A-mer'-i-cen"-tric, adj. -- believing or maintaining, consciously or unconsciously, that the United States of America is the most important country on the planet and that the rest of the world should or will agree with it on all matters of significance

The United States does not play well with others.

I'm not talking about run-of-the-mill American egotism, where a citizen doesn't pay any attention to world affairs unless they occur in his own backyard. This is no more widespread in the United States than in any other civilized country, because it's part of human nature. Any human being, all other things being equal, will look after his own interests and those of his family and friends before expressing concern for people he's never even met. The only reason it's a little more obvious among Americans than among Europeans is because most countries in Europe are smaller than most states in the U.S., and it's harder to avoid thinking about foreigners when they're just an afternoon's drive away.

No, I'm talking about the United States government, or at least the current administration. There's the abandonment of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty so it could build its missile defense system followed by Russia's and China's subsequent reassertion of it. There's the whole mess with the Kyoto Protocol, which even industrial Japan agreed to once enough concessions were made. Of course, there's the whole business with the American spy plane in China, which was never really resolved to anyone's satisfaction. More and more it seems like the U.S. government is going overseas and expecting a warm and friendly reception wherever it goes, but fewer and fewer world leaders want to be that friendly anymore.

This attitude dates way long before manifest destiny and the Monroe Doctrine put it in the history books, of course. In a way, it's part of American culture, integrated with the frontier spirit that gradually turned this country from thirteen coastal states into forty-eight states covering the entire breadth of the continent. Once we ran out of frontiers, we had to start looking at spreading our belief system into other countries, first in our own hemisphere (the Monroe Doctrine again) and eventually everywhere else. Today that philosophy is called globalization, and its no longer uniquely American. But the U.S. does have a biased interest in globalization because rather than focusing on making all countries everywhere work together, we try to make all countries everywhere work like we do.

It's also part of the history of the twentieth century and the two world wars that took place in it. It doesn't necessarily matter here why the U.S. chose to stay out of those wars until half the fighting had already taken place, or whether or not we were solely responsible for turning the tide militarily. It looked like the U.S. was the only winner in both wars because (aside from Pearl Harbor) none of the fighting took place in our territory. From a reconstruction perspective, we emerged from both wars completely unscathed. Therefore, as goes the subconscious perception, the current governments of Western Europe, Israel and Japan owe their current existence entirely to us. And since the Iron Curtain fell in the 1990s, that goes for Russia and all of Eastern Europe as well.

Logically, this isn't even a little bit true. But I'm convinced that somewhere in the mind of every conservative American is the belief that every other first world nation on the planet should be ingratiated to us for their entire way of life. And as those other governments continue to mature, their people (and governments) are resenting it more and more.

But our own leader doesn't seem to notice. He continues to do whatever is in "the American national interest" regardless of how we'll be perceived by our international peers. Gary Trudeau has been relentless in painting George W. Bush as someone who'd rather shrug off important matters of policy than think them through carefully, and while I doubt this is really the case, it's sometimes hard to disbelieve. Taking a month-long vacation in his home state of Texas less than one year into his first term doesn't help my perception of him, either.

Granted, the United States still is the dominant world power. It would be naive to think otherwise. But that title naturally invites resentment among all the countries that are expected to recognize it, because it implicitly weakens their sovreignty. It's all well and good to pursue American interests abroad, but these days it might be better to practice a little humility and let the other nations help make the rules. We don't need to convince everybody else that we're on top anymore. We've won the Cold War. We don't need to send out any more propaganda.

I am not a politician, of course, and I'm far from an expert on foreign policy. But it seems to me that our government would be able to do more by earning the other nations' respect instead of merely expecting it. Just because the other nations couldn't beat us in a one-on-one fight doesn't mean they shouldn't be treated as peers.

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