Muscle and soft power key to why U.S. election fixates world

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By Krista Wilson and Laura Bohannon

Interest in U.S. policy in Latin America this election season was manifest in the Latin America press monitored in October, with one out of three home page stories in the Latin America Press Online and the Rio Times in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, covering the U.S. election. The level of interest in the U.S. election is not surprising, said MSU foreign policy professor, Matthew Zierler.

“Other countries are largely affected by the U.S., and so they are going to be interested in the outcomes of our election,” said Zierler. He said that, unlike the interest of other countries in U.S. politics, the American press does not usually cover other countries unless they are involved in a crisis or war. This is because the “U.S. is a leading country, so other countries are going to look to us because we are ahead economically and we are strong as far as security,” Zierler said. He said part of the lack of interest in the politics of other countries is because they “don’t tend to look at countries because they don’t always affect us.”

Zierler said that although the United States is one of the few places on the planet with global interests, Americans don’t care as much about what is happening in other countries as they should. He said the failure of the American press to cover U.S. politics well is as poor as they do in covering the politics of other countries unless what is happening in those countries “affects us.”

The significance of interest in U.S. politics and U.S. elections was confirmed by MSU international relations student Shotu Nakata of Japan, who said her country’s relations with the United States are good right now even though the two governments may have their differences. Nakata said the 2016 election is important to Japan because of the relationship that has developed between the United States and Japan since the end of World War II. The economic competition between the two countries is also an important element of the relationship, Nakata said. She said the election of Trump might complicate the relationship with Japan because “Trump only cares about money.”

Reflecting on U.S. dominance around the world, Zierler said this influence goes beyond security and economic matters it extends to the cultural sphere. “It’s what we call soft power; there are McDonald’s around the world, which is an American influence, and that’s not even controlled by our government,” he said.

Zierler said Trump’s statements about NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was of great concern to Europeans. He said Clinton’s views on the organization were “more traditional and she has experience with foreign affairs.” NATO is a military alliance of 28 countries that pledges mutual protection and assistance in the case of an attack on member countries.

(Additional reporting by Folu Ogundimu.)

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