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Flip-Flops and Foreign Policy: How American Tourist Behavior Hinders U.S. National Security

Dr. Elise Carlson-Rainer

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photo: Duane Hanson

Dear American tourist,

When you are in great European cathedrals, palaces, and important historical sites, would it be possible for you to leave your flip-flops at home? Your shorts and T-shirts could stay as well. If you can afford to bring you and your family to a European palace, I am assuming you could also afford close-toed shoes and proper pants. I do not expect you to be fluent in German, or French. However, it is not too much to ask for you learn how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the native language. You are not at home: please reflect that you are in a different country, attempt to assimilate, and show a modicum of respect for where you are – it is in your national interest to do so.

Recently, in Vienna, Austria – one of the global centers of high culture, music, and art – I dined at the famous Belvedere Palace’s bistro. During the middle of my meal, a family sat down at the table next to me, with the telltale signs of coming from the United States. All four were wearing flip-flops, they spoke two decibels higher than anyone else at the restaurant, and all were wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Not used to Viennese cuisine, at one point the mother exclaimed loudly, “I believe this gazpacho has turned!” I am guessing many readers have had a similar experience while traveling abroad, as this is sadly not a unique encounter with American tourists. This overall attitude can easily make locals feel annoyed and insulted. While seemingly harmless, these types of interactions can leave a lasting impression about the United States and hurt U.S. diplomacy.

It is important for tourists to realize that they do not come as individuals. Rather, they are seen as “Americans.” As a former American diplomat, it is exhausting and hard to explain the unmeasurable time-consuming task public diplomacy programs spend in combating negative stereotypes of the United States[1]. Beyond showing respect for other nations in places such as Europe, these programs aim to explain to predominately Muslim nations that Americans do not hate Muslims, that our streets are not lined with gold, and that Americans value ethnic and cultural diversity. These efforts in diplomacy work to strengthen ties with would-be skeptical trade partners, and enable carrying out critical U.S. security interests. A nation must build trust to create allies. Currently, the U.S. is in an existential crisis regarding our national values. As tourists are informal representatives of our nation, they can help, or jeopardize, the complex project of American diplomacy in communicating who we are as a people.

When one is dressed properly, as I always do while traveling, one earns respect from locals. I take great pride when I am asked for directions, or locals start conversations with me in German, Swedish, or French, etc. It is a small victory when they realize that I too am an American, but present myself differently than the cafe neighbors I referenced above. It does not matter what you look like, your heritage, or ethnicity. It matters how you present yourself while traveling abroad. There is a universal quality that results in responding back positively when one feels respected. No matter the country, I work hard to give a different impression: that of an American who values local customs and mores. When American tourists show blatant disregard for the country they are visiting, at best it leads to annoyance, at worst, anger and a lasting ill-impression of whom we are as a people.

I recognize that this is a negative generalization of American tourists. Different, but similarly harmful norms can be seen from Australian, English, or German tourists, to name a few examples. Their behavior abroad can also hurt their counties’ national image. Also, it is important to recognize the many tourists – from America and beyond – that come to foreign countries and assimilate beautifully. Thus, tourists are like a toupee; you only see the bad ones.

Scholars such as Jonathan Mercer demonstrate how important reputation is for international relations[2]. Mercer and others argue that countries sign trade agreements, enter into peace deals, and trust the lasting impact of an international negotiation, largely based upon a countries’ reputation. While I recognize that it is not the foreign minister or secretary of state one is interacting with in a café, but rather likely a nice family from Florida, California, or North Carolina. Still, it is not necessarily high level people who carry out the lion-share of trade deals between the United States and foreign countries. It is small and large business partnerships on either side of the Atlantic. These interactions matter: they impact how, and to what extent, foreigners are willing to negotiate, trade, and make security partnerships with the United States.

While encounters like this are frustratingly common in tourist sites across Europe, many do not realize how much it hurts American public diplomacy. Diplomats spend years learning languages. Beyond language, they immerse themselves in local customs. There is a reason for this: understanding other cultures and languages importantly enables foreigners to understand us. It is a way to bridge cultures, discard stereotypes, and defeat ignorance about the fascinating and important peoples that are beyond our borders. When Americans show disregard for host nations and peoples, it makes our diplomatic efforts to build long-lasting bridges and permanent connections – whether for business, security, values, or broader international relations – monumentally more complex and difficult.

When traveling abroad, why not show locals great things about American culture? For example, our strong value of customer service, world class technology, or our ability to make connections and meet strangers openly? There is a plethora of wonderful things about American society that becomes hidden behind distracting Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops. Therefore, leaving your cut-offs at home and learning a few words of the native language is in your country’s national interest. It will help foreigners you meet feel respected and valued. It is in all of our interests to communicate attitudes that inspire people to want to create partnerships with us across the Atlantic.

