Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Post American Democracy

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Reading Tom Friedman gives me a stomach ache. Literally.

He just never can see the forest through the trees. He totally misses the reality of the U.S. role in making such a mess of the world: "I don't miss the cold war, but I do miss the post-cold war. Because this post-post-cold-war world seems infinitely more messy, difficult to manage and full of way too many bad guys getting rich, not by building decent societies, but by simply drilling oil wells."

Right, Tom-Tom. Except the biggest bad guy of all is presently us.

Why? Because we had the ability and strength to begin to peacefully unite our increasingly interdependent world in the 21st Century, and we did exactly the opposite.

It will take generations to undo the damage this administration has done to the United States and our stature both at home and abroad. And it will take a more enlightened vision of our place in the world to achieve any kind of true peace.

War is no longer the knee-jerk answer. It's not us vs. them. We're all in this together. We're all human beings deserving of the best life has to offer--just not, as has most often been the American government mindset, at someone else's expense.

In case you haven't noticed, Tom, our beloved democracy--that we're so eager to spread all over the place--is missing. How come you never write about that?


The Post-Post-Cold War
By Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
BUDAPEST

Being in Eastern Europe in the wake of Dick Cheney's warning to Russia against using its oil and gas exports as "tools for intimidation and blackmail" has been revealing. The Financial Times noted that some Russian media presented Mr. Cheney's remarks as echoing Winston Churchill's 1946 speech in Fulton, Mo., warning that an "Iron Curtain" was descending on Europe.

I actually don't think we're going back to the cold war. I think we're going forward. We're leaving the world we've been in — the post-cold-war world — and entering the post-post-cold-war world. Americans won't like the post-post-cold-war world, unless they get serious about energy.

The cold-war world was a bipolar world, stabilized by a nuclear balance between two superpowers. The post-cold-war world was, for Americans, a unipolar belle époque, in which an American Hyperpower, as the French dubbed it, seemed to dominate the global scene, economically and strategically — a scene characterized by a steady expansion of free markets and freely elected governments.

The post-post-cold war is a multipolar world, where U.S. power is being checked from every corner. China is rising as a power, thanks to hard work and high savings. Beyond China, though, other powers are rising thanks only to soaring oil prices — powers that were on the decline in the post-cold war.

These are: Vladimir Putin's Russia, which is countering the U.S. on a variety of fronts; Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, which is Castro's Cuba on steroids in the post-post-cold-war world, leading a new wave of nationalizations and anti-Americanism in Latin America; and, of course, Iran — using its oil windfall to go nuclear. Yes, $70-a-barrel oil is making this post-post-cold-war world a multipolar world.

"It's the 'axis of oil,' " says Michael Mandelbaum, author of "The Case for Goliath." "It is more lasting and more important than terrorism — and we don't have any policy for it."

Not only are others becoming more assertive: the U.S. has become less intimidating. With Americans bleeding in Iraq, with George Bush hugely unpopular in Europe, and with the U.S. two-party system so warped it can't even respond to a crisis like energy, America is not as feared as it was.

"In 2002 and 2003 everyone was talking about the American 'Hyperpower,' " said Eric Frey, editor of the Austrian daily Der Standard. "No one these days is talking about overwhelming American power, and that has even added to the anti-Americanism. Because before you had resentment and respect, and now you have resentment and scorn."

At the same time, the re-emergence of Russia has gotten the attention of Eastern Europe. Hungary gets more than half of its natural gas from Russia. Lately, some Hungarians have started to recall an old cold war joke: After the Hungarian soccer team beat the Soviet team, the Kremlin sent Hungary's leaders a brief telegram that read: "Congratulations on your victory. Stop. Oil stop. Gas stop."

"If you had asked me five years ago, I would have told you the whole story is finished — no more Russian bear," said Pal Reti, editor of HVG, the Hungarian economic magazine. "They have so many problems themselves they would not have time to care about others' problems. But I've found that they have another set of priorities and they now have the muscle" to act on them. Yes, Russia no longer has much of an army or any ideology, but it still has a lot of brutish instincts, and now it has the oil money to push them.

In the post-cold-war world, European integration and economic reform seemed irreversible and certain to make Europe into a world democratic power. But in the post-post-cold war, Europe can't unite on anything — even on an energy policy — so it is being pushed around by Russia.

"I am very pessimistic about Western Europe — and that is new," remarked Lajos Bokros, a professor of economics at the Central European University in Budapest. Too many Western Europeans "are not competitive enough" and "do not want to implement the reforms." Unless Europe chooses the high-growth Irish model, as opposed to the French, Italian and German models, Mr. Bokros added, "the whole European region will decline further and become insignificant and irrelevant for this global game."

