20 December 2003

America's credibility gap: U.S. image, ideals take a hit

Today it is the United States that finds itself alone. In recent weeks, there were two votes on the Middle East in the U.N. General Assembly. In one, the vote was 133 to 4, and in the other, it was 144 to 4 - the United States, Israel, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia. Japan and all of our NATO allies, including Great Britain and the so-called 'new' Europe, voted with the majority.

The loss of U.S. international credibility and the growing U.S. isolation are aspects of a troubling paradox: American power worldwide is at its historic zenith, but American global political standing is at its nadir. Maybe we are resented because we are rich, and we are, or because we are powerful, and we certainly are. But I think anyone who thinks that this is the full explanation is taking the easy way out and engaging in a self-serving justification.

Since the tragedy of 9-11, our government has embraced a paranoiac view of the world summarized in a phrase President Bush used on Sept. 20, 2001: 'Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.'

I suspect officials who have adopted the 'with us or against us' formulation don't know its historical origins. It was used by Lenin to attack the social democrats as anti-Bolshevik and justify handling them accordingly. This phrase is part of our policymakers' defining focus, summed up by the words 'war on terrorism.' War on terrorism reflects, in my view, a rather narrow and extremist vision of foreign policy for a superpower and for a great democracy with genuinely idealistic traditions.

Our country suffers from another troubling condition, a fear that periodically verges on blind panic. As a result, we lack a clear perception of critical security issues such as the availability to our enemies of weapons of mass destruction. In recent months, we have experienced perhaps the most significant intelligence failure in U.S. history. That failure was fueled by a demagogy that emphasizes worst-case scenarios, stimulates fear and induces a dichotomous view of world reality.

John Ralston Saul wrote in 1995 (using neoconservative to mean the New Right rather than the Wolfowitz claque) that:

Neo-conservatives are the Bolsheviks of the Right. (�) The first step in the advancement of a Bolshevik movement is the establishment of intellectual respectability. This was achieved by hiring bevies of ACADEMIC CONSULTANTS to lay out a marginal idea - that the West should revert the rough capitalism of nineteenth century - as if were not only an historic necessity but a natural inevitability.

It's a sad joke on both the intellectual pretensions and the historical ignorance of the neocons that by using the with us or against us argument they prove the Saul thesis. All they have done is added a second rough idea - the white man's burden - to their first rough idea that everything in Victorian capitalism was wonderful until it became even more wonderful.

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