Danke et Merci!

  • [1] U.S. Department of State. Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs https://www.state.gov/r/ Accessed on July 3, 2018.
  • [2] Mercer, Jonathan 1997.Reputation And International Politics. Cornell University Press | Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, New York.

Dr. Elise Carlson-Rainer is Doctoral Faculty in the School of Security and Global Studies at the American Public University. She has a long and distinguished career within the diplomatic corps of the United States, with postings across Europe and the Middle East. She was a Fulbright Fellow to Sweden in 2004-2005.She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Washington in the field of human rights and foreign policy. Dr. Carlson-Rainer teaches university courses in democracy and human rights, U.S. foreign policy, nationalism, global security and international relations.

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Americas

Leftists make a comeback in Latin America

Mohammad Ghaderi

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In Argentina and Uruguay, leftist candidates won the elections and Evo Morales could maintain his position as the president of Bolivia, but in Chile, people have protested against the U.S.-backed president.

The failure of the U.S.-backed candidate in the Argentinean election in recent days was a sign of the U.S. failure in Latin America. Leftist Alberto Fernandez, an opponent of U.S. interventionist policies, won about 48 percent of the vote in general election and was announced as the new president in the first round.

 This is while countries such as Venezuela and Cuba have maintained their anti-U.S. sentiment. Although the U.S. has made an unceasing effort in the last two years to overthrow the current regime in Venezuela, it has not succeeded. 

The New Left movement in Latin America, which was formed by the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chaves, has put Venezuela in many troubles but reduced U.S. influence in the region to the point that even experts suggested that Washington has lost its backyard.

The New Leftist governments emerged in Latin America in the late 20th century. Leftist leaders have distanced from some of traditional principles, but maintained the fight against American hegemony, just like their predecessors. Latin America, with rich sources of oil, gas, and uranium, as well as great opportunity for investment, has been of particular importance from a geopolitical, geostrategic and geo-economic perspective. The U.S. has put control over Latin America on its agenda since 1823 when then president James Monroe offered his plan known as the “Monroe Doctrine”.

The Monroe Doctrine emphasized that as long as the U.S. had not achieved real power and growth, it cannot be considered as an active element and main actor in world politics, thus it should obtain necessary economic growth in Western Hemisphere. The doctrine also stated that South America and Caribbean are areas with high security priority whose fate is tied to the U.S. fate, and the U.S. must have a strong influence in the region to provide its own growth and development.

In the late 20th and early present century, Latin America has witnessed new developments, including the New Left movement. The New Left in Latin America was founded and developed as leaders such as Chavez in Venezuela, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua came to power.

 Opportunities and threats

The U.S. is concerned about the presence of its rivals, especially Russia and China, in Latin America and the cooperation of these two countries with leftist states in the region. To counter China and Russia’s influence, the U.S. has launched various plans to undermine leftist governments through economic crises and put its allied right-wing figures into power.

Washington’s comprehensive effort to topple the Maduro administration in Venezuela is an example. On the other hand, China and Russia’s approach to Latin America and the tendency of New Left countries to ally with Beijing and Moscow can be a major deterrent to the implementation of the U.S. plan in the region.

This is while the Trump administration is trying to redefine U.S. role and position in Latin America. From Trump’s point of view, the wrong policies of previous governments and developments have caused the U.S. to lose its control over Latin America and the Caribbean, and instead increased the influence of U.S. rivals, including China, in the region.

In an interview with Foreign Policy, following his recent visit to Colombia, Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein said that the Trump administration is making a push to strengthen alliances across Latin America as part of an effort to counter rising Chinese and Russian influence in the United States’ backyard.

Goldfein said Colombia and other Latin American countries risked being locked out of U.S. and allied operations if they stopped buying military hardware from the United States and turned to other markets instead.

China has invested heavily in the region to reach Latin America’s oil reserves. Beijing has now become the largest trading partner of some Latin American countries, including Brazil, Chile, Cuba and Uruguay.

Russia also continues to sell billions of dollars in arms to Latin American countries. Unlike China, which seeks to use Latin American natural resources for its economic growth, Russia’s interests in this region are more strategic.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Americas

Democrats take a gamble on Trump’s impeachment

Javad Heirannia

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Despite all ups and downs, Democrats finally brought impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump to the House of Representatives, a move which made Trump’s prediction come true.

The House of Representatives passed a resolution on Thursday to launch an impeachment inquiry into Trump, thereby making formal investigations against him possible. The resolution was approved by a vote of 232 to 196.

