american society, USA, world

“There is almost no problem we can solve all by ourselves”

Source: cursedthingBill Clinton

Former President Bill Clinton was on Charlie Rose last Friday. He said a lot of interesting things, and though they also did a fair bit of rehashing tired arguments about the presidential campaign, it is a pretty good interview to watch.

Without question, the line that most caught my attention was this one: Mr. Clinton said, making what felt like a rather precarious jump, that the American people now know as they never have before that “there is almost no problem we can solve all by ourselves.” That America’s citizenry recognizes that the problems we face as a country: terrorism, nuclear proliferation, climate change, health, and immigration, are all outside of the control of any single government, even the most powerful.

Though Clinton wouldn’t have been a good politician if he regularly denigrated the intelligence of the American people–as I sometimes think is appropriate–I do think he’s overstated the case. One doesn’t have to look very hard in this country to find people as convinced as ever that America has the right to impose its will upon the world. That its policy can and should be to unilaterally do whatever it wants, whenever it judges itself justified.

I have no doubt that those who easily forget that the United States is merely one country in a much larger world is shrinking and continues to shrink. But I find it incredibly hard to accept the argument that the whole populous has come to this revelation.

To be fair, Mr. Clinton is doubly right. More Americans than ever realize that their government doesn’t run the world, and every day a few more do. Further, he’s right in that the world is indeed a less “Amerocentric” place than at any other time since the Second World War.

Certainly, the attacks on September 11, 2001 shook a number of people out of the delusion that they lived in an impenetrable fortress from which they can run roughshod over the whole world and never face any consequences. Unfortunately, from there they went on to allow Mr. Bush to convince them that the wisest course to restore their illusory security was to depose Saddam Hussein–a hideous man no doubt, but hardly a grave threat to American security.

It is in Mr. Bush’s nearly-unilateral, (now known to be) misguided, and poorly executed invasion of Iraq that many Americans realized that they cannot persist as a hegemon. So too has Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Bush’s intransigence on climate change, and the many failed attempts to reform America’s broken immigration laws.

All of this has made clear that Americans do not have sole control over their own destiny. Though I hate the over-simplistic term, “the emergence of China” has clearly changed the world. For one, America’s recent economics hardships have been far more localized than many expected.

There was a time when a devaluation of the American dollar was an absolutely terrifying scenario for world economics, but it hasn’t had the expected debilitating impact. As the world slowly decouples from the formerly-all-important American economy (and thus its government), this country, like Britain before it, will have to recognize that it is not the king of the world.

Love or hate the former President, he is right about that.


How John McCain Would Lose the “War on Terror”

McCain angryJohn McCain was on Charlie Rose this Monday (video here). On the program, he cogently explained what, if implemented, would surely be one of the best ways to lose the so-called “War on Terror.”

What McCain said was not so bad as the “all Muslims are evil” statements Americans still hear. His statement was rather moderate by that comparison.

What troubled me was a bad comparison he drew, and I’m not talking about the Iraq-is-Vietnam meme that has recently become popular with the right. Rather, McCain made the rather odd assertion that we have to create something akin to Radio Free Europe, only using new technology, in order to communicate with what is commonly called the “Arab street.”

He offered that, as we did during the Cold War, the United States needs to make sure that we spread “hope and optimism” to people behind some poor analogy’s “iron curtain.” But then he went on, saying:

We have got to describe to them why our values are superior, why their’s [are] evil, and why this is a titanic struggle, and one that they can’t join on the side of evil.

Hearing this, my jaw dropped. I wondered if this was really the man that many independents had wanted in 2000, the so-called “sensible Republican candidate.” His statement is absurd. It represents thinking that would easily worsen the causes of terrorism.

The first problem with McCain’s statement is that it draws on a terrible analogy. By and large, the audience for Radio Free Europe was comprised of those convinced that their authoritarian government was wrong. They took the democratic message of the program to heart because they had been raised to believe in it.

However, ‘radicalizable’ Muslims (those who could become terrorists) do not generally believe in American or even democratic values. They may not know them, but it’s unlikely they would be swayed by hearing them on the radio, or reading them on internet. If such an organization, in the model of Radio Free Europe, set about proselytizing for “American” value, it would likely make it easier, not harder, for al-Queda to recruit alienated Arabs.

