Ever heard of Ambassador Syndrome?
Even if you don’t know what it’s called, you’ve certainly experienced it. It’s the position you are put in when someone turns to you and says, “why are all you British people drunken louts?” or, “why are you French so self-important?”
Or “aren’t you ashamed to be an American?”
That last one is probably still ringing and stinging in the ears of many readers from the United States.
The outpouring of compassion that flowed towards America — and American expats in Europe — in the weeks after September 11 changed within months to bitterness and criticism. And it was mainly down to one thing: Iraq.
The US Administration’s policies over the so-called War on Terror, with its false claims of an imminent threat from Iraq to justify an early rush to war in the Middle East, have transformed opinion about the country from that of it being a victim of an appalling attack that deserved sympathy and solidarity — into an unruly bully boy.
And worse, it has turned a country that gave hope to the rest of the world through the ideals of democracy and freedom — and a promise of a better life — to one that, thanks to Iraq, rests on deceit.
While Bush’s “with us or with the terrorists” policy might go down well within the United States among voters far removed from developments unfolding in the rest of the world, it hasn’t worked so well with many Americans this side of the Atlantic.
Because those who have spent time overseas know that the problem is not quite as black and white as that — so black and white solutions are not what are called for.
It’s not just about “good” and “evil”, or about “freedom” and “oppression”, or about “strong” and “weak”. It’s not — dare we say it — about God and the devil, however much President George W. Bush might want to preach that line to the American people.
It’s a whole lot more complex than that.
Take “freedom”, for example. That’s a word that is used lavishly on the other side of the Atlantic. But what does it mean?
While no one mourns the passing of the Saddam regime, Iraqis, bombed daily following Bush’s botched post-war plans, are finding one man’s “freedom” anything but.
And “freedom” also means nothing to travellers to the United States, who are being fingerprinted, photographed and logged into a database that is likely to track their every move.
It means nothing under the Patriot Act — hurried through in the name of the War on Terror — which poses a direct threat to the very core of “freedom” as it is understood in a democratic society.
Sadly, the word “freedom” has been used and abused, twisted to mean whatever the speaker wants it to mean.
The word now has little to do with building a safe and prosperous global future.
Much of the rest of the world understands this. That’s why most of Europe is crossing its fingers for a Kerry victory on 2 November.
And Americans living abroad understand this too, with their access to a more diverse and plural media — particularly when it comes to television — coupled with daily exposure to views from around the world. Expats in Europe in particular are exposed to a huge variety of views thanks to the continent’s geographic and political makeup.
And that’s why expat opinion — and hence its vote — is a more informed one on world affairs than that of many people back home.
And why American expats have a duty to vote.
So here we have it. On one side, the prospect of a continuation of the last four years — increased US isolationism, new curbs on personal freedoms in the name of the War on Terror, further attacks (with or without UN approval) on countries that are claimed to pose a threat to America’s security.
And on the other side? Well, at least we have a man who has a world view. Who is willing to work with other nations to combat terrorism as a global issue.
Who is smart enough — and respectful enough — to know that in the 21st Century we live in a global society that has to face global problems as one.
So who to vote for?
Unlike international affairs, this choice is indeed black and white. We believe that the current administration’s policies are a disgrace for the world’s greatest democracy. Expats have in pain watched the United States lose its right to promote the values of true freedom, the ideals of American society.
The United States desperately needs to restore a political leadership of integrity and responsibility. Its credibility and, in turn, the future of the world, depends upon it.
Expats know the urgent need for a change. It’s time for Americans overseas to put their votes behind John Kerry.