American Dominatrix

Anti-Americanism is a big problem for U.S. business: if people turn against America because of the policies of our government, then that means lost profits. Our proclivity for alienating the citizens of practically every nation is costing us a pretty penny, and Business for Diplomatic Action Inc. (BDA), a non-profit organization founded by advertising executive Keith Reinhard, means to repair the damage. Although they don’t come right out and say it, BDA is all too aware of the source of this hostility: American foreign policy. That’s the major reason BDA is issuing a “World Citizen’s Guide” for corporate travelers, which gives Americans a few pointers on how to deal with the dirty looks and muttered imprecations, and includes among its 16 suggestions:

“Think as big as you like but talk and act smaller. In many countries, any form of boasting is considered rude. Talking about wealth, power or status – corporate or personal – can create resentment.”

Good advice for the ordinary private citizen, but what about all those “public intellectuals” whose voices have far more reach than the average businessman on a trip to Bali? Take, for example, Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard and a familiar talking head on Fox News, who has publicly come out for a foreign policy based on “benevolent global hegemony“? This goes beyond mere “boasting,” in my view, and even beyond arrogance: I mean, who else but an American would make the claim that a plan for world conquest is evidence of “benevolence”?

Okay, you say, but Kristol is an isolated case. Not quite. Where else but in Washington, D.C., could we have a “debate” on American foreign policy between Niall Ferguson and Robert Kagan, in which the two debaters quibble over whether the U.S. government should call itself an “empire” or a “hegemon”? Our politicians and their coteries of Washington policy wonks routinely discuss the prospect of invading this or that country the way other people debate the relative merits of shopping at either Macy’s or Gimbel’s. Right now we are having a national discussion about whether or not we should drop nukes on Iran. I mean – how rude!

More advice from BDA:

“Speak lower and slower. In conversation, match your voice level and tonality to the environment and other people. A loud voice is often perceived as bragging. A fast talker can be seen as aggressive and threatening.”

Speaking in low tones is not how the U.S. government communicates with the rest of the world, and of late the sheer volume of official American pronouncements has been ramped waaaaay up. Take, for example, our president, who, in laying out the principles and practice of what has come to be called the “Bush Doctrine,” affects a tone somewhere between deafening and stentorian. This “doctrine,” by the way, claims [.pdf] the “right” of the U.S. to invade any country, at any time, for any reason – and it does so in terms seemingly crafted to cause maximum resentment and fear. And then there’s this question of “bragging”…

It seems to me that a nation where phone calls between private citizens are listened to and collected by a government agency is hardly one to brag about how it’s going to bring the benefits of “democracy” and “freedom” to the rest of the world. Yet that hasn’t stopped the U.S. from seeking to “exportits brand of corporate statism to the far corners of the globe, either by force or by less direct forms of coercion.

Americans like to talk, say the authors of the “World Citizens Guide,” but they aren’t that good at listening:

“Listen at least as much as you talk. By all means, talk about America and your life in the country. But also ask people you’re visiting about themselves and their way of life. Listen, and show your interest in how they compare their experiences to yours.”

I don’t know how true this generalization about talk-happy Americans abroad is, but it certainly applies to our government – in spades. After all, didn’t the Europeans tell us that the invasion of Iraq would be a disaster? Didn’t our allies in the Middle East make similar predictions – and did we listen? Of course we didn’t. And, quite aside from some 2,400 war dead, we are just beginning to feel the consequences of ignoring their pleas for restraint.

But it isn’t all bad news on the diplomatic front, as far as the behavior of U.S. officials is concerned. The “World Citizens Guide” exhorts us to:

“Dress up. You can always dress down. In some countries, casual dress is a sign of disrespect. Check out what is expected and when in doubt, err on the side of the more formal and less casual attire. You can remove a jacket and tie if you are overdressed. But you can’t make up for being too casual.”

Sound advice, and I see that our own well-dressed government officials are taking it to heart. After all, as the victims of Hurricane Katrina were drowning, Condi Rice “went shopping at Ferragamo on Fifth Ave.,” reported the New York Daily News. “According to the Web site Gawker.com, the 50-year-old bought ‘several thousand dollars’ worth of shoes’ at the pricey leather-goods boutique.”

However, it looks like the Americans are overdoing it, as usual. This Washington Post piece on Condi’s unique sense of style speaks volumes:

“Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived at the Wiesbaden Army Airfield on Wednesday dressed all in black. She was wearing a black skirt that hit just above the knee, and it was topped with a black coat that fell to mid-calf. The coat, with its seven gold buttons running down the front and its band collar, called to mind a Marine’s dress uniform or the ‘save humanity’ ensemble worn by Keanu Reeves in The Matrix.

“As Rice walked out to greet the troops, the coat blew open in a rather swashbuckling way to reveal the top of a pair of knee-high boots. The boots had a high, slender heel that is not particularly practical. But it is a popular silhouette because it tends to elongate and flatter the leg. In short, the boots are sexy. …

“Rice looked as though she was prepared to talk tough, knock heads, and do a freeze-frame Matrix jump kick if necessary. Who wouldn’t give her ensemble a double take – all the while hoping not to rub her the wrong way?

