canada USA softwood dispute for an example of this behavior. Apparently NAFTA wasn’t good enough for the USA when it came to charging whatever they wanted to for a Canadian product, so they decided to impose a tariff on Canada’s softwood. Canada took them to international court, several times and won. America still has yet to pay the agreed upon amount in its entirety. (that is a nutshell version, to get the whole story, I encourage you to click the link.) I could cite may more examples, but we’d be here all day. When it comes to paying back what they owe, America reminds me of Dean in the following sketch from Kids In The Hall.
I’d be very wary of signing a deal with America.
THE BLAME GAME
One thing the U.S. government is good at, is blaming other countries for things that are (at least partially) America’s fault. Take, for example the Gulf Oil Spill. America was very quick to blame the entire thing on BP, so as to get out of having to pay for the lion’s share of the clean up costs. Halliburton was just as much, if not, more to blame, but they got off relatively scott free. Even the financial crisis in Greece, which was a major contributor to the Euro Zone crisis, falls onto America’s shoulders, via Goldman Sachs, a bank that received a government bail out.
Slowly, other countries are waking up to the fact that America’s purchasing power is a bit like the Emperor’s new clothes. Sure, they buy stuff with the zeal of a kid at Christmas, but if they defer payment, or just plain, don’t pay at all, why would you sell to them? Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper (whose actions are hit and miss in my book) has cleverly been travelling the world, making deals with burgeoning economic powerhouses like China, Japan, Brazil and, most recently, India to offset Canada’s reliance on American trade. In fact, this chart, from the International Monetary Fund shows that the world economic stage is yet another place where America is no longer number one .
|Economy||Nominal GDP (billions in USD)|
|(03) United States||
|(10) Saudi Arabia||
|The twenty largest economies contributing to global nominal GDP growth (2007 – 2012)[|
Many other countries are following suit, making deals with each other to offset their dependence on the weakening American economy.
I have long been saying that the only thing at which America can still rightfully claim the number one spot is branding. They are very good at perpetuating an image, just not so good at living up to that image. Unfortunately, for America, everyone but the American public can see behind the curtain.
2 thoughts on “American foreign policy, a foreign perspective”
I always respect your point of view and enjoy your writing. That being said, while I do NOT disagree with anything that you have written, it should also be pointed out that while we do deserve the title of bully in some situations, we are the first to run to aid when famine, natural disaster or disease strikes both as individual donors and from the government. And our military often aids in those efforts. On the Christmas Day Tsunami our military helicopters worked round the clock rescuing survivors and flying food, water and supplies. Our carriers were off the coast supplying the helicopters. By December 31st of 2004 America had already committed 350 million dollars of aid to victims, and doesn’t include what the American Red Cross and private donors raised (another 400 million). In 2010 we sent 379 million in emergency to Haitian earthquake victims plus 5000 troops to help dig out survivors from the rubble. In 2011 our military responded again to aid the Japanese earthquake and Tsunami victims with our government committing 245 million in aid and private donors another 345 million.
The list goes on and on, Iranian earthquakes in both 2003 and 2012, Mexico City in 1985, Nicuragua in 1972, Somalia famine relief in 2012, AIDS relief in Africa for decades now, these are just the disasters I can remember off the top of my head. In 2012 American emergency foreign aid budget exceeded 1.6 Billion (with a B) and that does not include regular, planned aid contributions, this was just the “acts of God” stuff.
Could we do more? You bet. Can our country behave like a complete ass? You bet. However, to portray us as all bad is hardly fair, or accurate. No one is all bad, and at the end of the day America is like everywhere else, human, doing the best we can and sometimes, failing. Luckily, sometimes, succeeding.