Sunday, February 05, 2006

Liars in public places

I am a Cold War liberal: among my heroes are Truman, Marshall, Kennan and Kennedy. They established the winning Western formula of mixing unmistakeable firmness with rational flexibility. The most irrational forces were always contained. That was the most enlightened policy possible in the circumstances where much of the right wing and the military were demanding very destructive, insane actions - and where the West was confronted with the mad terror system that Stalin had established. Finally the Soviet Union first softened and then collapsed largely as its expansion was so effectively contained with this pincer movement of unshakeable firmness and rational commercial and diplomatic engagement. Without American leadership, it would not have worked: three times during that awful century the USA was the arsenal of liberal democracy, without American power and leadership Western Europe would have collapsed many times over. Though it is also true that only firmness would not have worked: partially the Soviet system was embraced to death by the various European commercial, diplomatic and ideological engagements. Flexible, co-operative and co-opting American leadership enabled this deadly effective, many pronged approach.

Anyway, the point is that I am not a reflexive anti-American. The USA has been established in unique conditions: what works in Europe does not necessarily work in this continent sized, optimistic immigrant country. (Well, it used to be optimistic.) The anti-American forces are so automatic, so mechnical in their condemnations that they have lacked all credibility - even on those occasions that they have been right. So, when I see this current moral decadence, these terrifyingly primitive forces in the political control and in such an effective alliance with the corporate world, I am shocked. This is not the USA I have known: the open, self-confident country, naturally forming and naturally leading broad alliances. Money has pervaded and perverted the political process: both parties are strongly affected, but the modern Republicans have made influence peddling into an art form: K Street lobbyists have multiplied and often actually write the legislation. The mainstream media has become an established, profitable part of the corporate world: breaches of public conduct that used to be unimaginable go now mostly unnoticed by the big media. The 9/11, that great and much enjoyed gift to George Bush, has ushered into power the scariest, the most selfdestructive forces in the USA: the mentality has grown ugly, inward looking and fearful. The economy is scarily unbalanced, deficit financed: the current imperial adventures are practically based on Asian loans. Communist Beijing smiles on.

When the inevitable economic and political backlash comes it might not be the best remaining hope that will prevail, the growing progressive movement, but something even worse, even more insular and paranoid. For the rest of the world, especially for the liberal-democratic West it is a matter of awesome importance: if sanity and co-operation return in Washington the West can again rely on American strenght and leadership, if not, it is Europe that will have to carry the main responsibility for finding solutions to integrate the rapidly growing Asian giants into the global system, to contain the various militant movements around the world and to manage the environmental changes, possibly even catastrophes. But would Europe be up to the job - disorganized, overly cautious, unsuited to any determined leadership with an inward looking, unpredictable, paranoid US behind its back? The stakes are scarily high.


Anonymous said...

President D. Eisenhower, in his farewell speech, warned Americans about the Military-Industrial Complex and the dangers it would create if it was not stopped. Nobody can doubt his Republican credentials nor his war record thus making this statement absolutely unexpected and, as it turns out to be, also prophetic. This escalation of the US armament industry is, in my mind, the primary reason for all their present and still to come problems. It seems to be totally out of control and to put this Genie back into the bottle is politically next to impossible. I don't have any numbers to throw around but the economies of most of the states, if not all, are absolutely dependent on huge numbers of people that are employed by it. There isn't a Congressman or a Senator around that would openly campaign to reduce these numbers and hope to be re-elected.

I am in agreement with you that America gets a lot of harsh comments from all around the world. There are occasions where criticism is based solely on nothing else than political spins by those who, for one reason or another, can't stomach the US, a kind of religion, if you will. However, my criticism is based on profound disappointment in the idea of the US that such a short time ago held so much promise. "The shining city on the hill", which we used to look at from the valley, turns out to be just a mirage or maybe an immoral shanty-town. Pity!

helsinkian said...

To me reflexive anti-Americanism works in a similar way to reflexive anti-semitism; it's not about a criticism of certain US politicians - it's against everything American like those reflexively anti-semitic people are against everything that Judaism and Jews represent.

I think Europe should never forget the American contribution to saving freedom in Europe. The totalitarian twin monsters that made Europe's fate so tragic during the 20th Century should not be forgotten since they can come back in new forms.

If America one day will lose its position as the economy everyone else is dependent on, that doesn't have to be a curse for America. Britain is in many ways doing much better without the burden of being the world's leading economy.

Just because I like America I don't want any country to be above criticism. The tolerance of dissent and the freedom of speech are America's greatest assets. I think Europeans should be criticizing America and Americans should be criticizing Europe, since allies offering fresh perspectives into each other's societies can contribute quite a lot in a positive direction.

Dialogue is important and open dialogue is a good thing. Reflexive anti-Europeanism in America and reflexive anti-Americanism in Europe make each of us blind to our own faults and deficiencies. Thinking that only in America can things go wrong or that only in Europe can this or that happen, one fails to see that Americans know a lot about Europe and Europeans know a lot about America. We know this is not so. Many of America's mistakes were made by Europeans at a different point in history and European mistakes were made by Americans in another context.

I'm not claiming America and Europe are exactly alike. There are differences and that is a good thing. But understanding where we come from is important. Europe wouldn't be what it is without America and America wouldn't be the same without Europe. It may be that the Atlantic alliance is weakening and Europe has to take a more active role in world politics. World politics is being transformed as we speak and where we're heading remains unclear. The legacy of history is there and common experiences have made Americans and Europeans aware of belonging to the same cultural sphere. We should not let that legacy be wasted.

stockholm slender said...

Well, I heard on Friday, and did not believe it at first but it is apparently true: a group of congressmen have proposed building a fence betwee the USA and Canada. I would not know where to begin if this is true: this is no shining city on hill - the lights are being turned off in panic. It is a very ugly combination of forces: fear, aggression and ignorance that seem to control the political process. This is not how it used to be. It is very ironic that the USA is slowly - or not slowly - being turned it the negative caricature that the several generations of anti-Americans depicted it to be. They probably actually saw a part of the truth - otherwise I can't explain this sudden and catastrophic collapse of integrity of official Washington. But there is the other side too - let us fervently hope that it will prevail.