For all these reasons, I don't miss the cold war, but I do miss the post-cold war. Because this post-post-cold-war world seems infinitely more messy, difficult to manage and full of way too many bad guys getting rich, not by building decent societies, but by simply drilling oil wells.
Photo credit: Thomas Friedman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

4 comments:

tryingtolearn said...

Mr. President,
Once again you have some pretty choice words for Tom Friedman. However, I think you missed the central argument of his article. Friedman insists the United States in losing its position of global leadership because of the action/inaction of the BushCo Adminsitration.
"Not only are others becoming more assertive: the U.S. has become less intimidating. With Americans bleeding in Iraq, with George Bush hugely unpopular in Europe, and with the U.S. two-party system so warped it can't even respond to a crisis like energy, America is not as feared as it was."
That seems like a rather scathing assessment of the performance of the Bush Adminsitration and the lack of sound policy being implemmented by America's political leadership.
And while I do agree with you that the United States has lost some of its credibility in recent years, I think we can agree the US still represents better leadership and ideals than some of the titans of human rights most recently appointed to the UN Human Rights Council.
I actually find it amusing that the champion of globalization and interdependence, Tom Friedman, thinks the US needs to become less integrated, less dependent of the international market for its energy needs. All those petrol dollars are going to the worst places and are directly impacting the regression of liberty and development in the oil-exporting countries/regions of the world.
I think Friedman's point is that the US has lost a lot of its credibility in the world. If we are going to stand up for human rights and the ideals that the US values, then we as a country are going to have to stop providing the worst regimes in the world with the money they need to wreck havoc on their people. If we are going to be champions of good governance and humna rights we have to become serious about our energy policies.

The Unknown Candidate said...

Sorry, my friend, but you entirely miss the bigger point. The premise of both Friedman and your own comments is that the U.S. government has benevolent intentions. It categorically does not, under the current administration, and many of our actions historically have been motivated by greed in the guise of something else. Your comments are those of someone who has not read beyond the mainstream. Dig deeper, my friend, and the truth will confront you right between the eyes.

My problem with Friedman is that he initially agreed with the administration's ideology -- and despite recognizing their ineptitude in strategically carrying out their agenda -- he still embraces their "fear the world" mindset. He has not the vision to see beyond the manufactured fear bubble this administration has put us in. You share his problem.

Those who buy into this kind of thinking propagate the military industrial destructive powers behind these kinds of policies. I guarantee they will not lead to peace and freedom around the world though they will continue to try to manipulate the media to convince us otherwise.

Friedman is a disillusioned neo-con, but still a neo-con at heart. His writing reflects it.

tryingtolearn said...

Mr. President,
Of course the United States is not perfect. A casual survey of history alone demonstrates this point quite clearly. But I think even you would have to concede the US has acted in situations when its larger strategic interests were not being threatened. What was our interest during the intervention in Somalia or Bosnia? What great strategic advantage would the US have gained during the deployment of forces to Beirut in the early 1980's? Why was Robert Zoellick in Sudan last week trying to end a genocide? What ruse was the US trying to pull on the rest of the world there? Could it be that during these situation the US was acting just because it was the right thing to do?

Has the US resorted to some less than savory tactics in pursuit of its objectives? Of course, to deny it would be foolish. But the point I'm trying to make, and the point Friedman is trying to make is that we need a real energy strategy that reduces our addiction to foreign supplied energy supplies so that the US doesn't have to resort to unsavory tactics and colluding with unsavory characters to achieve our objectives. Until we acheive true energy independence, the US will have to continue compromising its national conscious and values for the sake of oil.

The Unknown Candidate said...

Please read John Perkins' "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: How the U.S. Uses Globalization to Cheat Poor Countries Out of Trillions."

Then, perhaps, you will better understand what I am saying.

Perkins life has been threatened since he published this book and the mainstream media won't come near him with a ten foot pole. Why? Because he's telling the truth and the truth exposes the government's diabolical charade.

Some universities and colleges are now making the book required reading. Thank G__ for that.

Of course not everyone in the U.S. government is malevolent. But our current leaders are. Make no mistake. This is NOT business as usual.

Of course I agree with you and Friedman about an energy policy. It's years and years overdue. But that's not the issue I'm writing about.

You and I seem to be having a parallel conversation; we're speaking past each other on two different planes.

I strongly urge you to read Perkins book. It's a real eye-opener. Check out this for starters: Democracy Now! | Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: How the U.S. Uses Globalization to Cheat Poor Countries Out of Trillions

Thanks for your thoughts.