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Why They Hate Us: Students take pulse of foreign opinion about U.S.

by Manuela Da Costa-Fernandes
New Haven Register

Before he enters Yale Law School this fall, Seth J. Green has an ambitious mission: tell Americans “what the world thinks” about them.

The 22-year-old Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native is the driving force behind Americans for Informed Democracy, a new nonpartisan organization of American students abroad who try to disseminate through the Internet and the media the world’s opinion of America.

Often, the message isn’t pretty.

America is most frequently viewed as a bully, even by people living in allied European nations such as England. The threat of war against Iraq and support of Israel has polarized much of the world against the United States, Green said. AID members say they adopt a measured, balanced response to the criticism they see. They’re proud Americans, view themselves as patriotic and, while they are generally liberal thinkers, do not adopt the vitriolic radicalism present on many United States campuses.

“As Americans abroad, we have a unique opportunity. We can see things from (a different perspective than from American shores),” said Green, a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University in England.

“It’s the patriotism and concern for the U.S.’s image abroad that has motivated us with this endeavor,” he said.

AID members submit opinion articles to local and national newspapers and magazines, write columns in college newspapers and send letters to Congress. A worldwide e-mail network and its Web site, www.americansforinformeddemocracy.com also helps their cause.

“Seth’s initiative is a very enterprising one, and offers an imaginative input into debate. Any such widening of the field of information about world opinion can only be helpful in encouraging a multilateral perspective on foreign policy,” said Jane Garnett, Green’s adviser at Oxford, where AID is based.

AID’s 260 members include about 10 Yale students and two Shoreline young people.

AID member Marshall Mattera, 22, of Madison is an international relations graduate student at Oxford. He said a recent massive anti-war protest in London was a turning point in European opinion that may have gone unnoticed in the United States.

“The British people are not anti-American but they do oppose our foreign policy. The demonstration in London was a key indicator,” said the soft-spoken Mattera. “I think it is important in American foreign policy that we take into account perspectives other than our own because if we act just unilaterally I think it will damage our national security.”

In an editorial published in The Christian Science Monitor in November 2002, Green describes “an alarming increase in radical anti-American sentiment.”

AID’s opinion articles reflect such studies.

“As an American living overseas, I can testify that Bush’s policy of preemption is leading America to be seen as an aggressor rather than a friend,” reads one opinion article.

Green is coordinating a transatlantic discussion on Feb. 6 at Oxford. Discussion will center on “conditions under which an attack on Iraq would be justified.”

“As we get closer to the prospect of war with Iraq, this initiative will be more valuable than ever,” he said, adding that if the American people understood about how hesitant the British are to leap into a war with Iraq.

“We are not representing a radical viewpoint. It’s fairly mainstream,” said David Tannenbaum, 24, a clean-cut Long Island native.

Joining the group provided a unique outlet for many members.

“We have an opportunity to present unfiltered opinion and stress less the relationship between the two countries and how it is packaged,” said Jean Pierre Nogues, 22, a 2002 Yale University graduate. “Less than 20 percent of Americans have passports. We almost have a responsibility to present what we see abroad to our families.”

Amanda Rottier, 21, of Guilford, a Boston University senior, stumbled across the organization at Oxford in October.

A self-described “all-round American person” she is a registered independent, who votes mostly Democrat.

“I thought it was interesting and had good implications. I thought that they believed in something that I believed in,” said Rottier, who spent a term studying modern British politics and history.

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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