Secondly, McCain’s statement divides the world into only two types of ideologies, presumably the Muslims and the rest. Is McCain unaware that this is precisely what the terrorists use to sway the impressionable? That they convince young kids that the United States, with the rest of the non-Arab world, is waging systematic and ideological war against Islam? Did he miss that memo?

Further, his word are rife with cultural paternalism chauvanism that is at best short-sighted. What is not needed here is the belief that American values are the best values, or even that they are exceptionally good values, but to show the “Arab street” that civil interactions and diplomacy can and do win you willing cooperation from the outside world.

The Hoover Institution (yes, it’s a conservative think tank) recently published a piece in the bi-monthly Policy Review that helps explain what is needed to prevent the alienation and fear-mongering that leads many Islamic youths to terrorism.

In “Strong Society, Weak State” (an article far better and more expansive than this summary), Lawrence Chickering and P. Edward Haley discuss the need for the US government to bolster local civil-society organizations (CSOs, which promote basic freedoms and democracy) as a strategic initiative. In summary, the authors write:

In this paper, we argue that in dealing with weak states [like those across the Middle East], foreign-policymakers must expand their intellectual horizons and attempt to influence societies and cultures. This means formulating two separate policies, one for states and one for societies — with conventional foreign policy addressing the objective interests of states and the other addressing the largely subjective challenges of societies and cultures.

Chickering and Haley’s proposal for the forward movement in the “War on Terror,” which they rightly point out is more of accurately ‘policy and police actions for sustained security’ (admittedly less catchy), requires more than the use of force. It also requires local efforts to foster democratic values (which are not inherently American values). They make clear that this cannot be overtly tied to the United States, but must be done by local CSOs run by local citizen. And if this succeeds, it and only it can delegitimize radical clerics and political parties like Hamas and Hezbolluh.

What Mr. McCain is ignoring is this crucial element. America’s proselytizing the Arab world and the Islamic citizenry is not the solution to our problems; in fact, it is the cause of the problem of Islamic terrorism.

What is needed is a long-term policy effort to delegitimize government sponsors of terror, while acknowledging the cultural traditions and governments that many terrorists see themselves as defending.

We do need to foster civil society, as McCain endeavored to suggest, but we cannot do it in the way he suggested. We must allow this to occur slowly, and locally. And though the US can offer funding to organizations, it cannot openly flout it’s cash and it’s values. To do so would only create more terrorists, not less.

In the ongoing “War on Terror,”America must be strategic and humble, not brash and bold as Mr. McCain seems to desire.

OPW, politics, USA

OPW: Zbigniew Brzezinski on America’s Role

Today on “Other People’s Words,” what Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Adviser, told Charlie Rose about the actions the next president must take to restore America’s place in the world.

I think the next President should say to the world that the United States wants to be part of the solution to its problems and not, in part, the maker of their problems. And that the United States is prepared, really, to be engaged in the quest to give people in the world the dignity that they seek today, the social justice that they feel they are deprived of, and the common solution to global problems [that they desire].

But secondly, I think the president has to say very credibly and forcefully to the American people that to do that [they] have to think hard about their definition of… the good life. That the hedonistic-materialistic society at high levels of consumption [and] increasing social inequality is not a society that can be part of the solution of the world’s problems. And therefore, the president has to project to the American people a sense of demanding idealism. Idealism which is not based on self-indulgence, but on self-denial and sacrifice. Only such an America can be credible to the world.

american society, linkpost, politics

Andy Stern on The Charlie Rose Show

I was so pleasantly surprised by this conversation between Charlie Rose and Andy Stern, the leader of the Service Employees International Union, that I couldn’t avoid posting it. Mr. Stern, whose group splintered from the AFL-CIO a few years ago, shows himself to be an acute observer of the problems of our country and the world. He also shows a willingness to go beyond traditional methods: he’s tried to work with Republicans, organize a comprehensive and sensible national health care plan, and organize worldwide (for better or worse), seeing that employee of the same company have a great deal more in common than different. I would really recommend watching it, even though I realize that a 30 minute video is kind of awkward to view on the internet.

To see it bigger (but the same resolution), go to Google Video.