Beggar at Ghazi Chowk


Starbucks and Foreign Policy.

17 Mar 2011

Published in the Daily Princetonian’s Opinion Section Friday March 11, 2011.

The protests in the Middle East and the United States government’s tentative initial response to them have allowed critics once again to criticize America’s contradictory policies.
To many, America’s support of dictators in the Middle East is evidence of the United States’ self-preserving policy of making inroads into global politics completely on the grounds of what is good for itself. Of course, the legitimate counterargument is that nearly every country in the world is probably acting this way and probably ought to be. Who is even directly responsible for the dictators’ power is a question unto itself.

While this criticism of a self-preserving government might be valid, it tends to not hold ground on its own. But an additional premise solidifies the argument— that is, many find America’s dual role as a self-preserving country and the self-proclaimed global police contradictory. Critics find efforts to spread democracy inconsistent with a long support of dictators that benefit America politically and economically.

There is a somewhat baseless anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world — hence the old idea that all things American have an immoral aspect. But as many immigrants return from an America that attracted them with its educational and economic institutions, there is hope that such baseless disapproval will be ameliorated, making critiques of American policy more objective, accepting and sound in their approach compared to previous outright rejection.

And there is already some criticism of America that is sound. Because of this criticism, it is in the interest of both Americans and critics of America to distinguish between sound and baseless criticism, while many international students such as myself go back to their home countries with visions of America that are less than optimistic. To many critics, and to many of us, America is still the superpower (with conflicting interests) that should not be meddling with others’ affairs.

Simultaneously however, these individuals who have spent time in America happily take on American cultural tradition, follow the Oscars and “How I Met Your Mother” and may even make English music with American accents. They hang around in jeans, take their morning coffee and work with American software, often selling to American markets or even working for American firms from abroad. Isn’t that contradictory?

To most of the press in the United States, it seems to be so. A few months ago, The New York Times highlighted the irony of a Pakistani alternative rock song that criticized American policy that did so with an American accent. But the U.S. press is unfortunately looking over the fact that, just as large diasporas from the Middle East or South Asia bring their culture with them as they immigrate to America, similar diasporas are now taking American culture with them back to their home countries. And American culture continues to makes headway with a culture industry that is popular everywhere.

Slowly but surely, people from all over the world, including those from the Middle East and South Asia, are taking American culture and assimilating it into their own. This process has become ridiculously easier with the advent of first the Internet, then “Web 2.0” and now even smartphones, allowing the global world to connect whenever, wherever.

As American culture spreads, we realize that the discourse of cultures is becoming something that can travel. Culture is no longer locked to a certain geographical area and neither is national identity nor political allegiance. The number of Pakistani bloggers and Twitter users that critique both U.S. and Pakistani policy on the War on Terror from inside America is slowly rising. Needless to say, they will do this with acquired American accents, wearing jeans, sipping some Starbucks coffee as they type on their MacBooks. This example illustrates that new technology and an increasing rate of immigration are bringing global populations closer together than ever; the technology has more far-reaching effects than international students’ being able to call their parents for free any time they want.

America’s role as a self-interested actor, then, thanks to technology, is more easily critiqued than ever before. And as an increased worldwide adoption of American culture shows, there is little inherent issue with the American image that remains outside of policy. Fortunately, now is the best time ever for both America and the international students who forge a bridge between the United States and their home counties to take advantage of this cultural mixing to educate foreign policy.

Here’s to the hope that we can quit playing games and that a global political police should now consist of individuals from all over the world who can collectively act in self-interest, as we realize that both our cultures, as well as our political actions, are now global commodities.