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In a recent excerpt from her new book, American journalist Suzy Hansen described her bemusement when a friend in Istanbul suggested to her that the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, had been somehow planned by the U.S. government.

“Come on, you don’t believe that,” said Hansen.

“Why not?” snapped back her friend, identified as Emre. “I do.”

“But it’s a conspiracy theory.”

Emre laughed and said: “Americans always dismiss these things as conspiracy theories. It’s the rest of the world who have had to deal with your conspiracies.”

This pronouncement prompted Hansen, an accomplished storyteller and reporter who has written powerfully about recent political events in Turkey, to reflect on what may underlie her friend's animus. Her much-acclaimed new book, “Notes from a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World,” is a memoir of a young American who moves abroad and slowly grapples with how the rest of the world sees her nation — and how little her nation really sees the world.

She looks in particular at the extent to which U.S. foreign policy has shaped politics, societies and the fates of ordinary people elsewhere. In one anecdote, when Hansen asks an Iraqi man what his country “was like in the 1980s and 1990s, when he was growing up,” he replies: “I am always amazed when Americans ask me this. How is it that you know nothing about us when you had so much to do with what became of our lives?”

Sixteen years after al-Qaeda terrorists attacked the United States, we're still living with the awful repercussions of that assault. American troops are still locked in battles in Afghanistan, where Islamist extremist groups still exist. American forces are still waging military campaigns in Iraq, where a 2003 U.S. invasion in the wake of 9/11 became one of the most destabilizing events in the Middle East for a generation.

“I began to wonder whether there was much difference between a foreigner’s paranoia that the Americans planned September 11,” Hansen mused, “and the Americans’ paranoia that the whole world should pay for September 11 with an endless global war on terror.”

The impact of American power on the global stage is, of course, complex and uneven. For all the profound harm the United States has caused over a century of military interventions and coup plots around the world, there is also the considerable prosperity guaranteed by decades of a de facto Pax Americana in East Asia and Western Europe.

But Hansen is more focused on the almost unthinking belief in American “exceptionalism” that she and myriad other Americans grew up with in the 1990s, an era of post-Cold War optimism and confidence in the superiority of the American project and in American identity itself.

“This was a kind of nationalism so insidious that I had not known to call it nationalism; this was a self-delusion so complete that I could not see where it began and ended, could not root it out, could not destroy it,” she wrote.

In an essay that ran in The Washington Post over the weekend, Hansen homes in on the depth of this “self-delusion”:

“Are ordinary people responsible for their governments’ foreign policy? It’s hard to blame the millions of Americans living in poverty, who have been just as victimized by the injustices of the 20th century as those abroad. But many other average Americans with dangerously naive ideas about themselves and their country grow up to become teachers, foreign correspondents, presidents. What they did not learn as children will not be cured by what they learn at elite universities, in self-regarding metropolitan centers or in graduate schools that for the most part tell them that the United States is the center of the planet and that they are the smartest on it,” she wrote. “This kind of American exceptionalism is a product of 200 years of disconnection from our country’s acts around the world — a geographic, intellectual and emotional isolation.”

The shortcomings of blind American self-belief, Hansen argues, have been brought into stark relief by the ascendance of President Trump. The current occupant of the White House, Hansen wrote in The Post, is “the crudest manifestation of some very American traits: recklessness, nationalism, contempt for history, an inability (if not utter disinclination) to inhabit a foreigner’s experience. Never before has it been so clear that Americans’ identities — their confidence and happiness — are tied to the supposedly exalted status of their nation, and of the man or woman who leads it.”

Of course, this comes at a time when the rest of the world is, more than ever, questioning the American commitment to the ideals and virtues Americans have long professed. “If only America were like Hansen: disquieted, self-analytic and imaginative,” wrote Libyan American author Hisham Matar. The vast majority, though, are not.

Hansen takes as her inspiration the Istanbul years of James Baldwin, the African American man of letters who spent about a decade living in Turkey in the 1960s. As my colleague Kareem Fahim wrote in February, Baldwin's “overlooked sojourn was a period of prodigious creative production and collaboration with Turkish artists, in a place he came to regard as a sanctuary — despite Turkey’s own political turbulence — from the racism, homophobia and scarring civil rights struggle back home.”

Fahim goes on: “He could no longer work in the United States, he told his friend, the drama critic Zeynep Oral. 'I can’t breathe,' she quoted him as saying. 'I have to look from outside.'”

“One sees it better, from a distance,” Baldwin said about the United States in a voice-over of a 1970 film about his time in Istanbul. “And you can make comparisons. From another place, from another country.” Hansen's own work renews that call half a century later.

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