The Trouble With “Pro-American”

Something I’ve been thinking about over the past few days is the tick in American discourse of labeling foreign leaders “pro-American” or “anti-American” as if America is likely to be the primary thing on their mind. But obviously when you’re talking about actors on the other side of the world they’re probably mostly worried about other stuff. People in Pakistan are thinking about India. Indians are thinking about Pakistan and China. Not that they don’t have opinions about the United States, but these kind of considerations are secondary to the main point.

But because the United States, though not the obsessive focus of every single foreigner everywhere on the planet, really is the most important single country in the world, it becomes important for us to be wary of manipulation. You see a remarkable amount of credulity about the need to back “pro-American” leaders from Ahmed Chalabi to Mikheil Saakashvili to Pervez Musharraf and whomever else when in fact none of these people (as Chalabi and Musharraf have managed to make crystal clear over the years with certain betrayals) are, in fact, monomaniacally focused on advancing American interests. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the fact that Musharraf cares more about his own interests and those of Pakistan than he does about the United States; that’s just the way it is and these things need to be seen for what they are. Saakashvili didn’t send Georgian troops to Iraq, for example, out of deep-seated pro-American convictions — he did it in exchange for actual and hoped for assistance in achieving his main goals vis-a-vis Russia and Georgia’s breakaway regions. And that’s the stuff of which diplomacy and international relations is made, which is fine. But that means it behooves us to make sure that these kind of relationships are actually beneficial to the United States rather than thinking that there’s a certain timeless “pro-American” class of individuals to whom we must deliver infinite support.

Conversely, it’s wrong to look at every situation around the world where some country’s perception of its interests goes against what the United States wants to see happen and then label that behavior as “anti-American.” Countries are going to do things we don’t like, in which case it will often be appropriate for us to push-back. But absent actual evidence that the thing we don’t like is genuinely being undertaken with specific anti-American intent there’s no reason to pathologize behavior as driven by an anti-American agenda. Sometimes stuff just happens, WTF