AS: You don’t think it would be possible that communism will simply – as a monolithic threat – be replaced by Islamic terrorism.
HILL: No, I think international threats don’t replicate themselves in the same terms. And I think while we all use historical analogies to help us understand the present and the expected future, I would be careful with equating terrorism with communism or communism with fascism. We need to have a better analytical framework than that.
AS: One of the things I’ve been talking to the delegates here about has been perceptions of the US. It’s now widely reported that around the world the reputation of the US has suffered greatly in the last several years, and many people, including the American delegates, have talked about the need for the US to reclaim its position of leadership, not just political but also moral. First of all, do you agree that the reputation of the US has suffered recently, and if so, what do you think some of the concrete steps are that the US could take to improve its image?
HILL: Well certainly if you look at polling data worldwide, there’s a problem out there. I think any American would be wrong to ignore that problem. So I think we do have to deal with that. One of the speakers this morning said that this protracted selection process we have ahead of our November elections is actually helping our standing in the world. People are seeing how the US political process works. I think this is an election where the people around the world seem to be as interested in the US election as Americans are. The only difference is that they’re not allowed to vote in the US election! I think that’s kind of encouraging. And it’s a reminder that whatever problems we have, these are problems that are not permanent, are not structural. I think we can overcome them.
Probably we need to, as a general rule of thumb, Americans, not just American leaders, but Americans really need to do a little more listening. I think Americans need to be a little more humble about where we stand in the world. Lord knows we have our problems as well. There was a book written in the 1950s at another time of alleged American triumphalism, and that was a book called The Ugly American. I would encourage people to have another look at that book, and I think they will see some distant echoes of what we’re dealing with now.
All that said we have a tremendous reservoir of goodwill in the world. I think people want to look to us and have a great respect for our accomplishments. I think Americans can take heart from that as we go forward.
Nermeen Shaikh is the Managing Editor of Asia Society Online. Her book The Present as History: Critical Perspectives on Global Power has just been published by Columbia University Press.
Founded by John D. Rockefeller 3d in 1971, the Williamsburg Conference brings top leaders from Asia and the United States together to discuss the greatest challenges facing the Asia-Pacific community and develop creative approaches for addressing them.