Russian aggression and the distinct rise of Iranian influence brings to question our ability to gauge the sentiment and influence of others abroad.

It is undeniable, anti-American sentiment abroad is widespread. There’s a need to gauge opinion and sentiment elsewhere, not just for travel – but for foreign politics. Just the other day I had a conversation with a Danish World Bank employee who was passionate about Europe and very critical of America. I wish, as an American, I knew more about Denmark, but I don’t.

She knew, as many do, far more about our political system than I did hers. Yes, we’re the world’s de facto leadership, but in order to stay ahead, we need to act according to sentiment abroad. To a greater extent, we, as Americans, as a whole are ignorant of the rest of the world. It would serve us well to pay more attention to the remainder of the world.

The people who join our government, either in Congress of within Government Agencies – are often young. They’re also not experienced, as most young Americans aren’t (I wasn’t), or ex-service members. They’re gearing up to travel and experience the world and do so through the lens of whatever agency.  I think those who take on public service are honorable and do society a great service. I believe in public service and, not serving at this instant, feel a vacancy in my life. It’s tangible. But I worry that the public is not savvy about the world and that public will occupy senior government positions.

This election has brought to light how Americans are uninterested in the state of the word and exclusively, the state of the union. Russian actions abroad have been deemed unpredictable to a degree, and Putin looks like a maverick. But, it seems more that the Russians study the political and social landscape and act accordingly. The Iranians do the same.

Recently, I received a message via an article I wrote about Iraq from a man who fought in the Iraq-Iran war and had since escaped Iran. Russia and Iran wage political warfare. He went on to write that the Iranians and men like Qasem Soleimani study the psychology and personality of the adversary and that the West does not understand its enemy. I know, for me, despite information that’s out there – the Revolutionary Guard and the Quds Force is in some mystery. We understand who they are, but I don’t for sure if we know exactly how they pick. Regardless of what we tell and brief ourselves.

Russian and Iranian influence through strategic maneuvers is proving nuanced and wise as the world watches their return. We’ll get there, too,  if nothing else, by necessity. I think, and I’m guilty of this – that we take other nations for granted. Our technological and tactical superiority have clouded our view. More so, we don’t have a cogent picture of what we want from Iran and Russia down the line. Political action is something the U.S. has seemingly not engaged for a long time. We may want to reconsider. But, first, a cultural shift that looks outward, not in fear among the electorate might be needed too.

We could begin thinking with a globalized, interconnected lens politically, and taking steps to influence other nations to progress our values and interests limiting military intervention. It’s a game that others are playing and we need to participate. The world can’t compete with our military and our technology and so, they aren’t. Our adversaries have transitioned to the human and political terrain. We have the ethics and the integrity to influence others abroad in a more meaningful way than it seems we are. The critical part is the White House – and that comes back to a globally informed and concerned public.