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A Guide for the Perplexed
Americans have tragically learned that vast oceans no longer separate us from the rest of the world. The media have shortchanged us by not providing enough useful information about different countries of the world, leaving us unable to always comprehend our foreign policy motives. The following brief guide to individual countries around the world should help clear up confusion about our strategic interests. With its help, the average American should be able to follow the nuances and subtleties of our approach to the rest of the world for at least the next half-century.
Mexico. Mexico’s biggest distinction is that it lies south of our border. It is the country that contributes the vast number of our leaf blowers, restaurant workers, and garbage collectors. Mexicans relish crossing the Rio Grande with infants on their backs or squeezing themselves like cattle in rickety trucks in order to live in the world’s freest society. Ricardo Montalban, Salma Hayek, and possibly Maria Conchita Alonso and Ricky Martin are some famous Mexicans. Cheech Marin is not from Mexico – he was born in East L.A. Mexico is a corrupt and, until recently, one-party state that insists on exporting drugs to our country. In this age of diversity, Americans have great respect for Mexican culture, as evidenced by the proliferation of Taco Bell franchises around the country and the cultural synthesis achieved by Tejano singer Selena. After NAFTA, Mexico has become one of the world’s most important emerging markets, according to the Chicago School of economists.
Canada. Our neighbor to the north, the people here distinguish themselves from the hegemony of American culture mainly by mispronouncing certain words like “out” and “about.” Also with CBC, which is a socialist version of NBC. Pierre Trudeau is not married to Jane Pauley–that’s Garry Trudeau. Canada is a very cold country, where they have socialized medicine, French-speaking separatists, and probably still some Vietnam era draft-dodgers. That’s all one needs to know about Canada.
Brazil. Most famous for half-naked carnival dancers, Amazonian rainforests that guilt-ridden liberal arts students fight to preserve, and Pele. Brazilians have no hang-ups about sex, and their women wear very revealing bikinis, if they wear anything at all. It is also an important emerging market, and a great setting for magical realist novels. Ricky Martin possibly comes from here. Brazilian women don’t care to wear too many clothes.
Argentina. It fought a losing war against Margaret Thatcher’s Britain over the rights to sheep-grazing land on some remote islands, and has never been the same since. As with many other countries, the U.S. through the IMF has repeatedly bailed out Argentina with generous multi-billion dollar loans so that Argentina may enjoy a free-market, free-enterprise economy. Argentina usually does well in World Cup soccer games, although Americans do not like soccer because it is a slow-paced, low-scoring sissy’s game. There have been riots here in recent years, but riots are a fact of life in all countries not yet fully committed to the free-market, free-enterprise system. The Chicago School is popular here.
Chile. Not to be mistaken with chilies. Great progress was made here after General Augusto Pinochet ushered in free-market, free-enterprise reforms with the help of the U.S. There used to be a demagogue named Salvador Allende who shot himself with his own gun in his presidential palace at the first sign of trouble. Chile has a great pension system which could be a model for social security privatization in the U.S. The Chicago School is taught in graduate seminars here.
Cuba. Dictatorially ruled by Fidel Castro (a smoking buddy of Che Guevara), who since the end of communism has had to resort to organized prostitution and rampant tourism to sustain the country’s fleet of 1950s Packards and Impalas. Cuba has not been very important to us since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when we faced down the Soviet threat with honor and restraint. It is often the first stop for hurricanes that threaten to annihilate the Gulf Coast of the U.S. The song “Guantanamera,” not to be confused with Guantanamo Bay, originated here. Also The Mambo Kings. Elian Gonzales came back here, and Ricky Martin possibly comes from here.
England. It used to be a cold, rainy, foggy island inhabited by stiff-upper-lipped people until Princess Diana died, humanizing the whole country and making them more like us. Even more than Canadians, they have difficulty enunciating the English language, often using alternate vocabulary. Their most famous exports since the end of the war have been the Beatles and the Stones, although it is to be noted that rock and roll derived its inspiration from indigenous American music – so we don’t owe them that much. Winston Churchill has been a model for our conservative presidents confident of the manifest destiny of America, as well as for Toastmasters tutors. They too have socialized medicine, which doesn’t work. They never got around to writing their Constitution. We saved them during World War II.
Germany. The country where Hitler came from. We helped them get over their guilt at the Nuremberg trials–please watch the movie for invaluable historical insight–and with the Marshall Plan we helped rebuild them. Now they serve as inspiration for the Sprockets skit on Saturday Night Live and make BMWs and Mercedes for rich Californians. The Berlin Airlift probably saved many thousands of lives. It was just one of many favors we’ve done Germans. Much of Germany’s history is incomprehensible to us: we can’t figure out how and why a country would become fascist and a dictator would choose to annihilate people’s liberties in one of the world’s most civilized nations. It was a mistake that Charles Lindbergh liked Germany.
