Iran is now our new favorite place to discuss at dinner. It is still one country. They seem to speak English there. Americans know we have a strained relationship with Iran from all those hostage movies, but we remain fascinated with all things Persian.
America’s top destination remains Europe. It has countries we can visit — museums and hotels and attractions, such as the changing of the guard. We love British dramas and Shakespeare, and although most people can’t explain the difference between England and the United Kingdom and where Scotland belongs, we know that Ireland is a wonderful place for tourists.
Just don’t ask about Yugoslavia or Serbia — most don’t know which one still exists, let alone where Bosnia-Herzegovina is and what the status of Kosovo is. They do remember, thanks to those colorful rings, that the Olympics took place once in Sarajevo.
Thank God for Mexico and Canada. The former is south of our border and is one gorgeous country with beach resorts (and a few danger zones for thugs and drugs). Canada is to the north, and we can drive over that border and see Niagara Falls. (But what about that Toronto mayor?)
In all, we simply have to accept the fact that planet Earth still looks wonderful in aerial views of continents and big oceans. As you get closer, buckle your seat belt. The geography gets confusing. Just be happy we now can travel “virtually” anywhere and that nobody is going to give you a pop quiz.
Have sympathy for all the foreign policymakers who have to craft a U.S. strategy toward these regions and players. Cheers for 2014 and whatever countries or non-countries emerge.
Tara Sonenshine is former undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs and currently a distinguished fellow at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs.