They Like Us, They REALLY Like Us

(Map based on Gallup data,

A recent report by Gallup based on a two-year rolling survey in 154 countries places the United States as the number one immigrant destination in the world.

Based on Gallup’s data, 138 million people worldwide would voluntarily leave their country to immigrate to the United States. If that happened, it would increase the American population by 46 percent. The number of people expressing a desire to immigrate to the United States is triple the number desiring to immigrate to the next most-desired immigrant destination, Great Britain. This is a stunning rebuttal of anti-Americanism, cultural and political, as seen in other surveys.

Unfortunately the data set released by Gallup is only a small piece of what the company holds relating to global opinion relating to the intent to immigrate. This is an important piece of opinion because it closes the ground between global public opinion about the United States and actual public practice.  An example of what I’m talking about — which will be more fully examined in my forthcoming book — is demonstrated in the partial data set Gallup released. Gallup lists, among others, the “likeliest” US-bound immigrants to originate from China, India and Brazil, in that order (among others) — that is, three of the self-styled most dynamic economies in the world. Based on Gallup’s data, 1.5 percent of the Chinese population would leave China for the United States, not including other destinations. To fill out the BRICs, I would like to see the numbers on Russia — which has faced a duel problem of population decline and emigration increase — where much official and semi-official anti-American sentiment has originated.

As a friend (I met the report’s author, Jon Clifton, as part of my work for NATO) I would question the data on China and Iran. The Gallup reports low desire among Iranians to immigrate to the United States. This may be artificially low in part because most of those who wanted to immigrate and could have already left (an estimated 1.2 million Iranians live in the United States alone, representing about 1.6 percent of Iran’s population) and because of the fraught political state of the country. It may simply not be safe for Iranians to offer anything other than officially approved anti-American opinions to anyone. While China is probably less strictly policed politically, I would suggest the same conditions apply there. It’s probably higher than it already is.

The most politically interesting and contentious data sets, therefore, are those not released publicly by Gallup so far — e.g., Cuba, Venezuela, Belarus, and Russia (see map, above). I recognize the desire for Gallup to monetize its surveys. But in the interest of American public diplomacy, I would ask Gallup to release the entire data set relating to international immigration. We can only learn more from it.


The Ecstasy of Politics

Monument to the Velvet Revolution, made out of 86,000 keys donated by the citizens of Prague. (sycamore stirrings)

It’s hard to imagine in the deflated reality of the federal sequester, and as the winners of 2012 (however they define themselves) watch with undisguised glee as the losers (however they are defined) tear themselves apart at the annual CPAC conference, that there might be something very personally, individually rewarding about politics and political action.

The literally score of visitors to this web site may have noticed I have used this portal to promote CULTURESHUTDOWN, which has been working to draw attention to the situation of seven cultural institutions in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

We were delighted to see our efforts met with an extraordinary response: more than 200 museums, galleries and libraries in 40 countries around the world. The reaction was made all the more meaningful when we saw the images come in, using the organization’s trademark “closed for business” tape. The repetition of the same trope, seen over and over again on so many artifacts and art pieces, is extraordinary.

I don’t think I’m betraying any confidences when I say my friends (none of whom I’ve directly met yet) communicated something extraordinary among ourselves as this was happening – a profound emotion as we saw these other cultural organizations pledge their support to their counterparts in Sarajevo – something like elation, even ecstasy. I’d felt something like it before, but it was such an unusual experience that I thought it was purely unique to the situation, or to me.

But to see my friends now enjoy essentially the same experience was deeply reassuring and satisfying. It is difficult to find analogies in recent or historical experiences because I think this feeling must be connected to political action, the direct personal participation in politics.

The easiest and most common example of this is, of course, voting, and in a democracy this certainly bears repeating. Voting feels wonderful, satisfying, concrete. It is not an individual, selfish act, but a contribution to a whole. And knowing that many others — millions of others — are participating in the same act makes it an act of communion. Political action crosses some barrier — bridges some gap — between people.

Those who vote never feel their ballot is wasted or canceled out, or that there is no difference between the parties. They always feel they have done something real and extraordinary.

Voting in countries with a more attenuated relationship to democracy provides this experience, which is all the more poignant, direct and profound. This has been seen this across the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring, but I remember this particular description of Iraq during the country’s first elections in 2006, as described by George Packer:

A young Iraqi girl asked for her finger to be inked even though she was too young to vote in the election. (Ahmed al-Hussainey/AP via Christian Science Monitor)

“Sunday morning was strange and beautiful. The streets were so quiet that people later said it was like a feast day. Families, including small children and grandparents, were walking together along the wide avenues, everyone dressed in fine clothes.  ‘I’ve lived over fifty years, and I’ve never had such a feeling,’ [said one man]. ‘My skin had a strange feeling, like goosebumps. We’ve had a great culture for six thousand years, and now I think our humanity is proved.'”

