In 1958, two former U.S. Navy officers wrote and released “The Ugly American,” a book that portrayed an inept American diplomatic corps that did not understand the language or culture of the countries in which they served. The “ugly American” in the book actually referred to a good American who learned the language and culture of the country and offered genuine assistance to their people. However, his “calloused and grease-blackened hands always reminded him that he was an ugly man.”
But this meaning shifted among American readers to refer to those diplomats who were socially isolated, loud, ostentatious and aloof. President Kennedy saw truth in some of these criticisms and sent a copy to his fellow Senators. When he became President, he established the Peace Corps in part due to this book. The intent was to extend our “soft power” through young volunteers who would speak the language and understand foreign cultures.
Fast forward to today, and nobody is talking about the Peace Corps. But watch international news channels and you will detect that countries around the world are again perceiving America in negative terms.
Surveys of international students from both Asia and Europe reveal they arrive to find that the United States has significantly more poverty than they had expected, often more than in their home country.
But it is at the highest diplomatic levels that America’s image of being a leader in promoting democracy has taken a huge hit. In particular, the U.S. stands out from other Western democracies in not supporting international treaties and acting very selfish.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established by the Rome Statute on July, 1998 and came into force on July1, 2002. It designated four core international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. However, while 120 countries signed up, it was never ratified by the U.S. Congress.
In these last years, the U.S. has threatened prosecution and financial sanctions against ICC judges and imposed visa bans against any persons investigating Americans for alleged crimes in Afghanistan. This then went further to threaten sanctions against any of the 120 countries who work with the ICC.
This American “exceptionalism” became even more worrisome to observers around the world when a military officer who was found guilty of war crimes by the United States own military tribunals was summarily pardoned.
UNCLOS is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea negotiated from 1973 to 1982. Again America is not a party to this multinational treaty, but nevertheless points to its ruling that China does not own certain low lying islands, thus making their South China Sea claims therefore “illegal.” Nevertheless, UNCLOS also ruled against the United States years earlier when the U.S. mined the harbors in Nicaragua. We ignored UNCLOS as China does today.
Earlier this year, the President failed in an offer to buy CureVac, a German vaccine company, with the agreement to make any coronavirus vaccine available only to the United States. But a similar U.S.-first arrangement was reportedly made with two other European countries.
And just this last week, the U.S. Secretary of State went to the United Nations Security Council to ask for severe “snapback” actions on Iran that would include all sanctions that were terminated five years ago by the Security Council. Out of the 15 members on the Security Council, we only got one vote: the Dominican Republic.
Our usual allied foreign ministers pointed out: “France, Germany and the United Kingdom note that the U.S. ceased to be a participant to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) following their withdrawal from the deal on May 8, 2018.”
Our former allies overseas are growing weary of our self-centered and boorish behavior abroad. To confirm this, we only need to tune in to BBC (British), DW (German) or other international channels.
Our “ugly American” image is back.
And if we return to a time when we can travel abroad again, you might want to put a maple leaf on your luggage.