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July 4 puts present-day politics into perspective

Karl Jauch is the executive director of American Citizens Abroad


As Americans around the world mark their 228th Independence Day, many United States citizens in Switzerland say there is little cause for celebration this year.

In an interview with swissinfo, Karl Jauch, the head of American Citizens Abroad (ACA) in Geneva, talks about Iraq and the upcoming presidential elections in the US.

ACA is a non-partisan, non-governmental association that works to defend the interests of Americans living abroad, especially in the areas of citizenship and taxation.

Jauch said many Americans abroad had mixed feelings about their homeland on this year’s Independence Day.

But he stressed that July 4 was about the history and traditions of the US, and it should not be overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

swissinfo: It has been almost three years since the September 11 terrorist attacks. How do you and other Americans in Geneva feel about the US-led “war on terror”?

Karl Jauch: We have mixed feelings about it because it was obviously something very catastrophic that happened.

But the reaction by the US government was sometimes a bit misplaced. Living abroad, we’re in much closer contact with developing countries and the feelings of their citizens, and sometimes we feel that the reaction from officials in Washington isn’t quite appropriate.

swissinfo: Are you speaking specifically about Afghanistan or about Washington’s insistence that the former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, had links to al Qaeda?

K.J.: Some reaction to the terrorist attacks was justified, of course… But in retrospect, we see that some of the intelligence was faulty. The US reaction, especially towards Iraq, was considered misguided before the war started, and now we see that that was indeed the case.

swissinfo: In the run-up to the war in Iraq, a lot of Americans abroad expressed opposition to it and apprehension over what they saw as growing anti-American sentiment overseas. Has that changed over the past year?

K.J.: Many people that I’m in contact with in Switzerland and the rest of Europe have mixed feelings towards America. They see it as a great country that values individual liberty, private enterprise and would even like to live there.

But, on the other hand, they perceive that America’s foreign policy is misled and that the government is making mistakes. So feelings remain very mixed.

swissinfo: A recent survey showed that the US has lost the sympathy it had from the vast majority of Swiss after September 11. It also showed that an overwhelming number of Swiss are against the Bush administration’s policies. Is that the feeling you get?

K.J.: That is the overall sentiment among the Swiss and some Americans as well. Over the years, the relationship between Switzerland and the US has had its ups and downs.

If you look back in history, the writings of our constitutions are similar and many historical events link the two countries.

But relations are currently on a downslide because of America’s foreign policy.

swissinfo: This is an election year. Do you believe that a change in the US administration would improve America’s image abroad?

K.J.: I don’t think a change in leadership would make a great difference in foreign perception. It’s what would happen afterwards and how any new administration would act and place itself in the world that would change the reaction of other countries.

swissinfo: As a dual Swiss-American national, have you had mixed feelings over the past few years about US politics and foreign policy?

K.J.: It’s not difficult for me to take a stance but my feelings can be a bit contradictory. I was born in the US, my father is Swiss and I’ve always had both passports.

I didn’t have a choice in the matter… it was just a fact of life and I accept that. I’ve chosen to live my life in Europe and it’s not a question of liking it or not liking it, it’s just how things are.

swissinfo: The US has been heavily criticised over the past couple of years but are there some positive reasons for celebrating July 4 this year?

K.J.: Yes, in the sense that a national holiday celebrates the history and traditions of a country. I’m an American so I celebrate July 4, but I also celebrate the Swiss national holiday on August 1 and, because I live across the border in France, I observe Bastille Day on July 14.

These are occasions to mark national history and pride but I don’t see them as politically affiliated.

swissinfo-interview: Anna Nelson in Geneva

Key facts

Overall, it is estimated that between six and seven million Americans reside abroad, including a few thousand in Switzerland.
The US allows its overseas citizens to vote by absentee ballot.
But the ACA says the political clout of Americans abroad is weakened because their ballots are cast in 435 congressional districts.
Switzerland gave its expatriates the right to vote in 1992 and allowed them to stand for Parliament in one of the country's 26 cantons.

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