the conception of a harmonious and distinctively American culture -- encircling the globe, implanting its values in foreign minds -- is a myth.
In fact, as a nation of immigrants from the 19th to the 21st centuries, and as a haven in the 1930s and '40s for refugee scholars and artists, the United States has been a recipient as much as an exporter of global culture. Indeed, the influence of immigrants and African-Americans on the United States explains why its culture has been so popular for so long in so many places. American culture has spread throughout the world because it has incorporated foreign styles and ideas. What Americans have done more brilliantly than their competitors overseas is repackage the cultural products we receive from abroad and then retransmit them to the rest of the planet. In effect, Americans have specialized in selling the dreams, fears, and folklore of other people back to them. That is why a global mass culture has come to be identified, however simplistically, with the United States.
This is an interesting essay, especially as it directly contradicts one of the axioms of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, who attract recruits solely on basis of the threat of America to Islam/culture/values/whatever. In fact the "anti-globalization" crowd is also knee-jerk reacting to this concept of American Cultural Imperialism. The fact that some Americans aggressively promote the idea of a Cultural Conspiracy may even play into the hands of these types of groups.
I have many friends in Asia who undeniably are memserized by Americana - like Levi's jeans, certain types of music and television, etc. but I think that's missing the point. After all, Rumi and Khalil Gibran are the most popular poets in the United States, you can never get into Ethiopian restaurants, etc. etc. - it all goes BoTH ways (enough that some people are frantic about "true Americana" being washed away in a sea of foreign "influences").
There is a SINGLE American idea that is worth packaging and exporting, and it isn't blue jeans or rock and roll, it's the concept that a people are free to elect their leadership. This wasn't invented by Americans either, but it was definitly implemented here in the most visionary way the world hadd ever seen (and has seen since).
The goal is to promote democracy. And almost all of the threats we face (including the terrorism threats, the instability in the middle east, and the general sorry state of the world) is caused by our failure to recognize that single overriding principle. If you look at the history of Iran, of Iraq, of Central America (including recent events in Venezuela), if you consider the legacy of colonialism, a single pattern emerges:
We have consistently acted throughout the last 100 years to thwart the will of people worldwide in electing their own governments, and have supported dictators, funded tyrants, and plotted coups so that we could achieve our strategic aims. The rationale of our foreign policy has been to create "client states" which we can control. The entire Middle East, from Egypt to Iran, and the whole swatth of Central America, have been cruelly manipulated by America. Now we have our eye again on the Central Asian countries. Regional hegemony and client states are not good for democracy - after all, we don't seem to care too much about the farce that Musharraf is pulling in Pakistan right now, do we?
The cruelest aspect is the victimhood inflicted upon ourselves. Had we acted throughout history to support democracies, to seed the world with the very same ideals that make US great, the world would be a radically different place right now. And that would be of strategic benefit far outweighing whatever we reaped from the path we have been following.