A Little Humility Might Help

Madeleine Albright has an insightful op-ed in The Washington Post, imploring Americans to adopt a confidently humble approach to the world once Bush’s term is up. In her thoughtful piece, Albright emphasizes that Americans have in recent years (and I would argue that this problem is a hold over from the Cold War) abandoned, at least in part, a sense of empathy with the rest of the world and that the next president of the United States will have to work to adopt such a posture.

I love America deeply and I believe our country is still the best in the world, but I also believe we have developed a dangerous lack of self-awareness. No nukes, we say, while possessing the world’s largest arsenal. Respect the law, we demand, while disregarding the Geneva Conventions. You’re with us or against us, we declare, while ignoring the impact of our actions on Turkey and the Middle East. Hands off Iraq, we warn, while our troops occupy Baghdad. Beware China’s military, we cry, while spending as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. Honor the future, we preach, while going AWOL on climate change.

We need to do a better job of seeing ourselves as others do. It strikes the world as ludicrous that we — with all our wealth and power — seem so afraid of terrorists, rogue states, illegal immigrants and foreign economic competition. People put themselves in our shoes and expect us to act with confidence, and so we should, but true confidence is shown by a willingness to enter into difficult debates, answer criticism, treat others with respect and do our share or more in tackling global problems. Confidence harnessed to purpose is what America at its best has been all about.

We are 4 percent of a planet that is half Asian, half poor, one-third Muslim and by and large far more familiar with recent American actions than with our country’s past accomplishments. To many, the Bush administration is America. Our reputation is in disrepair. We will not recover by acting out of fear but by educating ourselves about the world around us, learning foreign languages, appreciating other faiths, studying the many dimensions of historical truth, harnessing modern technology to constructive ends and looking beyond simplistic notions of evil and good.

Many Americans would scoff at the particulars of this idea, and sputter that others ought to better understand the United State, because, after all, it is the only superpower left and it is the most powerful state operating nowadays. That aside, I think most people — American or not — would agree with Albright’s view, no?

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