Nancy Solomon: You're listening to The Takeaway. I'm Nancy Solomon in for Melissa Harris-Perry. This summer has been a turbulent one. This is probably the understatement of the decade because it's been eventful in the US, with a series of high-profile mass shooting, the January 6th investigations, SCOTUS overturning Roe v. Wade, continuing incidents of police violence, tensions on the Mexico border, all amidst the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. For many of us here in the US it's felt like an overwhelming onslaught of events, but how is the rest of the world thinking about our country in these turbulent times?
Mark Stone: Why does this only happen in your country? I really think that's what many people around the world, they cannot fathom. Why only in America? Why is this American exceptionalism so awful?
Ted Cruz: I'm sorry you think American exceptionalism is awful.
Mark: I think this aspect of it--
Ted: You know what? You got your political agenda.
Mark: No, honestly--
Ted: God love you.
Nancy: That was Senator Ted Cruz being confronted by a reporter from Sky News in the aftermath of the Uvalde School shooting back in May. All around the world, the US has faced the glare of the spotlight.
Speaker 1: [foreign language]
Speaker 2: The suspect is in custody, following America's latest mass shooting.
Speaker 3: [foreign language]
Speaker 4: Not for the first time in America there are demonstrations following the death of a Black man killed by a white policeman.
Speaker 5: [foreign language]
Speaker 6: Landmark verdict coming out of the United States Supreme Court, but it's actually a verdict which seems to set the United States' backward, at least in women's rights and abortion rights.
Speaker 7: The committee wanted to show all Americans, whatever their politics, how close the country came to losing its democracy that day.
Nancy: We need to know more, so let's talk with Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations. His latest book is The World: A Brief Introduction. Thanks for joining us, Richard.
Richard Haass: Great to be with you, Nancy.
Nancy: As someone who interacts regularly with foreign leaders, dignitaries and the like, how do they view this maelstrom of events here?
Richard: A little bit complicated. It's not universal. The rest of the world is close to 200 countries. Needless to say, there's a range of views. Then there's also a difference of whether you're talking about American foreign policy or about American society. Depending upon what your focus is, you're going to get a different answer.
Nancy: The shocking assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, and the July 3rd shooting in Copenhagen made international news. It stands in stark contrast to the spate of mass shootings in the United States in recent weeks. What message does it send that so many of these tragic events are happening here?
Richard: The frequent mass casualty events here, the shootings get a lot of the world, particularly in Europe, in my experience, parts of Asia shaking their head. It is so foreign to them that you could have so many guns in a country. Most of these countries, say Japan where you just had the tragic assassination of the former Prime Minister, gun deaths, just one a year, it's a lot. Gun ownership is extremely rare. The hoops you have to jump through are many and onerous, just the opposite of here. When countries around the world, people around the world see the United States awash in guns and with the frequent shootings, among other things. We had an excess of supply of vaccine, but we had a shortage of demand for it.
When they saw the opioid crisis and so forth, they look at these domestic dimensions of life in the United States, to be perfectly honest, particularly in Europe and the developed parts of Asia, they shake their head. This is not an America they recognize and this is not an America they understand.
Nancy: Do any of the people you speak to ever suggest that there could be a contagion of ideas affect? That the mass shootings in the United States could influence more violence around the world?
Richard: I've never heard that idea of copycat-ism of anything. I think it reinforces their sense that they've got their societies better organized, at least in this case, than we do. When people want to emulate the United States, it's when we're at our best. Our best universities, our culture of innovation, our freedom, our rule of law, and so forth. That's the part of the United States. When people line up outside American consulates around the world to come here, it's to come to that America. The America of opportunity and educational excellence. It's not the America of crime. It's not the America of frequent shooting. I think again, there's a real divergence of takes on the United States.
Nancy: Let's talk about the continuing House investigation into the January 6th insurrection. What do people have to say about the United States' often self-imposed position as a defender of democracy in the rest of the world?
Richard: We're not quite the shining city on a hill. People around the world saw the images of January 6th. Our friends were horrified, and again, shook their heads in disbelief. Our enemies actually were pleased with it. The Chinese showed images of January 6th and basically said to their own people, "This is why democracy goes hand in hand with anarchy." Implicit in this was the Chinese government trying to justify its relatively repressive ways, and essentially said, "You may not love every aspect of the political life in China, but it's certainly preferable to what we see in the United States." I think January 6th has largely been a bad thing.
The one exception, which might be positive, almost like the Watergate hearings, these hearings are impressive. Not a lot of societies would have the strength, the character to have this kind of self-examination. We'll see what comes of it. If at the end of the day the rule of law triumphs, if at the end of the day we show that no individual is above the law, if at the end of the day we show that American democracy is resilient, then out of this bad, some good could come. I think that's still very much in play.
Nancy: Several years ago, during the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, the supreme leader of Iran kept tweeting about what was happening. Let me read you one tweet. "Look at how US government treats Black community. It's not about 50, 100 years ago, but it's about today #Ferguson." Now, we could focus on whether he has the moral authority to be making these statements, given the extent of human rights abuses in Iran, but I'm wondering, do these sorts of statements indicate US vulnerability in the international arena?
Richard: Your first point is exactly on. He doesn't exactly have the moral standing, shall we say, to judge our behavior. What's an exception here is the norm all too often there, but it's a real reminder that the whole world is watching. To echo what Marshall McLuhan said several generations ago, what happens here doesn't stay here, and what happens here is seen all over the world often quite quickly on either formal media or social media. I think when the Iranian leader tweets the way he did, it's a way of signaling his own people. One, again, that democracy is not necessarily a wonderful thing. Two, the United States is not a wonderful place. It's part of the competition. It's part of their justification both for their nature and their policies.
It's a reminder that we live in a world where it's competitive. It's the competition of ideas. It's the competition of agendas. When we look good to the world, I think we strengthen the hands of democratic forces around the world, we create problems. When we perform well economically and politically, we create problems for authoritarian governments. Just the opposite, when we fail politically, when we fail economically, the kind of economic problems we're having now, that we had in 2007 and 2008. When American economic management looks more like mismanagement, again, that makes it tougher for the United States to have the kind of influence or standing that we would like.
Nancy: How does that play out? I understand that our standing in the world goes down, but how does that play out on the ground when we're trying to diplomatically advocate for US interests around the world? How does this play when our standing is lowered?
Richard: One way it plays out is simply the uncertainty. The question I get asked more often than any other, you said correctly, I see a lot of visitors from around the world, official and unofficial. The most common question I get is, "What is the new normal in the United States? Is the Biden administration the normal, or is the Trump administration the normal?" To put it another way, what's the aberration? Are we having a one term return to what looks familiar and then we go back to either Mr. Trump or Trumpism, or is the Trump administration a one time departure and now we're going to go back to something more familiar?
The Churn in the United States, it has become a source of real concern to our friends around the world because it makes them uneasy about their reliance because we become unpredictable. Some of the social developments here, in your lead up you had the reference to the decision of the Supreme court, the Dobbs case on abortion. The rest of the world and particularly in places like more liberal Europe and socialists, they look at that and they go again, "This is a society that we thought we knew, and now we're not so sure. Are we comfortable being so reliant on it?"
I think domestic issues here in many ways cause problems for our relationships with our friends and it also emboldens our enemies. I actually believe, I can't prove it, but I think that one of the reasons Mr. Putin went into Ukraine in February of this year is he looked at January 6th. He looked at our divisions and basically said, "The United States does not have the solidarity of cohesion to stand up to us."
Nancy: I think the pendulum swinging and the bouncing back and forth, I think it has Americans worried about what the new normal is.
Richard: You should be worried. If you're not worried, you're not paying attention.
Nancy: Richard, we're going to pause right there for a minute. We have to take a quick break and we'll be back with more on The Takeaway right after this. Hey, all. It's Nancy Solomon in from Melissa today. We're back with Richard Haas from the council on foreign relations, but I want you to hear some other thoughts on the current state of the US from some leaders abroad. After the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas in May, Ukrainian President Zelensky who, as you know, is facing war in his own country, offered condolences to the US.
President Zelensky: This is happening in absolutely peaceful times when innocent children are killed.
Nancy: "This is happening in absolutely peaceful times when innocent children are killed," he said.
Mick Wallace: A woman's right to choose is a human right. Why are we so quiet about challenging the US when they threatening human rights?