France. The home of French food. It is difficult to take the French seriously, since they don’t take themselves seriously. Paris is a good place to set romantic comedies with actors like Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. They have made no worthwhile contribution to world culture since Albert Camus, an alienated French-Algerian who wrote of plagues and rebellions, died in a car crash at a young age. In the twenties and thirties, many Americans used to go there to have carnivalesque sex, with Edith Piaf singing in the background. The French like to oppose us in the U.N. Security Council, but this is not to be taken too seriously. We saved them during World War II.
Italy. Federico Fellini made some great movies here, but not since the early 1970s. Home of spaghetti and meatballs, macaroni and cheese, and of course pizza. Rome is the former headquarters of the world’s greatest empire–that is, until now–and its beautiful ruins are a perfect setting for Charlton Heston movies. The Mediterranean climate does wonders for the ailing pontiff’s health, which is great because the Pope has been one of the staunchest advocates of free-market, free-enterprise economies around the world. Madonna is not from Italy.
Sweden. Their model of prohibitively high marginal tax rates and cradle-to-grave welfare is going the way of the dinosaurs, which is a welcome relief to the Chicago School. Depression and suicide rates are very high, which is understandable given the prevalence of promiscuous cohabitation as an alternative to traditional marriage and the widespread disbelief in God. They disguise their high rate of unemployment by many devious means. The Nobel Prize is the most objectively granted recognition of achievement in the sciences and humanities, although it would be better yet if it were moved to New York.
Russia. They have finally joined the community of nations living according to free-market, free-enterprise rules after even Gorbachev couldn’t save communism. They probably no longer have socialized medicine. We need to worry about their poor nuclear scientists who might sell the secrets of weapons of mass destruction to fanatic Islamic countries. We think they could be our next great oil supplier. The Chechnyans are like the mafia in New York before J. Edgar Hoover got to it–or Rudy Giuliani. Their Georgia is nothing like ours. Russia is a great source of mail-order brides.
China. The home of Chinese food. After Mao died, they became nearly capitalist. Their free-enterprise zones are a beacon of hope to the rest of the third world. Without a doubt, the world’s greatest emerging market. GE sells electric bulbs here. We let them join the WTO and gave them the 2008 Olympics because Wen Ho Lee turned out not to be a traitor after all – as far as we know now. We still don’t know who lost China. Many people ride bicycles, but SUV makers haven’t given up hope.
India. Primarily known for tandoori chicken, the Kama Sutra, and the Taj Mahal. Also one of the world’s great emerging markets. Its main export is people, primarily in the form of your company’s software expert and your local ob-gyn. Indians speak English nearly as well as people in Tallahassee, Florida. Salman Rushdie left India when he was a boy and later wrote about pickles and chutneys, which angered Indira Gandhi so much that now they can’t film Midnight’s Children here.
Pakistan. A large Islamic country sandwiched between India and Afghanistan. Whenever we give it a chance to join us as our ally, its generals jump at it. The rest of the time it hovers close to being a rogue state. Pakistan has produced the first Islamic bomb, which is of little concern to us as long as the bomb remains in the hands of generals. They have been fighting for fifty years over a vale of tears known as Kashmir, which happens to be a beautiful tourist destination.
Afghanistan. There are many caves here, some of them man-made. We stopped the spread of communism here in the eighties, which brought about the collapse of the Soviet empire and made the world safe for the free-market, free-enterprise system. Afghan terrain is ideal for the construction of oil pipelines through its length and breadth. It is our first real test-case in humble nation-building, and tearing down the burqas that keep their women from deriving full viewing pleasure from wide-screen TVs. Rambo III was filmed here.
Iraq. A country of megalomaniacs who keep invading their neighbors, producing weapons of mass destruction, and refusing to abide by U.N. resolutions. They misread the lips of April Glaspie in 1990. They like to gas their own people and pull babies from incubators for pure sport. We looked the other way, or possibly helped them, when they were fighting the war against Iran in the eighties, but that’s justifiable because pragmatism suggests that we always choose the lesser evil–for the time being. They think that “No-Fly Zone” refers to an underground punk band in Seattle.
Iran. The Shah of Iran was a friend of America, but when he tried to crack down on the mullahs they got real upset and started a revolution. The French had given asylum to Ayatollah Khomeini, which was a great mistake. The hostage crisis started Nightline, which remains a model of outstanding international reporting. The Iranians also got upset at Salman Rushdie. They don’t have as much oil as Iraq, but for the sake of national security we may have to get rid of their women’s burqas too. They have done much to revitalize Beverly Hills and Westwood.
