Filed under: United States
Azadeh Moaveni has a nice piece in yesterday’s WashPost on the resurgence of friendly feelings towards the US in Iran over the past few years. The US has done an extremely poor job in recent years of leveraging the hostility and frustration that people in authoritarian countries feel towards their own governments into diplomatic gains for the US. In the USSR, Eastern Europe and Vietnam, as well as a lot of African countries, a sense of the mistakenness of their own governments’ domestic and international policies and an identification of the US with a sense of internationalism and normalcy meant that there was a large reservoir of goodwill towards the US available to be tapped by smart leadership, and indeed George HW Bush and Bill Clinton did a pretty good job of taking advantage of those sentiments; Bill Clinton’s visits to Vietnam and Africa were rock-star affairs.
It’s a bit harder to say just what effect this kind of broad popular goodwill has on concrete diplomatic relations. For one thing, it’s not clear how popular sentiment on foreign policy filters up from the masses to the policymaking apparatus in authoritarian states. Such governments do take popular sentiment into account when setting domestic policy, but I think they correctly assess that attitudes towards foreign countries aren’t a deeply enough felt interest of the common folk for governments to have to worry about what the man in the street thinks of the US when setting diplomatic policy. Still, I can’t but think that the immense popularity of Bill Clinton among average Vietnamese and Africans influenced the eagerness of those countries to establish good relations with the US. Of course after a few years of close relations such feelings tend to wear off as people get used to the normal strains and tensions between non-hostile countries.
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