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The bully on the playground? A perspective from abroad

by Elisa Minoff
The Daily Princetonian

Seth and Dave are at it again. After a year away from Princeton, Dave Tannenbaum ’00 and Seth Green ’01 are still campus activists, but instead of fight for workers’ rights on a campus in central Jersey, they’re fighting for multilateralism in U.S. foreign policy on a campus in southern England. I came across the new group they’ve started at Oxford — Americans for Informed Democracy (AID) — about two weeks ago as I strolled through fresher’s fair (think activities fair, but twice the number of people, twice the number of groups, and everyone’s speaking with English accents — well, everyone but Seth, Dave, me, and a handful of other study abroad students). AID’s mission is to educate Americans at home — through editorials in local newspapers — about world-views on issues ranging from Iraq to Kyoto, in the hopes of inspiring a more effective, multilateral American foreign policy.

The need for a group like AID becomes clear after talking to the students — British, International and American — on Oxford’s campus. Last Saturday morning, in the course of an archaic matriculation ceremony involving black gowns and Latin pronouncements, I had let my mind wonder, imaging England’s glorious and powerful past, when I was quickly brought back to reality by a conversation with a fellow student in which she condemned the misuse of power in what she considered the United States’ too-glorious-present. In the course of that morning alone I must have talked to six different people on six different occasions who, directly or indirectly, made some disparaging reference to American unilateralism. While Amer-icans might view Bush as an engaging leader who takes the necessary steps to protect our nation, Euro-peans see Bush as a unilateralist who strong-arms governments. Time and again, Bush has forced European leaders to elevate American interests over global and national priorities. In the cover story of the Oct. 21 issue of The New Statesman, Andrew Stephen portrayed Bush as the playground bully in his dealing with President Megawati after the attacks in Bali, writing, “Bush arrogates himself the right to give a dressing down to the leader of the largest Muslim country in the world, ceding to nobody outside the United States any independence of thought or action.”

Students here condemn Bush’s rejection of the international criminal court, which compelled the court’s members to award the United States with a one-year exemption. They criticize Bush’s “with us or against us” attitude toward regime change in Iraq. Newspapers like The Guardian have portrayed the hawks in Washington as controlling, for all intents and purposes, the foreign policy of the United States. Colin Powell is seen as the lone reasonable U.S. official, who’s advice the administration largely disregards, accept in extenuating circumstances — like several weeks ago, when the near-consensus in the U.N. (even among traditional allies like Australia and Kuwait) forced the administration to make concessions in the wording of the resolution regarding weapons inspections in Iraq. Many students at Oxford agree with the criticism of U.S. foreign policy found in the pages of British publications like The Guardian and The New Statesman.

The accusation that Americans and those in the International community who disagree with Bush’s foreign policy are somehow “anti-American” is an insult to the American political tradition and the very idea of democracy. While I’m the first to admit that anti-Americanism exists, and that some students here might indeed be anti-American — when snide remarks regarding American cultural hegemony, common among students everywhere, are repeated regularly and systematically with little constructive argument, anti-Americanism may indeed be the only conclusion that can be drawn — the vast majority are not. There’s a great deal of wisdom behind international institutions like the United Nations. Europeans recognize this, and the Bush administration should take heed. Hopefully Green and Tannenbaum’s new venture will be one step in the right direction.

About AIDemocracy

Americans for Informed Democracy (AIDemocracy) is a 501 (c)(3) organization that relies on public donations to help our organization and keep our student-led programming focused on pressing global issues with timely events and activities. We'd love to see you make a donation or join out student network, and thank you in advance for doing so.

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