Nancy: Ahead of the Supreme court's decision on Dobbs, Irish politician and European parliament member Mick Wallace lashed out at the US.
Mick Wallace: They have 25% of the total prisoners in the world. They spend over 800 billion a year on arms, which is more than most of the world put together, but they can't afford universal healthcare. They can't afford 1.7 trillion debt forgiveness for students. They can't afford a program for the 17 million children that go to bed hungry. Is this a functioning democracy? What's your idea of a democracy? The Americans couldn't spell democracy.
Nancy: Back with me is Richard Haass, president of the council on foreign relations. Richard, can Americans spell democracy?
Richard: We can. I don't appreciate much being lectured to by someone from a country, which has benefited so much from what the United States has done in the world. It's easy to criticize us. At times it's justified to criticize us for our flaws, but the United States has done extraordinary things over the last three quarters of a century, beginning with World War II, entering the war and ultimately determining its outcome. Then creating essentially a global system over the last 75 years that has, among other things, increased living standards virtually everywhere, has extended the duration of lives by decades.
Everywhere has maintained a considerable amount of peace in order in Europe and elsewhere anywhere. Again, I think the United States, I would argue, has been an extraordinary and unprecedented force for good in the world, which is not to say we haven't made mistakes and we don't have serious flaws at home. I think what we're going through now here at home is worrisome. What the January 6th hearings are revealing, and some other recent developments, is not only do we have deep social flaws dealing with issues like crime and guns and the like, but that our democracy, that we used to take for granted.
You and I, Nancy would get up in the morning and we might worry about a lot of things, but American democracy was probably not on our list. What January 6th shows is that we had a close run thing. I think the challenge for us now is making sure that's a one off, that we never again put ourselves in a position where American democracy hangs in the balance and where force is used to bring about political outcomes here.
Nancy: You mentioned the Dobbs decision from the Supreme Court. According to a recent council on foreign relations report, 38 countries had changed their abortion laws outside the US since 2000 and all but one, Nicaragua, had expanded access. What impact do you think overturning Roe v. Wade had on our reputation in the international community?
Richard: It increases the tendency, in particular in more liberal societies in Europe above all, to some extent in parts of Latin America, that we're something of an outlier. It reinforces the sense that this is not the America these people, many of whom have visited the United States, lived here, studied here. It's not the America they thought they knew. I believe it makes them question to some extent their reliance on us and their closeness to us because security, dependence, implicit in that or even explicit in that is that you're comfortable with one another and you're thinking alike and you're acting alike.
You can presume that if a crunch comes like it has in Ukraine, we will be there. Well, the good news is we are there in Ukraine and that's really helped our standing among other places in Europe and Asia. People like what divide administration is doing. They see this as a major improvement over the previous administration, alliances are at the center again of American foreign policy. Working against this improvement in our standing, particularly in Europe, is where we're going socially. That's where the gun issues, the Supreme Court decisions and the like have raised questions.
Nancy: Tell us a little more about the response internationally to President Biden's handling of the Russian war on Ukraine. You just mentioned a few of the positive responses. Has there been any criticism?
Richard: The criticism has been, as you would expect, in places like Russia and China and so forth. Obviously perceptions of the United States are quite low there. I would say in a lot of the rest of the world, there hasn't been so much criticism as in here hasn't been a rallying around the American flag here or around Ukraine. That to me is interesting. In some cases it's because they have special relations with Russia, say India imports most of its arms from Russia. In some cases, it's just an indifference to the United States and saying, "Hey, you weren't there for us when we needed your vaccines. Why do you expect us to be there for you now?"
When the Biden administration, I think they've made a mistake here, frames this as a struggle between the forces of democracy and tyranny. Well, a lot of the world is not a democracy. We would do much better if we frame the Ukraine crisis not as something about democracy, but simply about the importance that countries can live, not in fear of being invaded by other countries. It's just a reminder that the rest of the world is not necessarily on the same page as us.
Nancy: How would you say the, the controversy over masking and COVID restrictions that played out during the pandemic? Did that have any lasting effects on the view of US around the world?
Richard: It contributed to the sense that we are very different, for better and for worse. It probably increased the head shaking quantity and quality around the world.
Nancy: Richard Haas is the president of the council on foreign relations. Thanks so much for being with us.
Richard: Thanks for having me.
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