It’s impossible to be cynical about democracy, and politics, in the presence of such feeling, and it’s important to remember that the political action of the Arab Spring and 1989, and the color revolutions, and those in-between — Serbia, Burma, and struggles elsewhere — provide this feeling, which has a strong moral vein. As Vaclav Havel wrote, for decades under communism, the political system very effectively denied its citizens the right to political action, which is to say collective moral activity.

The Velvet Revolution had its own ecstatic moments. Timothy Garton Ash describes the zenith of the revolution in Wenceslas Square in Prague, when hundreds of thousands citizens jangled their house keys together: “The people in the square make the most extraordinary spontaneous gesture. They all take keys out of their pockets and shake them, 300,000 key-rings, producing a sound like massed Chinese bells.”

It is easy to imagine the ecstasy of millions on Election Night in Hyde Park, Chicago, realizing the magnitude of what we had achieved. The 2008 election achieved something beyond the vote, just as the Civil Rights Movement achieved something more than just the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act. Especially in the wake of the 2012 election, 2008 looks more and more like our own Velvet Revolution.

It’s unfortunate to recall it was this kind of mass reaction that political philosophers have feared for centuries. They could make very little distinction between the rule of the mob and bona fide democratic power. But that may be because they almost to a man never experienced political action personally, didn’t understand politics subjectively, and therefore never developed the subtle judgement necessary to parse the moral tableau they didn’t even try to study. So instead, as Pascal noted, they played games by drawing up constitutions for governments that would best contain the worst instincts of politics that they saw on display.

Those kind of instincts are hard to imagine when recalling the end of World War II in Britain. Winston Churchill, as Prime Minister, took to the balcony with other members of his government at Whitehall to address a huge crowd following the surrender of Germany. He called to the crowd, “This is your victory!” The crowd roared back, “No, it is yours!” It is hard to imagine a finer moment to capture the world’s most venerable democracy as it emerged from its gravest ordeal: its elected leader insisting the people had prevailed, and his voters insisting that he had.  And it easy to feel the relief, joy, maybe even the ecstasy of that communion.


Bosnian Culture is World Culture: March 4 is Global Museum Solidarity Day

Outside the Kunsthaus in Graz, Austria. (CULTURESHUTDOWN)

Today more than 200 museums, galleries and libraries in nearly 40  countries on five continents symbolically closed exhibits in solidarity with seven closed and threatened cultural institutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina. More than 20 galleries and universities in North America, 50 in Croatia alone, two score across Western Europe, and more across the Middle East, Russia, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and beyond are demonstrating their support this month for their brother and sister institutions that survived the war of the 1990s only to confront ruin by political neglect in the Bosnian federal parliament.

Museum of Contemporary Art, The Rocks, Australia - remembering Babylon #5

Museum of Contemporary Art, The Rocks, Australia (CULTURESHUTDOWN)

You can hear my friend Jasmin Mujanovic speaking to the CBC’s As It Happens about the crisis in Bosnia threatening the cultural institutions (in English). You can watch my friend Prof. Azra Aksamija speaking to Al Jazeera here (in Bosnian).

Pour nos amis francophones, voici un blog Le Monde. C’est un peu court, mais je travail dur pour le changer. Ecrivez Le Monde, France24 ou les autres medias pour nous aider!

Of course, please visit our CULTURESHUTDOWN site to join the conversation about how we can change the circumstances in Sarajevo.


Commander Salamander’s NATO Headquarters Bellylander

The new NATO Headquarters under construction in Evere, Brussels

A recent post by the blogger Commander Salamander, who writes about defense matters, was brought to my attention for his skepticism about the new NATO Headquarters being erected across Boulevard Leopold III from the current headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. Cdr. Salamander quotes extensively from a recent American Spectator article by Joseph Harriss criticizing the cost of the new Headquarters and other projects undertaken by NATO.

NATO’s Headquarters in Evere, a commune in eastern Brussels, was built in 1967 as the organization’s temporary headquarters. In 1967 NATO had 15 members. Since then, the organization has nearly doubled its membership to 28 countries, expanded to the Baltic and the Black Sea, gone operational on three continents, fought two wars, and extended its political partnership mandate to include nearly double again the number of countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The Headquarters’ physical footprint, on an old German airfield just a few miles from Brussels’ main airport at Zaventem, has accommodated these dramatic changes with a series of temporary or semi-permanent structures not intended to last more than a few decades. As I used to tell visitors, NATO has been here, temporarily, for more than 40 years.

