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“To disarm its enemies and defeat its rivals, America only has to focus its intellectual energy and economic resources”, writes Maurice Saatchi, executive director of M&C Saatchi, in the Financial Times.
Can America rediscover the language to project its founding ideology beyond its own shores and once again show the world “The American Way”? Lord Saatchi answers your questions on how to overcome anti-Americanism.
Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Extraordinary Rendition: what does a friendly publicist advise? Are these enduring facets of American Realism, to be better explained to our PC world? Or are they ugly blots on the American Way copy-book, to be stopped at source, wiped from the brand over time, and apologised for? Whichever, how would you go about straightening the record?
Fergus Dunlop, St Peter Port, Guernsey
Maurice Saatchi: Happily, I do not have the onerous obligation of “straightening the record” on these matters. The great point to remember is that a country is not a “brand”. There is no connection between the two. The language of “brands” has no place in relation to countries or political parties. It leads to the mistaken belief among policy makers and political leaders that they can alter political perceptions as for detergents and shampoos. A country, like a political party, is a movement, held together by common values and shared beliefs. To describe them as “brands” arouses mistrust in the jury of public opinion.
Does it really make sense to talk of America rediscovering its appeal to the world, when what really matters is America’s rediscovering of its values, its people, and its once indefatigable sense of purpose? (And I would argue America’s international appeal and its own sense of purpose are not necessarily intertwined to the extent that you make them appear to be).
Karim A. Latif
Maurice Saatchi: I do connect them. There is a correlation between the decline in the US president’s domestic reputation inside America and the decline in America’s reputation internationally. You tell me which way round the causality goes.
Do you believe that liberal democracy and capitalism are history? What is the best way to organise society today?
Joaquim Couto, Porto
Maurice Saatchi: They are not. But they will be without a determined effort by America to make them attractive.
When America replaced Britain as the world’s number one, it inherited the envy of the impoverished masses. Seen from the viewpoint of Marx’s economic determinism, Islamic Jihadism against America owes more to Das Kapital than to the Koran. The more money America has the more dissatisfied people have become with the results. People ask: If American Capitalism is so rich why doesn’t it solve the problems of poverty? If it can’t, it is not omnipotent. If it won’t, it is not good.
America’s response has been to speak about “democracy” and “freedom” but ‘democracy’ is too abstract a concept for a world in which an American nurse on $30,000 a year is among the 8 per cent of richest people on the planet. And as for ‘freedom’, as Isaiah Berlin pointed out “freedom for wolves is death to the lambs”.
Having moved back to the US after living in the UK for 18 years, I found the aggressive, ill-informed and irrational caricature of Americans almost the norm. I remember one particular incident when watching Jon Snow on the Channel 4 news repeatedly interrogating his subject on drug policy, repeatedly saying but the Americans are filthy - literally a dozen times. I am quite certain that had the nation been Jamaica, Pakistan or Germany there would have been a great outcry. When newsreaders are allowed such behaviour without a hitch, when quite frankly racist anti-Americanism is part of the news paradigm, what hope is there? If the US government were to object there would be screams of political interference. What can be done?
Maurice Saatchi: News readers like Jon Snow, as well as many Americans, have become confused by the different versions of American foreign policy which have been presented to the world in recent years.
To the modern American eye, the Cold War must seem a golden age. Then, America had a clear and simple foreign policy – ‘deterrence’, colloquially known as MAD: Mutual Assured Destruction. This kept the peace for 50 years – no country could attack America because it would be fearful of its own destruction.
This compelling logic dissolved on 9/11 with the rise of suicidal individuals, for whom Mutual Assured Destruction was a blessing. A new foreign policy was obviously required, and duly arrived. Unfortunately, there are several different versions, which does not aid easy comprehension of America’s true motives.
First was pre-emption against imminent attack: but that ended the ‘No First Strike’ principle of America’s peaceful decades of deterrence, and has never been codified in international law. The second was to bring Middle East peace but critics see that as a distant possibility. The third was the famous ‘Reverse Domino’, by which democracy in Iraq would mean that country after country would rise up to democracy, but for critics that had a hollow ring because if Iraq was condemned to invasion for not being a democracy, why not Saudi Arabia? Why not China? American policy makers will do well to reflect that three foreign policy descriptions is two too many.
Simply put, what advice would you give to the US president, Congress, religious and corporate leaders, and law enforcement agencies, environment officials and all those creating and defending America’s reputation at home and abroad, as to what they should do to lift America’s values around the world?
George Pan Hadjiantoniou, Athens
Maurice Saatchi: The jury of world opinion is no different to the jury in a court of law – it seeks motive and intent. It wants to hear America’s true motive – and it wants it to be ‘good’ in the moral sense.
