THE AMERICAN DELUSION
By: Thomas McKelvey Cleaver
In the weeks and months since the election, and most particularly the weeks since the Emperor's Coronation, I have been thinking about our role in the world, and how that differs from what many of my fellow citizens - on both sides of the political aisle - appear to think about that role.
As Andrew Moravcsik put it in Newsweek International in late January: "Not long ago, the American Dream was a global fantasy. Not only Americans saw themselves as a beacon unto nations. So did much of the rest of the world. East Europeans tuned into Radio Free Europe. Chinese students erected a replica of the Statue of Liberty in Tiananmen Square."
The other week, a good friend of mine in France wrote his thoughts about Bush's inauguration.
"I have been involved in American culture for years and I am a Frenchman who knows about the Boston Tea Party, the Stamp and the Sugar Act, and who is well aware of the fact that the fathers of the US Constitution, like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Georges Washington had all strong links with Freemasonry in France... but the Humanist lessons have been lost along the way. Charles Peguy, a French poet who was killed in 1914 on the Marne river, wrote: `It is by the means of suffering that God comes in to Man. In normal times the shield is too strong.' But the God who has come in to your leaders from the suffering of America on 9/11 is not one the rest can understand."
Last week I received an e-mail from another friend, a fellow American who was writing to tell me how surprised he finds it that he's catching a plane to go spend two months out of the country, looking at places to retire to later this year, places from which he intends to never return to the land of his birth. He explained his reasons this way:
"I think the US is in quite a bit of danger of becoming much like Cuba or Albania used to be; an isolationist country deeply suspicious of everyone else and living a fantasy regarding its own merits and place in the world. The big difference will be that those places had no clout and posed little danger; the U.S. has plenty of clout and is rapidly becoming a problem for everyone. While the neocons are not Nazis, there are far too many parallels to the growth of a militaristic, leader-based, single party government for my comfort."
Thinking back to Bush's intonation of "freedom" and "liberty" so liberally (if you will) in his speech, it's interesting to contemplate the results of a world-wide opinion poll taken by the BBC shortly before the coronation.
Fully 71 percent of the Americans polled see the United States as a source of good in the world, and more than half of them view Bush's election as good for global security; nearly 80 percent believe "American ideas and customs" should spread globally.
In counterpoint to this American optimism, the rest of the world comes to very different conclusions. 58 percent of the rest of the world sees Bush's re-election as a threat to world peace. Among our traditional allies, that figure is even higher. In Germany, 77 percent hold that belief, while a 64% majority in Britain agrees with that position, as do 82 percent in Turkey. Former Brazilian president Jose Sarney expressed the sentiments of the 78 percent of his countrymen who see America as a threat: "Now that Bush has been re-elected, all I can say is, God bless the rest of the world."
How did we get here? When did we stop being the country She Who Must Be Obeyed here at Le Chateau du Chat remembers as a three year old Lithuanian refugee born in a post-war Displaced Persons camp in southern Germany, looking out a porthole of the troopship bringing her family to New York to see the Statue of Liberty, and thinking to herself that "everything's going to be wonderful here"??
As one of those "blue state elitists" who is among the 15 percent of Americans to hold - and have used - a passport, who has friends around the world who like Americans, this hasn't been surprising to me since I first learned the limits of American goodness in Southeast Asia 40 years ago - this crisis has been a long time coming. Various "red state patriots" I have had run-ins with in recent years call me "Tommie the Commie" for my willingness to see the less-desirable blemishes in the American profile. Still, I look at my neighbors in this "immigrant neighborhood" I live in, and I see people whose only difference with SWMBO is that they didn't have to cross an ocean to get here, and I find I have hopes that America's best days are still ahead of us.
Unfortunately, President Bush - by turning himself into a hated figure - has sabotaged America by making it popular to oppose him. Thus, when we've got an unpopular political, economic or military priority that the Administration is pushing, it makes domestic sense for other countries to deny us our wish.