Unfortunately, a legion of observers – mired in a Cold War mindset like some congenital deficiency – still believe NATO should have closed up shop with the Warsaw Pact. (Vladimir Putin vainly wishes the same thing.) They have been simply or willfully ignorant of how political geography has shifted during the last 20 years, like addled Rip Van Winkles not realizing they have slept since 1988. NATO has never been more relevant, operationally active or politically engaged than now.

A permanent headquarters fixes that political reality to the ground.  NATO member countries have long intended to build a permanent headquarters similar to the United Nations but didn’t get around to it until the last decade and long before the recession that throws its construction into ironic relief. Harriss is a little late to this game. What he only recently got around to complaining about has been in the works since before NATO deployed to Afghanistan.

As for the cost of building the new Headquarters, the analogy may not be best, but controversy over NATO’s new headquarters is similar to the hand-wringing about cost overruns and quality controls with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Many of the Allies are expected to take delivery of this aircraft and given the mounting costs they are second-guessing this decision. But the real question about the Headquarters is the same with the F-35: it’s not what you’re going to work with now that matters most but what you will work with 15 or 30 years from now.

Today’s fighters – the F-16s and F-18s the F-35 will replace – were designed in the 1960s and 1970s. Both are nearly 40 years old. You can’t work effectively with old or outmoded technology, especially when our adversaries are barreling ahead to catch up with us. We can’t fly these planes two decades from now (although in the case of the F-35 our Allies can buy the Typhoon or Rafaele). It’s the same principle with the headquarters. Never built to last in the first place, it is hard to imagine working in the temporary headquarters in 2035. A new headquarters is needed.

I served six years on NATO’s International Staff in Brussels. The Headquarters’ age is visible and tangible. I worked with thousands of visitors who were routinely less than impressed by its appearance: expecting a kind of multinational Pentagon, they found an unassuming retired hospital, minimalist in design and construction; a long, awkward cough from Cdr. Salamander’s admired “neo-Classical, Romanesque, neo-Gothic” architecture that only appear together in the Dom in Trier, Germany. When I worked at NATO, whole sections of the core headquarters were closed off, opened for exercises only, because they stank of sewage. We had no air conditioning until individual units were installed in 2008. All the restrooms reeked. Power outages were routine. External window blinds failed and collapsed, one after the other, in my corridor one summer. A balky elevator in my unit reliably jammed. And for anybody who’s been overwhelmed by the vastness and complexity of the Pentagon, the Headquarters’ ad hoc layout more than rivaled the Defense Department maze on a much more compact scale.

Such conditions may not bother the likes of Cdr. Salamander, accustomed to austere shipboard life. But NATO Headquarters is a misnomer: SHAPE is NATO’s true operational headquarters. NATO itself is a political body akin to the United Nations or the European Commission (unpopular equivalents perhaps, but mature observers will understand the comparison); it has more in common with Congress than the Pentagon. With ambassadors, ministers and heads of state visiting regularly, the West’s dignity and standing demand better than the current Headquarters shows.

That should be enough for the Paris-glutted Harriss to restrain his snark. But he continues his attack with a thrust at the NATO Undersea Research Center (NURC) in Italy, criticizing its frivolous protection of sea mammals from sonar frequencies (which the U.S. Navy is also researching). I would expect Cdr. Salamander, as a retired Navy officer, to defend NURC here. NURC has worked with the NATO navies to find and dispose of underwater unexploded ordnance (UXO) left over from both world wars. As this video demonstrates, UXO threatens Mediterranean and Baltic fishermen particularly, who drag up old sea mines, shells, torpedoes and even chemical weapons (the latter dumped en masse by both Americans and Germans after the Second World War), leading to horrific injuries.

Harriss also takes aim at my division which worked with academics and universities. I find his criticism especially odd coming from an avowed conservative who should be particularly suspicious of the anti-American bastions on campuses in Western Europe and North America. We at NATO recognized the opinion trends that academics could set and engaged directly, truthfully and effectively with them. (Maintaining an open and accessible library, which Harriss also inexplicably attacks, was part of this strategy. The Russians, Harriss might discover if he asked around, are not quite as helpful.)  We also spoke directly to thousands of high school and college students who visited Headquarters each year. Our approach may be naïve, but the alternative is far worse: abandoning campuses to entrenched anti-American, left-wing and (worse) terrorist narratives is pure negligence.  I hope Harriss and Cdr. Salamander would agree.