“Rice’s coat and boots speak of sex and power – such a volatile combination, and one that in political circles rarely leads to anything but scandal. When looking at the image of Rice in Wiesbaden, the mind searches for ways to put it all into context. It turns to fiction, to caricature. To shadowy daydreams. Dominatrix!”

That the U.S. secretary of state is parading around the world in dominatrix drag tells us everything we need to know about the country she is representing – and why the image of the “ugly American” is making an unwelcome comeback. What better outfit for the chief diplomatic official of a nation that routinely threatens other nations with invasion and worse if they don’t kowtow to Washington’s edicts?

Americans may or may not need a “World Citizens Guide” to advise them on how to dress, talk, and act when traveling abroad and otherwise dealing with foreigners, but surely one specifically written for U.S. government officials is long overdue. It might start by advising Condi to lose the knee-high black leather boots, ditch the dominatrix drag, and then go into the finer points of international etiquette, starting with these three:

  • Stop lecturing foreign governments on their alleged shortcomings in the “democracy” department – especially when, like Russia, they are armed with nuclear weapons, barely emerged out of totalitarian rule, and are bound to resent being labeled as “backsliders.”
  • Give up the idea that the U.S. has the “right” to “preempt” alleged threats before they coalesce – otherwise we might be inadvertently encouraging another Pearl Harbor (or, more likely, another 9/11).
  • Start seeing ourselves as others see us. I know it’s hard: narcissism has been the leitmotif of American culture in the modern era. But if we take a long hard honest look in the mirror, it might be possible to see how, say, the Iraqis, or the Iranians, might not take too kindly to being involuntarily “liberated.” “To thine own self a liberator, to the world an alarming portent,” as the writer Garet Garrett put it half a century ago – and that about sums up America’s image problem in the world at present.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

Last we heard from Michael Rubin, a former colonial administrator in occupied Iraq, he had been caught giving quotes to the New York Times on the infamous Lincoln Group, defending its contract with the Pentagon to buy “good news” in Iraqi newspapers – when he was also benefiting from the Lincoln Group’s largess. Now Rubin is back, this time sliming me in National Review, where he complains that people weren’t very nice to him on a recent trip to Iceland: they even filed a lawsuit against him, charging him with “war crimes” because of his prominence in the ranks of the War Party. The poor dear. Rubin then goes on to write:

“The incident would be laughable if it did not foreshadow a growing phenomenon seeking to criminalize debate that is sweeping progressive, libertarian, and antiwar groups at home and abroad. Blogger Juan Cole, for example, a popular anti-Bush pundit, demanded the FBI investigate how Walid Phares ‘became the “terrorism analyst” at MSNBC.’ On June 1, 2004, blogger Laura Rozen lamented that someone she disagreed with was not the subject of an FBI investigation. On September 20, 2004, libertarian Justin Raimondo urged the FBI to ‘indict the Neocon War Party for treason.’ Perhaps hyperbole, but it is dangerous to smear political opponents with death-penalty offenses.”

I’ll let Prof. Cole and Laura Rozen fend for themselves, as both are quite capable of doing, but as for the above-mentioned column I authored, it calls for swift justice to be meted out to the AIPAC defendants: Larry Franklin, a former Pentagon analyst who admitted handing over U.S. secrets to Israeli government officials; and two top-ranking employees of AIPAC, Steve Rosen, the group’s chief lobbyist, and Keith Weissman, an Iran analyst whose field of expertise is Iran’s nascent nuclear program. Rosen and Weissman were caught red-handed, funneling secrets they pried from Franklin to their handlers in the Israeli embassy in Washington.

Israel’s Amen Corner is doing its best to portray the AIPAC trial as business as usual in Washington. But if to arrest people for handing over sensitive intelligence to foreign governments is to “criminalize debate,” then it’s only a matter of time before National Review starts defending Alger Hiss and demanding that the verdict against Julius and Ethel Rosenberg be reversed.

It is one thing to be committed to a program of perpetual war. Even if this policy prescription is undertaken in the interests of a foreign government, it doesn’t cross the line into treason by dint of sheer advocacy. Once the advocates of these policies start committing crimes, however – such as, for example, outing a CIA agent, or passing sensitive documents to high-ranking Israeli embassy employees – then we have passed out of the realm of “debate” and into the world of criminality. Scooter Libby is discovering this, to his great sorrow, and perhaps, some day, Rubin will, too. One can only hope…

I might add that Rubin’s piece, when it was first published, referred to my Sept. 20, 2004, column without linking to it – so that the reader, to verify what Rubin said about it, had to go to Antiwar.com and trudge through the archives. A call to National Review and an e-mail to my old buddy Jonah Goldberg had the desired effect: the link appeared, like magic, before the clock struck noon. They still haven’t accorded the same courtesy to Laura Rozen. But what do you expect from people who have to be cajoled into even the most basic courtesies?

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].