Have we lost our standing in the world?

I won’t express opinion about the tonight’s debate with the exception of one point that Obama tried to make near the end in referring to his father.

I have had this argument with people over and over again over the last five to ten years about the US supposed loss of standing internationally.

I am lucky enough to have travelled fairly extensively during my life. Over most of Europe, South East Asia (Vietnam), India, Pakistan, China (Hong Kong and mainland) as well as quite extensively in the Middle East. In fact, I lived in Italy for 2 years when I was young.

The simple fact of the matter is that the US has been resented and reviled in certain places around the world since WWII.

There has been resentment of our ascendancy as a world power. Some of you may not realize that before World War II, America was not a world power, or at least we didn’t know we were.

It was still the end of the colonial empires of France and Britain, which is one of the reasons we are in Iraq, and why we went right from WWII into Korea and Vietnam (former French colonies).

But even in the days immediately after 9/11, in my travels in Pakistan, for example, the visceral hatred of our freedoms, and lifestyle was quite literally palpable. They loved our business, and wanted to keep it going, but they hated us.

But here’s the direct point. Obama discussed his father’s desire to come to the US to study.

So, I did a search on the number of foreign students in United States schools.

Since World War II, this number has been increasing inexorably with only a slight downturn as a result of the new visa restrictions after 9/11.

So, here is the raw number. Since 1955, about the time that Obama’s father was pining to come to the US, the number of foreign students in US Universities has increased 1525%.

Even more interesting, is that Senator Obama and my alma mater, Columbia, now has the second highest number of foreign students after USC, numbering almost 6000.

There are now, as of 2007, according to the Institute for International Education (who provided all these numbers) more than 575,000 foreign students at American Universities.

You read that right. 583,000 foreign students. In 1960, when I believe Obama’s father came here, the number was somewhere in the range of 30,000.

So, by that measure, the measure that Obama used, clearly he is wrong.

But it is not just that.

During the 1970’s when the sheen of the Marshall plan and the rebuilding of Europe had finished, resentment set in with the former colonial powers. We saw anti American governments all over, from Canada, to most of Western Europe. Think of the stereotype of the anti American French.

Canada now speaks for itself. But in Europe, in the last three elections in the region, Italy, Germany, and France, significantly more PRO AMERICAN governments have been elected.

Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, Angela Merkl in Germany and Nicolas Sarkozy in France are all pro American leaders elected in their countries most recent elections.

What has happened is a radicalization of the Muslim world. And a corresponding demonstration of long held anti western views. But rather than their previous focus on the colonial powers, who were now neutered, the focus turned to us. It was for this reason that most of the middle east became satellites of the former Soviet Union. Bernard Lewis of Princeton has been discussing this for 25 years plus. But this antagonism has always been there, as evidenced by the Arab world siding with the Nazis in the Second World War.

Clearly, this idea of lost standing is simply not supported by any real evidence other than soft ideas of perceived attitudes. Of course, what is also happening in Europe is a rapidly expanding Muslim community. (within a few decades probably a majority in France) so this is reflected in surveys.

But once again, facts speak louder than “feelings”.

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