Accordingly, the House of Intelligence Committee carries out the investigations into the impeachment and reports its findings to the Judiciary Committee that comments on the process of impeachment.

Trump has said that the House will get enough votes to impeach him, but he is certain that the Senate will acquit him of charges.

Investigations into Trump’s impeachment began on September 24 following the official order of Speaker of U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.

The order came after reports about Trump’s telephone call with Ukrainian president for investigation into his possible rival Joe Biden.

During the conversation Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky for a “favor”. He pressured Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, his possible Democratic rival for the 2020 presidential election, and his son Hunter Biden who was on the board of a Ukrainian oil and gas factory.  At the time, Trump had suspended $400 million military aid to Ukraine as a quid pro quo.

Why Nancy Pelosi risks?

It should be noted that some Democrats have called for Trump’s impeachment since his first months of his presidency. The impeachment inquiry was popular among Democratic voters, with a recent poll showing that %73 of them favoring the impeachment.

But Republicans are strongly opposed to impeachment, and the country generally relies on Republicans. That is why Nancy Pelosi and other leading Democrats were first reluctant to officially begin an impeachment. Their calculations have so far revealed that impeachment against Trump will not have much effect on the opinion of Republicans and his supporters, a situation which will make it more difficult to remove him from the 2020 election.

Trump has described the impeachment as “fake”.  Pelosi said that Trump has affirmed that he had asked the Ukrainian president to take actions in favor of his political position, claiming the measures of Trump’s administration were undermining U.S. national security.

“The release of the notes of the call by the White House confirms that the president engaged in behavior that undermines the integrity of our elections, the dignity of the office he holds and our national security,” Pelosi said in a statement.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff also said that the president should prioritize national interests rather than his personal interests. Schiff added that they will study whether Trump has exploited military aid to Ukraine to meet his demands. 

Consequences of Trump’s impeachment

Experts argue that Trump’s impeachment and lack of a decisive leader will make the U.S. more vulnerable to other countries’ plots. As Robert W. Merry recently said in The National Interest magazine, “When the president is weakened at home, then America is weakened abroad.”

However, Washington’s friends and enemies consider U.S. foreign policy insignificant due to political infighting at home. Instead, the great power players are seeking to limit the influence of the country rather than cooperating with it.

The recent accusations against Trump can be easily stated as a national security issue, which needs to be reformed immediately. Theoretically, military aid will be provided only if U.S. officials become convinced that they can achieve main security objectives of Washington. Therefore refusing to provide aid because of political reasons is a serious wrongdoing, showing that the personal interests of the president is superior to U.S. national interests. 

Will the impeachment inquiry get the necessary vote?

Now that the House has launched an impeachment inquiry into the president, the Senate will play an important role in the process. In this case, the Senate will act as a court that decides on Trump’s dismissal or survival.

To oust Trump, the votes of 67 members of the Senate is needed, which would be two-thirds of their population. Currently, there are 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats in the Senate. Therefore, Democrats need the support of 20 Republican senators.

Since the Republicans have not supported Trump’s impeachment, it is highly unlikely that Trump’s impeachment leads to his dismissal.

Impact of the impeachment on the 2020 presidential election

The impact of Trump’s impeachment on the presidential election depends on his defense and the credibility of accusations against him. Democrats are well aware that accusing Trump of corruption and incompetence will not affect American voters. Democrats probably knew that those allegations were not strong enough to undermine Trump, but on the contrary they would undermine their positions.

By stating an issue related to U.S. national security, Democrats took the risk of impeachment. To make the impeachment strategy successful, Democrats should prove that the president has endangered U.S. national security and he may do the same in future. This claim can go beyond party politics and put unbearable pressure on Trump, Republicans and uncertain voters.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Russian Involvement in Venezuela is Troublesome for Western Hemisphere

Todd Royal

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The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) “projects that natural gas consumption in Asia will continue to outpace supply.” With the future growth of natural gas consumption concentrated in Asia the EIA “expects ‘non-OECD Asia’ to consumer 120 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) by 2050, outpacing regional production by 50 Bcf/d.” China’s natural gas consumption will “triple between 2018-2050.” Most long-term natural gas infrastructure, global liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal(s) import and export, and demand projections are based on Asian growth.

Late October reporting in Russian media confirmed Russian energy conglomerate, Rosneft had plans to consolidate Venezuela’s National Oil Company PDVSA (Petroleos de Venezuela) under Rosneft’s corporate structure in exchange for debt relief. This counters U.S., Canadian and Mexican oil and natural gas firms from satisfying natural gas demand from non-OECD Asia. Additionally, it allows Moscow to use Rosneft acquiring Venezuelan natural gas as a geopolitical, soft power coercion tool by acquiring some of the largest recoverable oil and natural gas reserves in the world.

