A Site for Scholarly Commentary, Debate and Media Resources for the 2016 Election

Student Voices

A London perspective: America, the multifaceted

To the rest of the world, if countries were people, the U.S. would be an intensely patriotic, hamburger-loving, gun-toting idealist with a penchant for interfering in other people’s business.

As the only American in my group of friends in London this semester, it often falls to me to separate fact from fiction, a job that ends up being equal parts educational and hilarious. (“Is high school really like it is in ‘Mean Girls’?” “Uh…yes?”)

In turn, I’m often curious about the expectations and perceptions of the U.S. abroad, especially with the 2016 presidential election creeping up. As I have discovered, there is no shortage of opinions.

One of the main negative stereotypes about the U.S. is that we, as a nation, often intervene unnecessarily in other countries’ affairs. One of my friends from Singapore, Natalie, told me she doesn’t especially care who the next president is, but the U.S. should stop intervening with military force abroad. She believes no state should ever interfere in the domestic affairs of other states without an express invitation.

To me, this seemed like a fairly extreme political stance; most scholars, for example, believe that the horrific Rwandan genocide, widely acknowledged as one of the most terrible failures of the international community, could easily have been prevented. When I asked her about this particular incident, she simply shrugged and said, “It’s none of your business.”

My knee-jerk reaction to her opinion is to wonder at her seeming lack of morals and concern. Reality, however, is much more complicated than that, and the difference in our opinions stems from our respective cultures. In Singapore, Natalie explained, the culture is one of self-sufficiency; what doesn’t concern you shouldn’t concern you. This difference touches on something fundamental to the U.S. political culture and the way that Americans regard the rest of the world – with idealism.

In the context of international relations, idealism is the idea that a state’s foreign policy should be shaped by its moral code. It opposes the theory of realism, which claims that states are only interested in increasing their power over other states. Although it sounds “friendlier” than realism, in some ways idealism can be just as dangerous — a state governed by its own moral code believes itself fully justified in imposing its beliefs on others.

Is the U.S. such a state? There is no way to know for sure. A world opinion poll found that 66,000 people in 65 different countries name the U.S. as the greatest threat to world peace. As an American, I find these results both disappointing and sobering. Ironically, the U.S. was also voted the country that people would most want to move to if given the opportunity.

What can we take away from this? In more than a year, the American people will be voting for a new president and a new direction for the country. When we do, we would do well to remember that we’re not just electing a new domestic leader, but also an incredibly powerful figure who will represent us internationally. The choice is ours — what direction do we want the U.S. to go in during the next four years?