This is an except from the LA Times. Zbigniew Brzezinski served as national security advisor to President Carter and is considered to be a well respected figure in American foreign policy.
Brzezinski: It can be a catalyst. Not for actions directed by the United States but for actions that the local community -- maybe we can call them stakeholders in a global system -- is prepared collectively to embrace. That kind of leadership is needed. But for that kind of leadership to emerge in America, we not only need very special people as leaders -- and they do come up occasionally -- but we need a far more enlightened society than we have.
I think Americans are curiously, paradoxically, simultaneously very well-educated and amazingly ignorant. We are a society that lives within itself. We're not interested in the history of other countries.
Today we have a problem with Iran. How many Americans know anything about Iranian history? Do they know that it is a bifurcated history? There have been two Irans. And those two different periods, pre-Islamic and post-Islamic, dialectically define the tensions and the realities of Iran today. [Americans] know nothing about it.
Quite a few Americans entering college could not locate Great Britain on the map. They couldn't locate Iraq on the map after five years of war. Thirty percent couldn't identify the Pacific Ocean. We don't teach global history; we don't teach global geography. I think most Americans don't have the kind of sophistication that an America that inspires, and thereby leads, will have to have if it is to do what this 21st century really will demand of us.
OK, I consider myself to be one of the well educated/exceptionally curious Americans. I can certainly tell you where Great Britain is, know about Iranian history, Iraq, Islam, countries of the GCC, etc. It never ceases to amaze me that when I am in the US and start to talk about traveling, and living in the UAE, people are mesmerized.
Come on people...READ! We have the Internet, look things up and learn something. Americans always think the Arabs must be ignorant...the fact is the average Emirati/Qatari/Kuwaiti is usually better educated than the average American. As I've not yet been to Iran, I'm going to guess it's the same there, judging by the Iranians I know who are all well travelled and up on current events.
But the thing I have experienced that I feel is amazing is that most people you speak to, especially in the GCC, have nothing but good things to say about Americans. If you talk to Emiratis in their late 30's to mid 50's, most either went to school in the US, or travelled there. The stories they tell reflect a fondness for the experiences they had. Most don't understand our Govt. but then, neither do I!
It's really a shame, Americans don't have the respect we once had internationally. Respect is something that is earned and we certainly need to examine this.