Venezuelan government sources, Rosneft and the Kremlin all denythe potential for a takeover of PDVSA energy assets to satisfy Russian bank loan requirements to the Madero regime. Russian energy experts have visited PDVSA to analyze the possibility of merging with Rosneft. The Russian energy giant buying out Venezuela’s best source of hard currency and domestic economic driver illustrate the “hard-hitting impact of U.S. sanctions.” The Venezuela regime-based economy predicated on oil and natural gas production is on the verge of collapsing.

Rosneft’s offer is the best way outside of western help for Venezuela to mitigate damaging sanctions, and “debt relief for a country that owes over $156 billion to external parties – and Venezuela’s debt is 740% higher than the value of its exports.” This is four times more than what is typical in emerging markets and economies according to The World Bank.

U.S. Special Envoy for Venezuela Elliot Abrams has pointed to Rosneft having joint projects with PDVSA where it took leading minority stakes, and how these ventures do not “breach” U.S. sanctions. This is positive news for average Venezuelan citizens suffering under economic malaise. Caracas’ debt to Moscow seemingly is being forgiven under the auspices of U.S. blessing. However, the Trump administration has been clear in its maximum pressure “sanctions policy towards Venezuela” that mirrors the sanctions-strategy towards Tehran. Retaliation from the U.S. could be the future of Washington-Moscow-Caracas tri-lateral relations if Rosneft tries to liquidate PDVSA assets, and release thousands of employees to skirt U.S.-led western sanctions.

The Maduro regime will also need to navigate the “$20-$60 billion in debt owed” to China. Will the Chinese have a stake in PDVSA? If so, how does that play into the current U.S.-China trade negotiations? What these geopolitical decisions points towards is a Rosneft-PDVSA merge bringing up more questions than answers.

It makes sense for Russia to be the power broker in Venezuela. This is similar to how Russia is the safe diplomatic choice in the Middle, post-Syrian civil war. According to Foreign Affairs, Russia is now “the Indispensible Nation in the Middle East.” Military troops and hardware were used to save the Assad regime, and now in Venezuela it will be oil, natural gas and petrochemicals that gives Russia a solid foothold in the western hemisphere. PDVSA is one of the “world’s most prolific oil companies” with the largest extractable oil and gas reserves in the world – estimated at 300 billion barrels and PDVSA’s estimated worth is “approximately $186 billion.”

Putting this energy portfolio under Kremlin influence gives Rosneft and other energy firms aligned with Moscow solid footing to control price and supply for global oil and petrochemical markets. The Maduro government wants to stay with previous joint venture contracts between PDVSA and Rosneft, and if the merger takes place, wants to “hand control over to Rosneft without having to go through privatization.” Financial questions arise from this arrangement; who is responsible for terms of debt, how is China able to value the deal, and would equity be defined as a public, private or some form of public-private entity? These are some of the larger issues that would need to be resolved.

Maduro can possibly work around these issues when he took over Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice. This allows Maduro to ignore the democratically elected Legislature, the opposition-controlled National Assembly, and its leader, Juan Guaido. Mr. Guaido claims he is the legitimate leader of Venezuela, but likely Rosneft with Moscow’s backing will only negotiate with the Maduro government. The Supreme Tribunal of Justice can overrule the Assembly to assist the merger towards completion. Debt repayment is important to the Maduro regime, and return to financial health.

Citgo, a U.S. based company that is a valued asset for PDVSA is another area of concern for the proposed merger in tandem with U.S. sanctions.

American officials have implemented a freeze on all Venezuelan assets based in the U.S. Washington implemented an executive order coinciding with sanctions protecting “bondholders and other parties” mulling asset sales and seizures for unpaid debts. The international desire among government and financial officials is this move by the Americans facilitate diplomatic solutions over asset seizure. The downside is it strengthens Maduro over the elected Venezuelan legislature and Assembly leader Guaido.

Debt holders who own Citgo then have to negotiate with Venezuela and Rosneft. This will be tough for bondholders to receive repayment, or will it, as this could mean tougher going for international credit markets to lend money for future Rosneft/PDVSA projects. A Moscow-Caracas alliance is something Washington could believe will increase geopolitical tension between all three countries. Debt relief for Caracas, and control over the world’s largest oil reserves are likely to be the final push for Rosneft to acquire PDVSA over escalating tensions between Moscow and Washington with Caracas stuck in the middle.

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