When your country is struggling

By Daniel J. Bauer

I once heard of a scenario in which an American professor at a foreign university asked his students to compose a list of at least 15 problems their country faced. I was shocked. The homework might as well have been: ��Make a long list of things that are wrong with your country.��

That story made me uncomfortable. I wondered, ��How can a foreigner (especially) ask (local) students to do such a thing?��

As I try to keep abreast with news from the United States these days, I cannot help but reflect on the situation I just described. How would it feel to me, I am asking myself, to have someone ask me for a fat list of points that are ��mao bing,�� as the Mandarin goes, with my country? Incoming headlines these days tell me indeed that the country of my birth, of my passport, of my citizenship, is a country with problems, with things wrong, or however we may wish to put it. There is no need to detail recently highlighted difficulties linked with charges of racial profiling and police officers in the United States. At this time, the place names alone of Ferguson, Cleveland or New York are all that is needed to trigger consciousness of The Problem. Ferguson and Company, of course, are the cities in which significant and frightening protests have occurred after perceived law enforcement abuse. What do we Americans say when local friends ask us to explore these situations with them or, worse, explain them?

Now we have new headlines about C.I.A. operatives conducting torture sessions in secret prisons in a handful of countries in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2002 attacks. How are Americans abroad (or within the country) to answer queries about George W. Bush approving torture plans in 2002, and then not being briefed about them until 2006? Information of this nature is contained in the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report now getting publicity everywhere. That report is too weighty to sneeze at. More than 6 million documents back it up. For the record, predictably, critics of the Obama administration, mostly Republicans, are saying those documents and that report are unreliable.