Suppress Guantanamo as first step to restore constructive Transatlantic Relations

Franck Biancheri (2004)

US political debate is finally discovering the extent of damages created by the invasion of Iraq to
the US image in the world and therefore to US international capacity of action. Presidential
candidate Kerry made a speech on this very topic yesterday while former Vice-President Al Gore
delivered a very strong attack against Bush’s foreign policy and its major operators (Rumsfeld,
Wolfowitz, ...). Meanwhile, on the Republican side, a growing number of leading figures such as
Senator Mac Cain are publicly voicing their concerns about the loss of US international
credibility. The debate most historic US allies were hoping will start one day is definitely on its
way now.

If Washington circles finally seem to discover (or dare to speak again) that there is a world
outside the US, it is of course because they were remembered of it by the ‘little world’ outside
the Belt Way: US citizens. Democracy again is definitely something worth fighting for. In Iraq
certainly; but in the USA too!

Indeed, one should not underestimate the great importance for US citizens that their country is
seen as ‘good’ by others eyes. Of course, for a certain time, US leaders may blindfold public
opinion and make them believe through intense propaganda, distorted information and lies that the
world does support US actions that in reality it does not support at all. They are very much helped
to do so by the collapse of US international education which has created generations of new US
citizens with almost no knowledge, nor understanding of the rest of the world (and therefore have
great difficulties to assess by themselves the rest of the world’s opinions).

But the very fact that those leaders are obliged to lie on this very point, the international support
to US action, illustrates its political importance in this country.

A vast majority of US citizens are having two very basic ideas in their mind when it comes to US
actions in the world: the US should be leading and it should be done for the sake of goodness. As
everywhere else in the world, such belief is backed by very common sense criteria: if you are a
leader, you are supposed to be a follower; if you are fighting for the ‘Good’, the vast majority of
other human beings should be thankful to you and express it.

Clearly in past months, the average US citizen has been exposed to a growing number of
information which were not exactly matching with these two criteria: the ‘coalition of willing’
appears to be a crumbling band; while polls and surveys are piling up showing that the image of
the US is down to unprecedented level all over the world ... including in countries which are part
of the coalition; not to underscore the Iraqi public opinion on that matter.

Meanwhile in this ‘rest of the world’ seen from a US citizen’s perspective, all parts are not equal
in term of psychological importance. Asia may be the ‘supposed to be’ great partner for the
XXIst century, while Europe is doomed to be ‘old’ by Rumsfeld and co. Latin America may be
the growing demographic power of Western Hemisphere and become a direct component of the
US, while European immigration has almost stopped. But nevertheless, for the average US
citizen, the opinion which matters from the outside world is the opinion of the Europeans. In that
case it is very simple, because thanks to G.W. Bush, for the first time ever, a truly Europeanpublic opinion has emerged, at least regarding Iraq and current US external policy. So it is much
easier to understand it.

And this opinion, has shown by surveys, is just saying: ‘the US we have been seeing for the past 4
years is not a leader, nor a model; it is a nightmare. Therefore change course as fast as you can if
you want us to be pro-active to face our common challenges’.

And for those in the US, involved in diplomacy or public diplomacy, who want to have a hint at
which signal to send for stopping this descent to hell of US international image, here is a very
simple one: suppress Guantanamo. Now. And you will see how strong this strong symbolic
gesture will put your allies again in a mood of forging alliances with you.

It is not Abou Graib which must be erased; it is Guantanamo; which, for the rest of the world,
has become the symbol of what went wrong in US politics in past years. No need to elaborate. If
US leaders cannot understand why by themselves, then it is useless trying to do so.

Franck Biancheri,
Paris (France) – 28.05.2004