How other nations see Americans affects our interests

  • Keith Peterson

    Keith Peterson

By Keith Peterson
Guest columnist
Posted1/7/2022 1:00 AM

In 1959, the officials of the National Security Council met to discuss Cyprus. The small Mediterranean island nation was about to become independent from Great Britain, and American officials were worried.

America had significant national security assets on the island, but ethnic tensions simmered. There were both Greek and Turkish Cypriot militias, but most worrisome to the officials was the fact that the largest, most well-organized political party was AKEL, a Communist Party. They did not want to see Cyprus become the "Cuba of the Mediterranean."


CIA Director Allen Dulles, brother of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, warned that the Cypriots were an "inherently violent people." However, these were the waning days of the Eisenhower administration and they decided Cyprus was largely Britain's problem.

Think about that phrase -- inherently violent people. He was not suggesting that there were militant factions. He was saying that to be Cypriot was to be predisposed to violence to settle political or more domestic disputes.

As I have reread that history, I cannot help but wonder what kinds of discussions go on among senior officials in Britain or Germany or Japan, theoretically our allies. Do they look at the rise of nationalist militias in America, at the plague of gun violence, at the attacks on political leaders through the years, or the rhetoric about "taking our country back" -- rhetoric that is accommodated if not amplified by members of Congress -- and wonder if Americans are "an inherently violent people" and what that means for this nation's stability and future?

Of course, things did not end well for Cyprus. In 1963, the Greek Cypriot leader of the island made a power play and Turkish Cypriots boycotted the government. Hundreds were killed. President Johnson stopped a Turkish invasion in its tracks. Eleven years later, Greece engineered a coup, and this time Turkey would not stop. The island remains divided to this day, one of the world's frozen conflicts.

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America, of course, is not a small country. Cyprus was at the mercy of more powerful actors. However, can we say that malign forces unleashed by adversarial nations are not manipulating us? Much of the misinformation -- lies -- that circulates on the internet about stolen elections and other conspiracy theories is being pushed and amplified by trolls in Russia, Iran, North Korea and China. Americans who traffic in such trash often are driven by the pursuit of profit. Those predisposed to believe such tales are vulnerable.

How are we to think about poll after poll that shows that a large percentage of Americans say they don't believe President Biden was legitimately elected -- despite all the evidence that he was -- or that a smaller but significant number -- millions -- believe violence is warranted to change election results they don't like?

Americans get to decide every day what kind of country they want to have -- what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. Should politicians, using creative mapping, pick their own voters, instead of the other way around? Should votes be counted by non-partisan officials or by legislatures controlled by one party or another? Is it really patriotic to try to stop the "peaceful" transfer of power via violence?

Every nation has an "Allen Dulles" -- an official who evaluates its friends and foes and shapes the country's foreign policy. Americans need to listen to the rhetoric of our political leaders and consider how others perceive it. Can America be trusted? The idea of American leadership is not some abstract concept; it is fundamental to achieving our interests.

Dulles painted with a broad brush and distorted reality. It is easy for others to fall into the same trap. Americans have to decide how they wish other nations to see us.

• Keith Peterson, of Lake Barrington, served 29 years as a press and cultural officer for the United States Information Agency and Department of State. He was chief editorial writer of the Daily Herald 1984-86.

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