Hubris: something both Democrats and Republicans have in common

US interests, as beforeThe image to the right is a Japanese representation of the “black ships” commanded by Matthew Perry which, in 1853, forced open trade with Japan for US commercial interests. A few may scoff that this sounds like Bush policy. Some of us think that it is US policy no matter who is in charge.

What unites the wing-nuts; left-wing Democrats, right-wing Republicans, and shrill Internet pundits from the Huffington Post to Michelle Malkin? The idea that the US is the centre of the universe. That everything that happens is somehow because of US engagement, lack of setting values, overt interference or rampant consumerism.

Get over it. The US isn’t that important.

The Third World War

Over the last decade Africa has been home to a war the size and scale and scope of which rivals World War II. The ex-Zaire, present Democratic Republic of Congo, is the size of Western Europe. Every single neighbouring country has troops there. Up until very recently each was fighting a proxy-war against the other. Each was fighting for influence over the astonishing mineral wealth present in the state that collapsed after the death of Mobutu sese Seko.

Guess what? The US has no real involvement in this war. It’s an African affair. So too the settlement (with occasional violent wobbles) that was negotiated in South Africa by our president, Thabo Mbeki.

Need a few more examples of things happening which the US isn’t involved with? How about Pakistan and India’s continuing spat over Kashmir? Ethiopia and Eritrea’s continuing border skirmishes? Thailand’s coup? Zimbabwe’s self-destructive agricultural collapse?

Too many wars? How about something hopeful?

The Cricket World Cup was held successfully in the West Indies over the last two months. It was a wonderful experience, although South Africa choked near the end and came home in disgrace. As usual, Australia won against a sterling performance by Sri Lanka

In business: Mittal’s recent acquisition of Accelor makes this Indian company the largest steel-maker in the world. Tata is well on their way to producing a US$2 000 family sedan.

This list could go on.

The Hubris of Interference

Yes, when US Conservatives or Republicans start lecturing the rest of the world about morality, democracy or capitalism it is patronising and terribly imperialistic. That a large number of Republican candidates believe in creationism, are against a women’s right to choose an abortion, gay marriage and general support for the marginalised and dispossessed is outrageous.

But just as true is this: when US Liberals and Democrats start lecturing the rest of the world about labour rights, new-age environmentalism and gang-rape-style union protectionism and punitive taxation on the goods of countries less fortunate than those in the US it is also patronising and terribly imperialistic. A large number of Democrat front-runners seem to think that capitalism is evil and civil society knows best.

One of the largest and best funded NGOs operating in Liberia at present – a country still brutalised by the scars of one of the worst civil wars ever, where children were conscripted into battle and had to prove their metal by ripping open the wombs of pregnant women, where there are no skills and no economy and everything is destroyed – is a US-funded left-wing environmental organisation lecturing the locals on conserving their indigenous animals.

You don’t think that is as frightening and damning as the accusations against US hegemony in Iraq?

Everyone’s in their own race for their own reasons

Life is like a never-ending journey where uncountable millions are travelling along at their own pace, style and ability. The front-runners attract all the attention but everyone else is in it too. And they’re not there because of the front-runners. Each is running a private race against their nearest neighbours.

When the front-runners start saying, “Oh, they’re in the race because of us. We should slow down to let them catch up. We should speed up to give them something to aim for. We should give them a hand. We should tell them how to run better. We should …”

Could it be that, when the US negotiates with Iran, Iran has its own agenda that has nothing to do with the US? Could it be that they’re playing for profile and seniority amongst their Arab neighbours? Could it be that Brazil wants to be the important influence in Latin America and that vocal US opposition to Venezuela prevents Brazil from taking the same slot? Could it be that China and India are jockeying for position as the world’s workshop with all the jobs and investment that this entails?

It is frustrating and permanently annoying that, whether it is the Republicans or the Democrats, the assumption is that the US is the most important influence in the room. The assumption seems always to be that either what is happening (no matter what) is because of US involvement (incompetent or not) or lack of it. Like some self-centred pouty model who demands to have all the cameras pointing at her. You want an image of the US? Think Paris Hilton. Wearing a nun’s habit.

Teddy Roosevelt was right. Bring back the Munro Doctrine.

It’s not about you.

14 replies »

  1. If we don’t get this message, we deserve to be conscripted to the dustbin of history, which we seem to be headed for.

  2. Elaine;

    You are what is wrong with the US. Uneducated. Don’t know and don

  3. I thought Elaine was British.

    In any case, can we at least know what educational paradise you hail from so that we might critique your insights more intelligently?

  4. Generally I agree with this article quite a bit, especially the point that we Americans are delusionally willing to cast ourselves in the role of leading man in an Iranian conflict that is probably best explained as regional power-jockeying.

    However, I will add that we do have some influence in the DR Congo war. It is not a direct influence of our administration, I’ll give you that, but many of our businessmen (along with Canadians and some Europeans) have a vested interest in the resources of the region, and supply money accordingly to rebel groups in the area. They get guns and financial support, and in return, resource-rich areas are fought for. In a victorious condition, these same groups will gladly find ways to export such materials to their new ‘sponsors’. Dozens of western corporations, particularly telecommunication giants, have a stake in the outcome of these battles. There are good articles on this floating around, in the book Game As Old As Empire and The Best Democracy Money Can Buy in particular. Regardless, your point is correct and well received.

