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A citizen's foreign policy


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By Alan Eder
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
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When asked about national identity in a foreign country, "I'm Canadian" has become an oft-repeated response among many a jaded American traveler and disaffected college student.

Maybe by using the phrase, we as travelers use it to escape awkward buying situations (e.g. to avoid buying cheap junk because Canadians don't have money - ha-ha!). Or maybe by repeating the phrase, we simply expound the virtues of our northern neighbor.

However, this phrase is more indicative of a growing dissatisfaction with our own country, and it is increasingly more telling of how we perceive ourselves in the world (one of shame).

Throughout my travels, I've encountered much anti-American sentiment and self-loathing, whether be it through conservative expatriates or liberal college students. Regrettably, I used to be a self-hater too.

But while it is understandable in times like these to feel self-conscious upon revealing our identity, we should not feel ashamed. Indeed, this message of ignominy that we send to other cultures can be just as damaging as our current administration's foreign policy.

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Alan Eder
columnist

By concealing our identity and instead professing to Canadianism, maybe we escape vilification as the typical uneducated, crass and monolingual American. But at the same time, by hiding our identities, we acknowledge that something is indeed inherently wrong - that there is in fact something uncomfortable about being American.

Elliot Magruder, a political science senior, said he was "skeptical" to divulge his identity while studying abroad last semester in Amsterdam. He didn't observe much anti-American sentiment during his stay but still feels that there is a certain stigma attached to being an American abroad.

This is unfortunate because foreigners typically disagree with our government rather than us - they bear negative perceptions toward our officials rather than Americans.

Here, liberals may rightly complain that our government is ruining our image abroad, but we also bring it upon ourselves through our shame factor. If we are ashamed of who we are, it only makes it harder for others to respect us.

By choosing not to identify with the U.S., we are unable to associate good, capable global citizens with our motherland in a time when we desperately need to project a positive image abroad.

Instead of hiding, then, we should do something to fix this. We can show the world that Americans are in fact smarter than George Bush; we just have to tell them.

So let's be proud of who we are and what we've done for the world. The American contribution has largely been positive. This is not to necessarily pat ourselves on the back, nor to let us off the hook, but the message we should send abroad is one of confidence in who we are and one of pride.

Maybe at worst, traveling America is composed of obnoxious, arrogant college students who drink too much and paint foreign streets with vomit (Tara Reid, anyone?). It's a culture bound by the dollar and superficiality.

But maybe at best, America is a benchmark of efficiency, resolve, compassion, and economic liberty and opportunity.

Liberals too often claim, "I'm moving to Canada if George Bush is elected." But it is counterintuitive to leave. Please stay and fight for a more democratic America.

Expatriates too often assert that "I didn't leave America, America left me." But America left only through their permission. Acknowledge your country and be proud of your roots. Let's not bring this culture of shame to the doorsteps of other countries.

Dissent is patriotic, but it sometimes comes at the expense of our pride and prestige. By all means, voice concerns about the government, but do not let a traveling guilt trip taint our image abroad. Do not betray your American heritage.

We're currently embroiled in a war in the Middle East that many see as morally ambiguous, but shame is hardly the message we should be sending.

If we carry ourselves in a respectable manner but claim we are Canadian, we lose out on the prestige with which we could have endowed our own country. Let's not give undue credit to Canada, and let's not place our burdens (rightly or wrongly earned) on another country.

The French theorist Alexis De'Tocqueville once said, "The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens."

We can protest at home by campaigning abroad. This would truly be an eloquent foreign policy in a time when it is dangerously lacking among our leadership.

Alan Eder is a senior majoring in political science and Spanish. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.



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