As Michael Lind wrote in The Financial Times in late January, "A new world order is indeed emerging - but its architecture is being drafted in Asia and Europe, at meetings to which Americans have not been invited."
In the field of international economics, ASEAN Plus Three (APT) unites the Association of Southeast Asia Nations with China, Japan and South Korea, creating the potential to become the world's largest trading bloc - one that would easily dwarf both the European Union and North American Free Trade Association. These deepening ties are a major diplomatic defeat for the Bush Administration, which had hoped to use the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation Forum to limit Asian economic regionalism. Similarly, recent actions by South American countries to build an economic community among themselves represents a clear rejection of American aims to create and dominate a western-hemisphere free trade zone.
Militarily, the progress of the European Union toward military independence has come in the face of American protests which failed to prevent the establishment of the EU's own military planning agency - independent of NATO and thus American control - and the creation of a European rapid-reaction military force.
As a fairly prominent for-instance, the military and commercial monopoly of the American global positioning satellite system is threatened by the Galileo project, which is designed to create a European GPS capability. The Pentagon has expressed alarm that China - which shares an interest with other aspiring space powers in preventing American control of space for military and commercial uses - is collaborating with Europe on Galileo and is now a partner with Brazil to launch satellites. In an unprecedented move, China agreed this past December to host Russian forces in China for joint military exercises.
America used to be the great moral leader of the world, a role that was crucial to the winning of both the Second World War and the Cold War. Yet today, the United States is a follower rather than a leader. Europe has banned both the death penalty and torture, while the United States is a leading practitioner of execution, with the state of Texas alone being a world leader in executions. After 9/11, the Bush Administration created an international military gulag in which the torture of suspects has frequently been proven recently and was supported by the man most recently appointed the chief law enforcement officer of the country - this is supposed to demonstrate our moral and cultural superiority to the enemy?
For generations, we were the leader in promoting international law in collaboration with other nations. Today, the Republican-controlled government in Washington mocks the very idea of international law.
Today, it's hard to look around and not see the rest of the world taking actions to reduce American influence in nearly every area of activity. The United States may well have the strongest military in the world, but the rest of the planet can see every day the limits of American military power clearly demonstrated in Iraq. This may be George W. Bush's greatest crime against the country he claims to love. Clearly demonstrating the limits of American power is not the way one goes about establishing a system in which countries like Iran and North Korea conform their actions to American policies out of fear of the consequences. Our failure to cooperate with Britain, France and Germany in dealing with the Iranian nuclear program - while obviously having no extra-diplomatic way of enforcing our will on the Iranians - has made it possible for the world to become a far more dangerous place. Two weeks ago, Kim Jong Il announced that North Korea actually has weapons of mass destruction! One immediate result of this is that Japan has announced they plan to reduce their spending in support of the stationing of U.S. forces in Japan. The Japanese plan to spend more funds on their own forces - which they can count on - rather than ours, about which they have increasingly-reasonable doubt. With the U.S. unable to influence events in North Korea, it will not be unreasonable for the Japanese to amend their U.S.-dictated pacifist constitution and begin developing their own nuclear deterrent. This makes the world safer?
If they were willing to accept reality - rather than their faith-based military analyses - even the most vociferous neoconservatives would admit that America's Afghan and Iraq operations have pushed us to our military and economic limits.
When the President proclaims "democracy" his method of ensuring his goal of "national safety," and then welcomes General Pervez Musharraf to the White House - a man who overthrew democracy in Pakistan and reneged on his promise to step down as commander of the Pakistani military, a position from which he could not have failed to know about the nuclear proliferation activities of A.Q. Khan and most likely was their protector - the 49 invocations of "freedom" and "liberty" and promised commitment to "make Americans safer" ring hollow indeed. "Parade" magazine recently released a list of "the world's ten worst dictators." Six of them could not hold the position they do without the active support of the United States.