    And to Elaine: No, we arent. We still remain #1 by some general economic standards, and our military prowess, we usually dont even break through the top #10 of countries when it comes to global standards of government-handled domestic issues. If you are planning to move to the US, I might recommend you research some alternatives before finalizing your decision.

  5. In a nation called the world’s superpower, only 17 percent of young adults in the United States could find Afghanistan on a map, according to a new worldwide survey released recently. However, they knew who Britney Spears is. This has been going on for a long time. In 1909, Ellwood Cubberly, dean of the Stanford School of Education, bemoaned the inability of American students to function in an ever-more-interdependent world economy. He believed that this shortcoming posed a threat to the nation. During World War I, more than half of Army recruits were unable to write a letter or read a newspaper, prompting officers to question the job that schools were doing. The National Assn. of Manufacturers charged in 1927 that 40% of high school students couldn’t perform simple arithmetic or accurately express themselves in English. It decried the burden these deficits imposed on employers. In 1943 the New York Times designed a social studies test, which it gave to 7,000 college freshmen nationwide. Only 29% knew that St. Louis was on the Mississippi River. Many thought that Abraham Lincoln was the first president. The Times concluded that its test results reflected the shoddiness of instruction, which focused on low standards and expectations. Americans, unlike the rest of the world, refuse to learn another language. Considering health care a business that is available only to those who can pay, it is outpaced by tiny blockaded Cuba as far as health care is concerned. College tuition has risen 40% effectively blocking smart poor people and encouraging dumb rich ones. Hormones, pesticides, and chemicals used in agribusiness and factory farming make Americans the fattest and unhelathiest people around (France, for instance, refuses to import US beef as too unhealthy) A system that barefacedly steals elections and refuses to have referendums is scarcely an example for the world.

  6. Oy, again … the average South African is barely literate and couldn’t find the US on a map. But they all know who Britney Spears is too! The French don’t import US beef, not because it is unhealthy (their excuse) but because it threatens their own mollycoddled farmers (their reason). Just like the US won’t import Brazilian sugar-cane protects US corn-farmers.

    Look, the point I’m making isn’t to take a stab at the US, or any hassles you may be having. Every country has these problems and everyone gets to be top of some or other list (South Africa, proudly, is rape capital of the world).

    Try and imagine a world ten years hence when China is the world’s biggest economy and most influential player. Twenty years when the top slots are taken up by China and India.

    The point isn’t that the US acts in their own self-interest. EVERYBODY acts in their own self-interest. What weakens both US action and respect is telling everyone else that, when you act in your own self-interest, it’s actually for the other party’s good.

    It is that act of distortion which polarises debate both in the US and without.

    What happens if Bush had said: “Look Saddam Hussein destabilises the Middle East. He sits on a lot of oil but his actions and presence mean that Iran remains a problem and Saudi Arabia is terrified. We need to secure oil supplies. Sure, it’s good for the oil producers, but think about it. Do you know how much of our economy depends on cheap access to oil? You really want to find out?”

    What happens if house Democrats said: “Our US workers are fat and lazy. Mexicans are skinny and desperate. When it comes to working at low-paid jobs it’s no contest as to who will be better at it. We can’t allow that sort of competition into the country.”

    People may not like it, but they know where they stand. And, shaved of all the self-aggrandising waffle of “regime change” or “labour rights” it sounds a lot less defensible.

    And, Antonio, I live in a country where I speak a minority tongue. And I refuse to learn another language. Your long list just reinforces my point. It really, really, isn’t about the US.

  7. “And to Elaine: No, we arent. We still remain #1 by some general economic standards, and our military prowess, we usually dont even break through the top #10 of countries when it comes to global standards of government-handled domestic issues. If you are planning to move to the US, I might recommend you research some alternatives before finalizing your decision.”

    Thanks for your comment.

    My first husband is now a US citizen, an ex Lt. Col of the British Army and works for the American Military as a civilian. My first two children intend to settle in the USA because they love it…

    …I will buy a holiday home at some point in Virginia in order to see them more often and have a base near them.

    I do not buy the policies of the “Bash America at every opportunity pundits…”

    My second husband works for the UK government.

    I read this blog because Sam is bright (and so is Jim) and a few others…

  8. It’s a measure of how screwed up politics is (in general, not just in the U.S.) that politicians have to lie to the public in order to do what’s in the national interest.

    I’d actually have had some respect for Bush if he’d said “Hey, it’s in our national interest to occupy Iraq for the next decade so that we can guarantee cheaper oil and head off a possible move from valuing oil in dollars to valuing oil in euros.” I’d have opposed the invasion and occupation still, but at least I’d have known that Bush was doing it for a reason that’s better than “Saddam tried to kill Daddy, and I have to prove my dick’s bigger than Daddy’s is.”

  9. Be pragmatic 😉 as long as the lies are consistent, then they’re predictable – so it’s almost like telling the truth.

  10. This is true. It’s like this movie reviewer I used to read. He was ALWAYS wrong, but he was always off in a direction that told me everything I needed to know about whether I was going to want to see the movie. If we can get our pols to lie in a consistent direction, it’s functionally as good as if they told the truth.