The ‘Ugly American’ returns

President Donald Trump Image Courtesy of Wikimedia


Henry Kissinger in his celebrated classic Diplomacy writes that in United States’ Foreign Policy there has always been tension between isolationism on the one hand and commitment on the other. This changed quite dramatically in 1941 and since the end of the Second World War no country has influenced global international relations so decisively as the United States. This is why the 20th century is described as “the American Century”. And this has been achieved by the promotion of America’s deepest constitutional and political values through the formation of trade and diplomatic agreements on a bilateral and multilateral basis. Cape Messenger founder Denis Worrall writes

30 January 2017 – These would include the agreements setting up The Marshall Plan, the United Nations, Unesco and the Bretton Woods Agreement Institutions – the IMF, the World Bank, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and others. More recent agreements in which the US has played a leading role have been NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), the Iran Nuclear Agreement (signed by all the permanent members of the UN Security Council, China and the EU) and the Paris Accord on Climate Change, signed by 194 countries and major institutions. President Trump, incidentally, opposes all three.

The US has been behind all these initiatives and with an emphasis on the international character of these agreements, Kissinger quotes with approval a statement made by Republican President George Bush at the UN in 1990, when he said: “We have a vision of the new partnership of nations that transcends the Cold War. A partnership based on consultation, cooperation and collective action, especially through international and regional organisations. A partnership united by principle, the rule of law and supported by an equitable sharing of both costs and commitment. A partnership whose goals are to increase democracy, increase prosperity, increase peace and reduce arms.”

Shared goals and coalition building

The main thrust of US policy, therefore, and its underlying values clearly comes through this statement as does the leadership style. It is consensual and coalition-building. It stresses shared interests and highlights the common goals and commitments. This is how nations and their leaders for eighty years or so have grown to understand the US and its role in the world. Along comes Donald Trump and in one week –  one week! – everything is in confusion and doubt.

While one would be happy, in terms of Henry Kissinger’s analysis of US Foreign Policy down the generations, to believe that Donald Trump represents a move – as Kissinger would describe it – towards isolationism, there is nothing about his policy positions and the justifying statements to dignify his approach with this description. From an international and foreign policy point of view, his style is gross and gratuitously insulting, dogmatic and counter-productive to even his goals. Building the wall is a case in point. His hate-speech characterisations of Mexican people, his insulting and arrogant presentation from a who’s going to pay for the thing point of view, not only offends Mexicans but all South Americans and people beyond. In fact the whole episode is disgusting.

Donald Trump represents the return of the “Ugly American” with a vengeance.

  • the Ugly American refers to a book and movie published in 1958 by Burdick and Lederer. The theme was the arrogance of United States foreign service officers at that time.

1 Comment on "The ‘Ugly American’ returns"

  1. America has always been an arrogant bully that meddles in other countries’ affairs and invade countries to steal their diamonds and oil. America always lied and cheated their way forward, and now an honest politician that makes true to his promises and want to look out for America stands up. Now people hates him , because for a change America comes first. We need somebody like Trump in South Africa. Everybody grovels before the muslims and the screaming hordes from the Third World countries. It is time somebody stands up and tell them, they have to look out for themselves, and not stand with their hands in a “crippling” fashion just begging.
    It is high time we got a Trump to bring the world back in perspective.

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