Policymakers in the US administration may have good motives. Currently, they may see what they call: A new kind of Imperial mission for America. They may see for example how to bring an end to despotism in the Muslim world. They may see how the Iraqis might become a parliamentary democracy. They may see how ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shia’ could one day be just like ‘Republican’ and ‘Democrat’. They may see that democracy could bring forth unpalatable electoral outcomes – extremist Islamist governments like Hamas - and accept that, because they are so sincere in their belief in ‘One man! One vote!’
But whether the American motive is pure or not, the one certainty is that in recent times, America has proved unequal to the task of expressing it. At a time of war, the importance of this omission cannot be exaggerated. Napoleon knew the difference between victory and defeat in war. He said it was “Three parts moral. One part physical”.
This was why President Regan urged America never to allow itself “to be placed in a position of moral inferiority.” So Americans will want to begin by asking themselves what today is the basis of America’s claim to moral superiority? What is America’s true motive?
What specific steps would you recommend the US take and how should they be implemented?
Martin Lindenberg, Houston
Maurice Saatchi: Judging by the extreme hostility to America revealed by the contributors today, the first step for American policy makers would be to read this startling FT web debate. It provides a stark confirmation of the level of animosity towards America from all around the world.
Americans will protest that they are a victim of false perceptions but all of us know the power of perception over reality. Shakespeare knew as much when Hamlet said “there’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. America enemies today, like the IRA before them, are armed propaganda organisations. They know the importance of political momentum. They know how to generate the perception of an unstoppable insurgency.
The notion of a war on terror has lead the US government to focus overwhelmingly on military responses, but in a counter-insurgency, according to the classical doctrine, armed force is only a quarter of the effort; political, economic, and informations operations are also required.
An oft-trumped defence of America’s reputation is that the world does not appreciate how much it gives, for example with aid and development funding. This receives little sympathy as it is nearly always chequebook diplomacy, and the cash expects something in return, including loyalty on unrelated issues - or else. Do you view it unrealistic of people to expect America’s charity to be giving, rather than barter, blackmail or bribery?
Henry Brooks, Singapore
Maurice Saatchi: Your low opinion of America’s aid efforts must I assume reflect the low priority given to making people aware of what America does do for others. Do remember for example that 70 per cent of all Nobel Prize winners are American.
Even if Bush technically lost the last election, how can the world ever forgive the 49 per cent or so of the American electorate that did vote for him? Since half of America voted for someone who started an unjustified war, what right do we have to any respect?
Patrick Killelea, US
Maurice Saatchi: As an American, you have every right to respect. Remember, it was Karl Marx, of all people, who praised the new America as “a classless society” because it offered “the greatest development of the workers’ aptitudes. That is as true today as it was when Marx said it.
My concern is that self-denigration inside America, lack of self-esteem; loss of self-worth amongst Americans is overheard by America’s critics around the world. Americans should bear in mind the focus on this point by Sayyid Qutb, Osama bin Laden’s favourite philosopher. He said that moral relativism in America would, in Professor Berman’s phrase “undermine America’s ability to fend off its enemies”. An example of what he meant was given recently by the creators of the hit US TV show ‘The Wire’ - “We ooze hypocrisy from every pore. The end of the American empire, that’s the ur text”.
In a global world where there is so much personal choice, where individuality is key and where travel to any distant location can be done at ease, do you think America could ever return to the iconic status of ”The American Way”?
Jonny Hardaker, Zurich
Maurice Saatchi: Yes I do. But the precondition for progress is recognition in American public diplomacy that this is a real problem, and that it matters i.e. that it is in America’s interests to do something about it. I am encouraged to hear that President Bush has recently become convinced on both points, and that he is taking soundings in the White House on what America should do.
Don’t you think that it will be difficult to overcome anti-Americanism even if the sleeping beauty is awakened just because many governments around the world find anti-Americanism to be useful for them domestically?
Sergei Borisov, Russia
Maurice Saatchi: You are right of course that anti-Americanism serves as a tool for failing Governments to deflect domestic criticism, by blaming America for a Government’s own mistakes and failures. The best example I can give you comes from Europe.
The Founding Fathers of America were determined to leave Europe behind. Now ‘Old Europe’ has its chance to repay the compliment. Anti-Americanism has served as a useful mobilizing agent for a new European role as a new power bloc - an essential ingredient in the formation of a common European identity.
Jean-Claude Trichet, for example, the Governor of the European Central Bank, has pointed out that America accounts for only 30 per cent of world trade, yet 70 per cent of the world’s business is transacted in dollars. This injustice to the new European superpower would be put right by the euro, he said.