Saudi Arabia. A place where women can’t drive and men can’t watch dirty movies, and American soldiers have to swear not to eat pork and drink wine. The locale for Lawrence of Arabia. A dictatorial regime where theft will get your hands cut off, so the world’s largest oil reserves are secure. A dangerous breeding-ground for such radical cults as Wahhabism and the Salafiyya, which Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson would like to see assimilated into an Islamic Reformation.
Israel. The only democracy in the Middle East. The state of Israel was created out of nothing in 1948 to make room for the Jews of the world, who had almost been annihilated in the Nazi holocaust. Since then, this small (about as large as San Diego), defenseless state has been under ferocious assault by Palestinians, a people who can’t really make a historically verifiable claim to having always lived here, as well as by all Arab states. Israelis handle suicide bombings really well, setting a model for how we should take it once these occurrences become commonplace in the U.S. Zionism is not racism, and Israel is not an apartheid state. Those are lies. They did us a great favor by destroying Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981, thus showing the world that preemptive strikes work.
Palestine. As stated, this entity didn’t really exist until it came in handy as a myth to brandish against the state of Israel after 1948. They want nothing better than to kill every last Israeli. They have never acknowledged the right of Israel to exist. They are backed by powerful forces around the world. Their children create great havoc by throwing stones at harmless soldiers. Yasser Arafat is the most famous Palestinian. He used to like hijacking planes and killing Israeli athletes, until he shook hands with Yitzhak Rabin at the White House in 1993. In 2000, Ehud Barak wanted to give the Palestinians 95 percent of what they wanted, but this wasn’t good enough for the Palestinians because they like terrorism as a way of life. They’ll never get as good a deal again.
Somalia. The setting for Black Hawk Down. We tried to step in to keep the warlords from killing the people, but we were not shown enough gratitude. Muhammad Farah Aideed had some personal grudge against George Bush senior. Somalia helped teach us again that if we fight, we go in with overwhelming force and leave no room for loss. Female circumcision here shows what an enlightened, progressive society the U.S. is by comparison. Women in the U.S. can drive.
South Africa. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s disciple Nelson Mandela, the great African pacifist who spent nearly all his life in jail, comes from this country. Mandela shows us how important it is not to keep grudges–if you go along stoically, unlike Mumia Abu Jamal, one day you will be released from jail and made president of a country, or at least a company. AIDS is a big problem here, but the multinational drug companies are doing everything in their power to make drugs accessible. Besides, the South Africans first have to learn not to deny the real causes of AIDS.
Japan. We saved probably millions of Japanese, and certainly American, lives by shortcutting the war and dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After the war, our great generosity helped reconstruct their society as a genuine liberal democracy. We were a bit scared of them in the seventies and eighties, when they made cars only as large as today’s average SUV’s front seat, but after we absorbed the lessons of quality circles and just-in-time-inventory, we became good friends again. Especially since they seem to be mired in a decade-long depression, so we can afford to import Ichiro and other baseball players without fear of alienating American fans. They are no longer a threat to buy up all of Southern California’s real estate.
Australia. The land down under, where the Beach Boys really should have come from. Paul Hogan started a wave of crocodile hunting on cable TV. Their laid-back attitude may not be conducive to peak capitalist efficiency, but they seem to make up for it by following our own cultural trends like beach volleyball, surfing, and scuba diving.
Philippines. In the eighties, Imelda Marcos collected thousands of pairs of shoes. There was a people’s revolution, after which it became less and less tolerable for the U.S. to have so few female representatives and senators. The U.S. once ruled the Philippines, but since we are not an empire we relinquished control once the Filipinos assured us that they would send no more than 10,000 mail-order brides to our country every year. Our bases here provide great stability to the country.
Vietnam. A country like a domino that we did much to save from falling over before the last helicopter flew off the embassy rooftop in Saigon. Our helicopters would still be in Vietnam had public opinion not tied the hands of the military. John Kerry, John McCain, and many other political contenders got their start here. We put the past behind us after letting Maya Lin contribute the winning entry for the Vietnam Memorial, and especially after George Bush senior buried the Vietnam syndrome in the sands of Arabia. There are probably still many MIAs there, but this will have to be up to future Sylvester Stallone and Gene Hackman movies to figure out.
ANIS SHIVANI studied economics at Harvard, and is the author of two novels, The Age of Critics and Memoirs of a Terrorist. He welcomes comments at: Anis_Shivani_ab92@post.harvard.edu