Thursday, July 14, 2011

Jiggity jig...

This used to be my metro stop.

After a harrowing flight -- complete with turbulence, airsick seatmates and a last-minute aborted attempt to descend into Dulles -- I'm back in the States and just about over my jet lag.

I had a lovely time in the Czech Republic, as I always do, and from a totally nerdy standpoint, I enjoyed getting some foreign perspectives on international politics from my friends.

This wasn't my first trip to Europe. I did a semester abroad in 2002, and lived there from 2003-2005 -- a period in which U.S. foreign policy wasn't enjoying raging popularity. And at the time, I found myself responding a little defensively when people started to criticize the States, which they did frequently.

I, too, was unhappy with the war. I had attended protests and signed petitions against U.S. engagement in Iraq, so I could sympathize with other people's criticisms. But I frequently found myself getting frustrated when people judged the U.S. solely on its policies, without stopping to consider the land, the people, the culture -- all the things I love about the country.

I wasn't one of those people who sewed a maple leaf on her backpack, but I found myself going back and forth in my attempt to defend and explain the United States to other people, which I was frequently asked to do.

Old Town Hall
This time I returned with a degree in public diplomacy and a new perspective on U.S. policy and diplomacy, but I still found myself torn between my desire to defend my nation and my personal dissatisfaction with specific actions and policies.

One evening when I was out with friends, the conversation turned to the U.S. culture and its tendency to refuse to accept failure as an option. The table acknowledge that this had two results.

First, Americans refuse to quit until they've solved a problem. This is something people love about them. Second, Americans refuse to compromise. This is something people hate about them. Americans like to believe that all problems have a solution -- and there are more than a few Americans who believe that the U.S. is uniquely equipped to solve global problems.

It made me think of American exceptionalism (in its current understanding, not the original, with its anti-communist connotations), which is difficult to explain when you're the only American at the table and you're surrounded by people from democratic nations where the literacy, child mortality or employment rates are better.

Jan and the Hussites
And it made me think how much American exceptionalism would benefit by embracing compromise as a desirable diplomatic tool -- not as a sign of executive weakness.

Mostly it made me think how nice it would be to have a foreign policy based on the serenity prayer: policymakers with the serenity to accept the things they cannot change, the courage to change the things they can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this great entry -- from someone who lived in zlata Praha in 1983-85.