If America was a brand rather than a country, market research would tell us that awareness is high but brand associations would be with words like war, arrogance and failing. And this is at a time when corporate brands - GE, BP and Shell for example - are taking care to associate with concepts of co-operation, listening and sustainability/environmental awareness. What advice would you give to the US on the immediate actions it could take to change its brand associations - and what benefits would such changes deliver in your view?
Gareth Thompson, London
Maurice Saatchi: I would recommend acting on the conclusion of Alexis de Tocqueville at the end of his famous voyage around America. He said: “America is great because it is good. When it ceases to be good it ceases to be great”.
Does Lord Saatchi believe that the end of the Bush presidency will necessarily cause a subsiding in global anti-US sentiment (by the way, just what is anti-Americanism?-much like pornography or terrorism, no two definitions are alike) Terry Washington, Tooting, UK
Maurice Saatchi: In my Politeia pamphlet I have tried to provide a précis of what anti-Americanism means. I gleaned this from the mass of academic literature, research data etc on the subject but as today’s FT web debate confirms, every one of the complaints against America described in the pamphlet exists in real life – they have been put to me all around the world, and are being put again in forceful terms in today’s FT Q&A.
The America of today I am sorry to say is not the same America of its founding Fathers. Today’s America has been hijacked by big business which seeks to dominate the world either through economic blackmail or military threat. Can you explain how it can overcome this if it is to return to it’s idealistic past?
Chris Jaggo, Stockton-on-Tees, UK
Maurice Saatchi: I’m sad to hear such a cynical view of ‘big business’. It is only businesses big and small, which create the jobs and the incomes which can give people a better life.
Why do you think the American way is the best way forward for all? Americans are human beings just like the rest of us and capable of committing the worst kind of atrocities. Why should we treat them like some special enlightened lot? Why do you think Bush was an anomaly? The Americans made him president twice and they can elect another Bush in the next election. American politics is now completely controlled by big businesses. The values you speak of are long gone, no?
Maurice Saatchi: The American values I have written about in my Politeia pamphlet are not gone. What seems to have gone is the ability to express them. For American’s to find out how to do that would they allow me to recommend Isaiah 51.1: “Look to the rock from which you were hewn”.
I suggest you have an overly-romantic notion of the US. This sleeping beauty has followed a single foreign policy which has been the same for all power countries that is, self interest first. Need I remind you of Lord Palmerston famous quote: “Britain has no permanent friends or permanent enemies; only permanent interests.” Just like any despot, the United States seeks love and understanding. Love for the United States is forthcoming from its traditional allies. But this would last just as long as it keeps like minded despots in the Middle East powerful.
Maurice Saatchi: For any country to assert that it has no interest other than self-interest is unsustainable in the modern world. That would be the equivalent of a Presidential candidate saying he or she had no interest other than getting elected; or a company saying it had no interest other than profit.
Is part of America’s issue a result of lacklustre education standards?
Adam Bunderson, New York
Maurice Saatchi: I’m afraid that I don’t know enough about the American educational system to be able answer this question. All I can say is that as a Governor of LSE we greatly respect what the top American Universities have achieved in becoming the pre-eminent academic institutions of the world.
The present US administration’s foreign policy, based on the military power rather than on the diplomacy, led to the global misunderstanding of the US principles of democracy. The US strategy in the Middle East contributed to the increase of oil prices, which in turn created a chain of economic and energy related problems in North America and as a result to the stagnation of state economics. The investments in arms and security industry created a state, which may be characterised as a dictatorship rather than a democracy. In this context, do you agree with the statement that the American Beauty is as American Beauty Does? How can the rest of the world believe in the American way if most US citizens are desperately unhappy with their current way of life?
Viktor O. Ledenyov, Ukraine
Maurice Saatchi: I don’t know how you would begin to measure human happiness. Are the people in the Ukraine ‘happy’?
The problem with the idea of anti-Americanism being abhorrent is that, actually, it is not. It is incumbent on all of us to be and remain hostile to the USA while it operates its prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and its other prisons in secret locations around the world; while it continues its unlawful renditions programme; while it sends suspects in the war on terror to countries where they will be tortured; while habeas corpus remains suspended for prisoners in US custody; and while the White House continues to pretend it is above the law. Would Lord Saatchi agree that the sleeping beauty will not awaken until the worst President in all US history has been replaced and a new enlightenment dawns?
Jeremy Putley, Harrogate
Maurice Saatchi: Not really. Because anti-Americanism predates anti-Bushism. According to many writers, anti-Bushism is just the tip of an anti-American iceberg. It may be that a new President is necessary but it will not be sufficient.