The news that the rest of the world is creating alliances and institutions to shut out the influence of the United States cannot be surprising. The belief that American leaders can be trusted to act for the good of humanity as they make use of a monopoly of military and economic power is not one that has ever been widely shared by the rest of the world. Irony abounds to realize that America - the nation that won the Cold War - now hopes raw military power will intimidate other great powers alienated by our belligerence. We have adopted the very strategy that brought about the defeat and destruction of the Soviet Union in that struggle.
What the red state patriots whose breasts beat with pride when they watch a B-2 stealth bomber fly low over a local military celebration fail to realize is that it won't take military force to put the Republican dream of an American Empire on history's scrapheap. All it will take is for the businessmen and bankers around the world - and the politicians they support - realizing that George W. Bush's looming $400 billion-plus annual deficits and his current economic proposals will only result in greater growth of this mountain of debt, with a resultant fall in the dollar wiping out the value of the treasury bonds they hold, for them to adopt the Euro as the planetary reserve currency.
Just in case you think the above is the fantasy of some "America-hater," the news from the World Economic Forum going on at Davos, Switzerland, this past January was that, at a standing-room only session focusing on the world's fastest-growing economy, Fan Gang - Director of the National Economic Research Institute at the China Reform Foundation - said the issue for China isn't whether to devalue the Yuan but "to limit it from the U.S. Dollar." He went on to say (in English, to be sure he was not misunderstood) that "The U.S. dollar, in our opinion, is no longer seen as a stable currency, and is devaluating all the time, and that's putting troubles all the time. So the real issue is how to change the regime from a U.S. dollar pegging to a more manageable reference...say Euros, Yen, Dollars, those kind of more diversified systems." If that doesn't send a chill down your spine to read it, then you don't understand International Econ 101. I have heard friends on the right say that our international financial problems are like Donald Trump's financial problems - i.e., a problem for those holding the debt, not for the debtor. What will these "patriots" say the day China decides to forcibly reincorporate Taiwan, and rather than launch a nuclear missile at the United States begins selling off their Treasury bonds? The destruction of a nuclear bomb over an American city will be as nothing compared to the national devastation such a financial first strike would create.
Domestically, economic inequality was once tolerable because America was the land of opportunity. This is no longer so. Twenty years ago, the average American CEO earned 39 times as much as the average worker. Today, that CEO is paid 1,000 times as much. Are the leaders of America 1,000 times better than they were twenty years ago? In a study of the American economy, Briton George Monbiot summarized the data: "In Sweden, you are three times more likely to rise out of the economic class into which you were born than you are in the U.S." Wal-Mart has destroyed what was left of American domestic manufacturing with its race to the bottom, a race that is turning those very red-state Bush voters into denizens of a Third World economy of minimum-wage jobs with no future.
The Republicans and their "f--k yeah!" supporters may think America is big enough and strong enough to thumb our collective nose at the rest of the world, but these Good Christians would do themselves a favor if they consulted their Good Book and remembered just what it is that "goeth before a fall." As Seymour Hersh put it in a recent interview with Democracy Now, "Europe is not going to tolerate us much longer. The rage there is enormous. I'm talking about our old-fashioned allies. We could see something there -- collective action against us. Certainly, nobody -- it's going to be an awful lot of dancing on our graves as the dollar goes bad and everybody stops buying our bonds, our
credit -- we're spending $2 billion a day to float the debt, and one of these days, the Japanese and the Russians -- everybody -- is going to start buying oil in Euros instead of dollars."
Hersh may be talking to governmental and business leaders in Europe, but I hear the same thing from my European friends - common, ordinary, everyday people, people who like Americans and detest America.
As my soon-to-be-expatriate friend concluded, "We've become everyone's worst nightmare: a banana republic with a huge military - think Mexico with one party running the country for 70 years, then toss in the world's largest nuclear strike force for good measure."
My friend in France finished thus: "We are probably at the end of a cycle. All the great empires have turned to rubble, and this one will too."
The next four years of the Second Bush Administration are going to be "interesting" - as that word is used in the ancient Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times."
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